My School-Issued Paddle-Guillermo’s Story
I worked at a high school in the late ’80s (Green Valley High, Clark County/suburban Las Vegas) where there were cops. As one of three Deans of Students there, I did, twice, call in the school cops when kids got very much out of hand in halls and when teachers could not get a really recalcitrant, physically dangerous kid, to exit.
What we see on the recent viral video is like nothing I never saw at Green Valley, like nothing my colleagues ever saw. There were white, black, Hispanic gangs in this then-new, bright, suburban high school, and when I was there the tensions over bussing-in black kids from North Las Vegas were constant, palpable tensions (hardly eased by any pro-active intelligence on the part of the school. The District was one that would have supported almost any school-cop activity, yet I never saw nor heard of a school-cop doing anything remotely like what we see in the viral video.
I was issued a paddle and was written up then transferred to a teaching post for consistently refusing to use it. (Of course, it’d have been suicide for me to use it on the fellas typically sent to me, but I was fairly clever enough so as to gain the confidence of most [‘kids.) The piece I wrote about that, in “Passionate Justice”, is reprinted, below.
The unspoken raison d’etre, in those schools at that time, for Deans, was that our core job was to suspend as many minority kids as we could as often as we might get away with it for days on end (and on any pretext ) and for any good or unsustainable, idiotic reason). I didn’t last long.
In the late ’80s we moved from Vermont to Las Vegas to be with Tamar’s folks as her dad battled and beat cancer. I also needed work and Clark County Schools were hiring quicker than casinos collect sadsack cash. I taught English and history, earning fine evals.
At year’s end I got a call from an assistant superintedent asking me to be a dean at a new suburban high school. He called it the “flagship of the system.” I should’ve been, when I then drove by and walked through the campus that afternoon, less impressed than I was by the school’s gorgeous architectural use of desert light, its boulders-as-art, and its curved glass-and-stone walls. I should have, earlier, listened to my roiled gut when the guy said that “Jews like you and me” should be better represented in the newer suburban schools where “many minority students are bussed in because of the courts.”
I hated the work from jump. It was clear from the late summer new-administrator briefings that my real job was to do my best to keep White, Black, Asian, and Hispanic kids as separated as I could in the halls and in the enormous student parking lot before and after hours, and that a very effective way to do that would be to suspend as many minority kids as I could and for as many days at a time as I get away with. Needless to say that advice wasn’t explicit. But I hadn’t been born the day before in the Elvis Presley Memorial Maternity Ward either. While I don’t know of anything as lawsuit-inviting as an actual minority-kid-suspension-quota, my stats were checked weekly and, I was soon enough told by an assistant principal that my September numbers, my disciplinary decisions as a dean, weren’t very good.
On my first day I’d been presented with a paddle and told to use it “as often as necessary”. When my eyebrows shot up the assistant principal shot back with a You’re-the-Wimp-O’-the-World smirk, pointing out that the paddle had holes in it, as a result, she said, of complaints from parents and lawyers and that “it doesn’t really hurt as much as they say.” I should have walked out.
I did leave a month or so on, transferred. I’d been written up a few times for, “reluctance to suspend when it was called for” and for my “reluctance to employ” my paddle, and for another violation considered more serious.
On an October afternoon I looked up from my computer to see a very tall, well-built Latino boy in my outer office. I’d seen him around. Guillermo was eighteen, a senior, and in the halls at any rate, pretty mild-mannered. I motioned him inside. He handed me a slip and sat down. His math teacher had bounced him for “crude language” and “starting an altercation”. He seemed fairly relaxed.
G: He says I called a boy hijo de puta. And that I spit at the bastard.
G: I did.
G (with some urgency now): Sure I did, Mr. W. He’s been touching my sister in the halls. I told him to stop. He….
Me: You didn’t hit the guy? It says here…how long has he been hitting on Angela?
G: Sure I hit the guy but before the bell rang and I was in my seat when the bell rang. Angela…he’s been bothering her for two weeks. Touching her. I told him to leave her the fuck alone. Look. If I told my father…if Angela told him….
Me: I understand. Who is it?
G: Eldridge. Jason Eldridge.
Me: Wide receiver?
G: I know teachers see it. They won’t send his ass in here ’cause he plays, you know, and you’d have to suspend his ass and it’s the season. Makes me real mad.
Me: The slip says you hit the guy. It really doesn’t matter that you hit him before the bell, Guillermo, you know that. The teacher apparently saw you hit the guy.
G (smiling): I know. His tooth’s loose.
Me: Well. You know I’ve got to keep you after for detention. And a suspension may have to follow once I get a more complete story.
G: Damn! This IS the complete story, Mr. W.! And I know, but I can’t. I can’t do any damned detention!
Me: That’s the deal, Guillermo. You know that.
G: I’m sorry but I can’t. Can’t be here!
Guillermo bent forward and rolled his right jean leg and showed me his electronic bracelet.
G: I can’t sit for no damned detention after school.
Me: You mean you have to be home at a certain time?
G: Yeah. 3:30. We’re outa here 2:40. I gotta run from the bus stop home or I get in real trouble. I want this to be over, man! Damn! My uncle, he has a job for me after high school. He paints houses. But not if I get in more trouble. He says….
Me: What’d you do?
Me: 7-Eleven…..You stole stuff from a…?
G: We robbed it. Jose hit the guy and took the money and beat him pretty bad. I was stupid to go with him. It was my father’s gun he used. Jose’s got a record. This was my first time and I wasn’t eighteen yet so I got probation. Jose, he’s in prison.
Me: You’re on probation, though.
G: Yeah. I was stupid.
Me: I have to….
G: I told you, man, I can’t….
He rose from his chair, leaning forward. I raised a palm and motioned for him to sit back down. Somewhat to my surprise, he did, but he was now no longer at all relaxed. I asked Guillermo for his P.O.’s name and number. I called the woman, explained my situation and asked for an extra two hours that afternoon on Guillermo’s behalf and got it. It seemed simple enough. Guillermo, though, was stunned at his P. O.’s flexibility. He extended a hand to me before he left. I checked downstairs later with the detention monitor; Guillermo showed up.
As I drove home, I wondered with a derisive laugh if it would have been better to try to whack this kid with my paddle.
Two mornings later I was called to my assistant principal’s office. She told me not to sit down, this would be quick. She’d received a call, she said, from Guillermo’s mom thanking her for the school’s helping her son out the other afternoon. The assistant principal told me I was not dean-material. She rambled but the idea was that accommodating Guillermo as I had was likely to get him to want to stay in this school and didn’t I get it that just wasn’t the right idea with “boys like him”?
Maybe she meant Hispanic boys; maybe she meant boys in trouble with the law. Maybe both. In any case, she was pretty angry that what I’d done had pleased his family. “You had the paddle; you blew that, too.” She said she bet I never used it. I told her she was right, that I hadn’t, that she’d have seen it if I had in my write-ups and that I wouldn’t. She nearly spat as she said that I was to be “just a teacher again” at another high school. She had already effected the transfer. Getting what I “reallydeserved, thrown out on your can”, she said, would require her to “deal with jackasses in the union” and she had “better things to do.” I cleared out my desk. I took the paddle.
A week on I got a call from my fellow Jew, the higher-up in central admin who’d placed me. He told me I’d “dealt a real blow to Jews” in Clark County Schools, that I embarassed him personally, that he considered me insubordinate for, among other decisions, not using the “means of corporal punishment” at my disposal. I “shouldn’t expect any more favors”, he added. I said, with as much cloying honey in my voice as I could, Shalom, hung up, and mailed him the paddle that afternoon.
I’m pleased to say that Nevada schools no longer resort to physical punishment and that the national numbers are trending down.
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