Mr. Shannon strikes

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We'll get back to DoP tomorrow. I got a wild hair and wanted to tell this story.

Kids today go to Middle School, a name that makes sense. In my day it was called Junior High School, kind of a goofy wanna be name. I imagine they figured we all wanted to be like the big guys. Me, I just wanted to escape the prison system called school. School was boring to me and painful in more ways than one.

My eighth grade science teacher's name was Mr. Shannon. Mr. Shannon seemed to be a very unhappy person who probably hated his job, perhaps to the same degree I hated being in his class. I don't think Mr. Shannon liked kids, certainly he didn't like me. I asked science questions he couldn't answer and I think that bothered him. Back then, at least, teachers were assigned class subjects they had minimal knowledge about. I think the notion was if one had a general teaching degree one should be able to follow a prescribed lesson plan and teach anyone anything. The book and lesson plan authors supplied the knowledge, the teachers read the plans and tried to maintain order in the classes: good if your goal is to create a teaching factory, bad if you want students to actually learn something.

Most kids are brighter than most teachers, just as most kids are generally brighter than their parents. Problem is, rarely do teachers and parents figure this out and that's where the trouble begins. Such was the case with Mr. Shannon who wore his dislike of the class, the course and the students on his sleeve. Kids are merciless when they sense a crack in the establishment. Many in his class, including me, devised cruel and unusual tortures for Mr. Shannon to see if we could get his goat. Watching him turn beet red in the face when he got flustered was good sport and certainly more entertaining than his teaching style.

To maintain order in the class, Mr. Shannon had a ruler he beat student knuckles with. That ruler would whip out at a moment's notice if you didn't understand something or were stupid enough to get caught writing a note to a classmate (the modern version of this practice is texting). There were two forms of knuckle mangling, the surprise attack and the execution. Surprise attacks generally came as he walked up and down the aisle looking menacing at each student, ruler in hand. If he heard some snickering behind him, he was capable of whirling around and attacking at lightning speed. But most of the class was wise to it and would pull their hands out of harm's way faster than he could hit, like flies evading the swatter. Not only are kids brighter they are also quicker.

Then there was the execution. Once caught, the criminal would be instructed to place their hand flat on the desk, turn their head away and take a rap across the knuckles. The ruler was an older wooden affair, the kind with a groove down the center and beveled edges, with the bottom flat. If he liked you you'd get the flat side; if it was me I'd get the beveled side.

Mr. Shannon was of the old school that believed corporal punishment led to enlightenment. His days were numbered, thankfully, because in the early 1960's there was a movement, at least in California, to reign in such prehistoric practices like beating children into submission. The new rules for the school were that corporal punishment was only acceptable if the parent gave permission first. School officials needed to ask first, beat second. Mr. Shannon didn't believe in that and no doubt thought this was the beginning of the end for a societal practice that had served mankind well for thousands of years. It would no doubt be the ruination of society as he knew it. We could only hope so.

During a particularly boring class that was about physiology, I asked a follow up question about hiccups. Raising my hand to be recognized I asked "why do we hiccup?" Seemed a reasonable question, one that to this day I still don't know the answer to. Mr. Shannon replied "Hiccups are a contraction of the diaphragm". Ok, that didn't answer my question.

"Yes, that's what is happening, but why?" Mr. Shannon clearly didn't know the answer and repeated his first statement. I smelled blood and wanted to go for the throat. "So you don't actually know why?" If looks could kill, I'd not be writing this post this morning. No sense stopping here. "Can you answer my question?"

"I did answer your question and that's it, let's move on."

"So you don't know?"

Mr. Shannon's brows narrowed to a point, his beady little eyes like lasers on me and he approached my desk. "Put your hand on the table." I obliged and down came the ruler, only I pulled my hand back at the last moment, his ruler smacking the empty desk. The class tittered with laughter and snickers. He was shamed in front of everyone. He grabbed my hand, held it down on the desk and beat it repeatedly as I yelped. He was so pissed that he yanked me up out of my seat, walked over to the classroom door and marched me to Mr. Whitten's office, the principal.

I could hear Mr. Whitten and Mr. Shannon yelling at each other behind the closed door. Mrs. Adams, the secretary, peered over her reading glasses at me shaking her head in disgust. I had been here before. Finally, the door opened, Mr. Shannon glared at me and left, the principal beckoned me into his office. "Let me see your hand." It was bruised but not bloodied. "You crossed a line today that was unacceptable and you need to be punished." Wait a minute, the knuckle beating wasn't sufficient?

Up on the wall in Mr. Whitten's office was the paddle. A wooden device that looked like a small pizza peel but with holes in it. The popular belief among students was the holes were there to reduce air resistance as the wooden implement met with ones bottom. Technically that didn't make sense so I suspected it was to increase the fear factor.

Mr. Whitten picked up the phone and dialed my home. "Hi Sue (my mom), it's Dick. Yes, fine, thanks for all the help with the PTA. I have Paul in my office again. Is it alright if I give him a couple of swats to straighten him out? Really? That's perfect, thanks Sue." Thanks Mom, I had just been thrown to the lions without so much as a word in my defense.

Mr. Whitten obviously enjoyed the beatings, as evidenced by his smile when he got permission and his hollow words about how much he'd rather not do this. The instructions were simple, hands on the desk, grit your teeth and take it like a man. Of course I wasn't a man.

I had trouble sitting for a few days after the beating, but I always wondered why Mr. Shannon couldn't have just owned up to saying "I don't know, maybe let's find out together."

I still don't know why we hiccup.

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Paul McGowan

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