Opinion: Punishing Parents Will Not Stop Beastly Children From Acting Up in School

Filed under: In The News, Opinions

Punishing parents for their child being late to class is going to accomplish nothing. Credit: Corbis

I scanned the list of names in the Alaska Legislature.

Sure enough. Not one of them went to Tanana Junior High in Fairbanks with me in 1975. Not one of them knew Harry Beesty.

No kidding. Harry Beesty. That was his name.

If any of Alaska's legislators had gone with the Beastly Beesty, they would have known better than to pass a law punishing parents for their kids being habitually tardy or absent. Granted, people named Beesty should be educated to the point that they don't name their sons "Harry," but punishing them would not have stopped this Harry Beesty.

He may be a deacon in his church these days for all I know, but, back in middle school, he only showed up for class when he realized there was a kid he hadn't pummeled yet. How mean was he? If they made a movie about Tanana Junior High, he would have been played by Lee Marvin -- in a gorilla suit.

Many considered him the fifth horseman of the Apocalypse.

Every school has a Harry Beesty. Think of Judd Nelson in "The Breakfast Club." The only difference is Harry Beesty never would have let Michael Anthony Hall live to the end of the movie. And he would have had Principal Vernon stuffed and mounted.

This was Alaska, after all.

Legislators should remember that some kids are just going to be mean. They are going to skip school and pulverize the weak and mathematically inclined. Punishing the parents is doing to accomplish nothing.

Back in 1970s Alaska, in fact, a parent slapped with a fine and sentenced to parenting class might well have showed up at the next school board meeting with a hunting rifle and a bad attitude.

What is with our society? We keeping thinking we can punish our way out of a problem if we just take the right board to the right rump the right number of times.

That was not a metaphor when I was growing up in Alaska. Tanana Principal Leroy Brown had his own "board of education" hanging in his office that he took to offenders for infractions as small as talking in class. Harry Beesty felt its sting on a regular basis.

There are more sophisticated ways to deal with the Harry Beestys of the world. A paddle isn't one of them. We know that now. Yet, we're still looking for rumps to redden.

Kids were the popular choice when I was one. We later moved on to blaming teachers. Now laws in Alaska, California and other states target parents. Personally, if we have to blame someone, I think we had it right in the first place: Blame the kid.

Not that I believe in paddling and other methods that lean more heavily toward punishment than understanding and education. Everyone, I believe, should be held responsible for his or her own choices.

Harry Beesty could never blame anyone else for being Harry Beesty.

For children to see parents, teachers or anyone else bear the brunt for their behavior gives kids a dangerous mission: There is always someone else to blame.

They might grow up believing that and end up ... end up ... wow. They could end up just like us.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.