Joe watched as Rachel Potthof sent Tommy Smith to East Side Elementary school’s version of time-out. At recess teachers and associates meted out low justice for perceived infractions by sending naughty students to, “Go sit on the line.” Sitting on the line was just that, students were removed from the freedom of recess play and were forced to sit on the painted white line that formed the outline of the asphalt rectangle that held four basketball hoops, two hopscotch grids, two four-square arenas and a lovely, not to scale map of the fifty states of the USA.
In his substitute teaching orientation class Joe had learned that corporal punishment was perfectly legal in Georgia schools but the instructor had warned against its use. “Some parents seem to feel that corporal punishment is fine in principle but that their child should never be the recipient of said discipline.”
When classroom discussion had turned to corporal punishment Joe had asked, “Don’t we run the risk of using corporal punishment on kids who have transgressed in the past and using it as retribution? I mean, who decides what is or isn’t a spanking offense?”
The instructor, a big man with close cropped white hair cut in a balding haloed flattop named Lou Loose, looked at Joe as though he was being forced to drink pickle juice. “You’re Kleen, right? The point of corporal punishment is not to use it, it’s to have it available to use. How you think you’re going to keep thirty plus rutty, rowdy, rambunctious high school kids in line? With pleases and thank yous? Use corporal punishment once in front of the class at the beginning of the school year and you’ll likely not have to use it again the rest of the year. We do things a little different down here than they do from where you come from, son.”
Joe looked at the line of juvenile detainees sitting on the line. In the ten minutes they had been outside it had snaked in length from four to five to six children. Scanning the area he was assigned he saw that the two boys he had admonished for climbing up the slide at the beginning of recess were now picking up mulch from the landscaped area adjacent to the playground equipment and throwing it at one another. “Hey! You two,” he hollered, “drop that and come here. Now!”
The boys froze, looked at one another, pointed to themselves and the taller of the two asked, “Us?”
“No. The other two boys that are throwing mulch. Yes, you! Get over here.”
Shoulders down they plodded to where Joe stood. The one who had spoken earlier asked, “Yes, sir?”
“Yes, sir? Is that all you’ve got? What are your names?”
“I’m Bobby Lee and that’s-”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa. He can speak for himself, Bobby Lee. What’s your name?”
“William,” the boy whispered.
“You got a last name, William?”
Still whispering he answered, “Yes, sir.”
Joe hesitated for a second as he tried to figure out if William was being impertinent or simply answering his question literally. “And what is your last name?”
“I see. So, Bobby Lee and William Hatch, what do you two think you were doing there?”
Bobby Lee hung his head and William followed suit, “Nothing,” the tall boy said.
“Nothing? What, I called you over here for no reason? Why were you throwing mulch?”
“We were just playing,” Bobby Lee said.
“You know you’re not supposed to throw things at each other. William, why do you let him lead you astray?”
“Will,” the shorter boy replied. “Sorry.”
“Pardon?” Joe asked.
“He likes to be called Will, sir.”
“So what do you think we should do about this?”
“Make us go sit on the line?” Bobby Lee suggested.
“We could do that,” Joe replied, “or we could race from one end of the playground to the other. Which would you prefer?”
Will and Bobby looked at one another and Will whispered something in Bobby’s ear that Joe couldn’t quite catch. “Really?” Bobby asked.
“It’s up to you. What do you want to do?”
“Run!” Bobby Lee said emphatically.
“Okay,” Joe responded. “And what about you, Will? Run or sit?”
“Run?” he whispered.
“Then let’s run, boys. We’ll start on this end, rune to the white line there, touch the line with our hand and run back. Deal?”
“Deal,” he whispered, eyes averted.
They lined up on the white perimeter playground line and Joe said, “Ready, set, go!” He stood there as the two boys took off, arms pumping, heads back and legs churning. After a second he took off after them, easily caught the children, stayed behind them, slapped the white line with his hand and stayed just behind Will as Bobby accelerated ahead of them. With twenty feet to go Joe grabbed Will in his arms and laughing uproariously lifted the shy boy and carried him across the finish line one step ahead of Bobby.
Breathing hard from his exertion and laughter Joe said, “Okay? No more throwing mulch!”
Smiling broadly Will said, “No, sir!”
Miss Potthof blew her whistle long and hard and shouted, “Line up! Line up!”
Joe looked at Bobby and Will and said, “Looks like we’d better line up, huh?”