Unanticipated Consequences of Reform

by No Name

Like many schools of the "old school," Mansfield Academy used to provide its students a severe and often arbitrary regime of corporal discipline. A young man unruly, or unfortunate, enough to be sent to the Principal for chastisement would be at the mercy of that honorable gentleman's decision -- just or unjust, kind or cruel. It was not unusual for the young man in question to be sentenced to be caned, paddled, or spanked, in a posture specified by the Principal, sometimes over trousers, sometimes with less protection. Sometimes (if the Principal were in the mood)even totally naked.

One principal, some 45 years ago, named Mr. Fairfield, was accustomed to schedule disciplinary events in his rooms after dinner. The miscreant youth would be instructed to knock on his door promptly at 9:00 p. m., be admitted by a servant, and be required to prepare himself for punishment in the Principal's study. Usually, in Mr. Fairfield's day, this entailed the removal of all clothing. Mr. Fairfield believed that receipt of discipline in the nude was more effective both because it was easier for the administrator to evaluate the effects of his work, and because the embarrassment to the youth was a valuable addition to the punishment. The Principal would expect to find the lad in proper position when he entered the study, and would then administer justice.

None of this was unusual for that day, age, and social class. What was unusual was that Mr. Fairfield made it a practice to invite his male dinner guests to observe the event. This, he explained, was to ensure that witnesses would be able to testify, if called upon, that the chastisement had not been excessively severe. The real reason, of course, was that they found it entertaining to see good-looking teenage lads present themselves, naked and embarrassed, for punishment, to observe the effects of the paddle or cane on their virginal buttocks, and to hear their cries, pleas, and tears. Often the guests would offer words of encouragement to their host to "lay it on," make comments on the young man's physical attributes, or share witticisms about his predicament. An invitation to Mr. Fairfield's for dinner was a prized privilege for those of a certain disposition.

Times, however, have changed. During the cultural upheaval of the 1960s, the arbitrary character of this disciplinary regime became increasingly controversial. Some parents and supporters of the school urged that corporal discipline be abolished. That suggestion, however, was too radical for some well-heeled alumni contributors to the school, who remembered their school days with more sentimentality than realism. Even the proposal to prohibit punishment in the nude failed to carry the necessary majority after one wealthy alum, and former friend of Mr. Fairfield, threatened to cut the school out of his will. As a compromise, the Mansfield Academy Board of Directors adopted a new set of procedures to make decisions about corporal punishment fairer.

Under this reform, the decision whether to inflict corporal punishment -- as well as the number of strokes, the manner of administration, and the person to deliver the punishment -- would be delegated to a newly created Disciplinary Board. The Board would consist of three students elected by the student body and two faculty members appointed by the Principal. The accused student would have the right to appear before the Board, present a defense, and participate in its deliberations. In this way, the Directors hoped to curb arbitrary decisionmaking by the Principal, and to introduce an element of humanity in the sentencing process. Moreover, as a further safeguard against abuse, the Disciplinary Board was directed to appoint two of its own members, at least one of which must be a student, to serve as official witnesses of any corporal punishment, with power to press charges against the Principal or anyone else who might inflict excessive pain or humiliation on the subject.

At first, the system worked as intended. The Disciplinary Board took its responsibilities seriously. Standards of justice were scrupulously maintained, and discipline at Mansfield Academy was restored to a proper balance of fairness and order. Corporal punishment was imposed for only the most serious offenses, and upon proper standards of proof; and the severity of sentences declined. The presence of official witnesses deterred abuse. Most observers considered the new rules a great reform.

It was not long, however, before the Mansfield students realized that by a judicious use of their votes, they could elect a majority of the Disciplinary Board who would block the infliction of corporal punishment altogether. Candidates campaigned for the office on the promise that they would never vote for the infliction of corporal punishment. Needless to say, that was a popular platform. Within a few years, corporal punishment had vanished from the halls of Mansfield. Student solidarity won out over discipline and order. Although the Principal and many parents and alumni lobbied the Board of Directors to change the procedures to restore the intended balance, any change was too controversial to get a majority.

And that is how matters rested for many years. The outcomes of disciplinary cases were foreordained. The student majority always voted against corporal punishment, no matter what. Eventually, no one bothered to propose it. CP passed into history. After a while, the "old days" when students' bottoms would pay for their misdeeds passed into memory, and then into myth, and then into oblivion. Few students were aware that things had ever been any different.

In 1983 a big change came to the school. Bowing to the pressures of the modern world, the Mansfield Academy Board of Directors voted to admit female students, and to integrate the faculty and staff. By the end of the decade, the gentler _s_e_x_ constituted almost half of the student body, and a majority of faculty and staff.

In 1991, Deborah Stingfellow was a sophomore student at Mansfield. Her father had graduated in the Mansfield class of '69. He told her the whole interesting history of corporal punishment at Mansfield. She found this history strangely intriguing. Deborah researched the official Rules of Student Conduct and Discipline, and found out that the rules were unchanged. The Board of Discipline continued to have power to order corporal punishment, even though that power was never used anymore. She devised a plan that, she thought, would add a little fun to life at Mansfield Academy -- at least for the girls.

The elections for student government took place the second week of classes in the fall of 1991. In the preceding week, every girl in the school received a "secret" note, telling them: "Vote for Deborah Stingfellow, Vicki Reese, and Tonya Cane for Board of Discipline. You won't be sorry." And sure enough, the Stingfellow-Reese-Cane ticket swept the election, and the three girls constituted a majority on the Board of Discipline.

No one knew what was afoot, and Deborah and her allies maintained a discreet silence as they laid their plans. Soon they had their first opportunity to wield the powers of office. Tim ("Fro") Frobisher, one of the cutest guys in the junior class, had been apprehended for smoking under the football bleachers, with two of his friends, both of whom got away. Deborah had a particular interest in "Fro," since she had asked him to the Girls' Choice Dance the previous year and he had said "No way." It was pay back time.

As chair of the Board of Discipline, Deborah notified the faculty members (one man and one woman) that she was convening a meeting of the Board to consider the appropriate disposition of Tim Frobisher's case. At an "executive session" scheduled before Fro was permitted to appear, Deborah (with the support of Vicki and Tonya) explained that the women students had come to the conclusion that discipline at Mansfield was too lax. The boys, she explained, were rude, crude, violent, and disruptive, and were interfering with the ability of the better behaved students (i. e., girls) to get a good education. It was time to make an example. The faculty members were surprised, but in general agreement that discipline had become too lax. Mr. Cox, a history teacher, was a little worried about the gender stereotyping, but did not protest. Ms. Finch, a math teacher, was wholly in agreement with Deborah.

Fro was ushered into the conference room.

He was asked to tell the details of his smoking infraction, which he did, suspecting that it was unwise to add perjury to the list of charges against him. But even after repeated questioning, he refused to disclose the names of his confederates.

As chair of the Board, Deborah asked Fro what he thought an appropriate punishment would be. Hesitating a moment, he proposed something on the high side of reasonable, thinking that would be seen as a sign of repentance and contrition. He suggested detention for a week. Last time he was caught smoking he only had to empty the wastebaskets in the administration wing.

"A week of detention, nothing more?" Deborah asked, her tone incredulous. The other girls on the Board shook their heads in disbelief, and Ms. Finch glared at the young man through her spectacles.

"Two weeks, maybe?" The offender squirmed in his chair. What was so serious about catching a smoke? But he realized this was not the time and place to defend smoking.

At a signal from Deborah, Vicki opened a notebook and announced to the Board: "I happen to have looked up the records for punishments for this offence in 1959. Three swats of the paddle for a first offense, and six for a repeat. That was before the Surgeon General's warning. I hardly think we should be more lenient today."

Mr. Cox leaped to the young man's defense. "But we haven't had corporal punishment at Mansfield in years!"

"It hasn't been abolished," Deborah reminded him. "This Board has the power. And we all agreed that discipline among the male students has become far too lax."

And then she added, "Mr. Cox, may I have a word with you privately?" Deborah huddled with Mr. Cox and whispered to him that since he was the only male member of the Board, she was planning to recommend that he administer the punishment. "If you are with the program," she added. This put Mr. Cox in a quandary. On the one hand, he thought the whole idea was unfair, and that Fro was being discriminated against for being male. On the other hand, the thought of paddling Fro's shapely teenage rear was not uninviting. That was precisely the reaction Deborah had anticipated. She had been watching Mr. Cox, and noticed that his eyes often lingered on the rear ends of good looking boys. She put her understanding of human psychology to good use.

They returned to the table, and Mr. Cox announced that while he was surprised at the recommended punishment, it was his studied opinion that smoking was a very serious offense, and that it was time that the boys at Mansfield learned that they could not get away with it lightly. "I could go along with a sentence of three swats," he summed up.

Tonya raised her hand and was recognized by the chair. "But that isn't fair," she said. "The penalty for a repeat offender is not three swats; it's six. And I happen to know for a fact that Fro was apprehended for smoking just last month."

"Is that correct?" Deborah asked the boy. He nodded, reluctantly.

"Then six it is," she said. "Unless I hear any dissenting votes," she added, looking meaningfully at Mr. Cox.

He paused, and then assented. He was slightly embarrassed at himself for voting that way, since it was based on what he wanted rather than what he deemed to be fair. But one dissenting vote wouldn't do Fro any good, and voting "no" would probably mean forfeiting his role in administration of the punishment.

Tonya raised her hand again. "Under the rules, we have to decide how the punishment will be administered. You know, whether he can keep his underpants on, and that sort of thing."

"What the F...." Fro caught himself before completing the utterance. "I mean, what are you talking about? Whether I can keep my underpants on? That's crazy. Nobody's making me drop my jeans for anything."

Deborah responded in a reassuring tone. "Calm down, now, Fro. Nobody has decided you have to drop your jeans. Tonya is just pointing out that the Board has to make a decision. Those are the rules. If you insist on using profanity and on debating the Board's authority, that could add to your offense. But so far you have only been convicted of smoking. If you submit to our authority, I'm sure the Board will take that into consideration in deciding the manner in which any punishment will be administered." She smiled sweetly at him.

Ms. Finch nodded, and said, "That sounds reasonable to me. Defiance of authority is one thing this institution cannot tolerate."

Fro started to argue, then slumped in his seat, looking defeated. He mumbled, "Okay. Whatever you decide."

"Good," Deborah said. "Do I hear a motion that the six swats be administered over Fro's underwear? That sounds about right for a repeat smoking offense, with no aggravating circumstances."

Fro sat up straight and almost put in a protest. That wasn't the deal! He thought she said if he agreed to the Board's authority he could keep his jeans on for the paddling. Then he thought better of arguing. Wearing boxers is almost like wearing shorts, he thought to himself, and he didn't want to risk losing those.

"Wait a minute," Vicki interrupted. "There is one more consideration. Fro has refused to name his fellow transgressors. Don't you think he should be required to tell what he knows, for the good of the school?"

Deborah glanced around the conference table, and saw nods of assent (and a conflicted look on Mr. Cox's troubled face). "Well," she said, "let's leave it up to Fro."

"You have a choice, Fro," she said. "If you tell us who the other guys were you were smoking with, you will receive the sentence you just heard. But if you refuse, you leave us little choice but to apply a more serious sanction."

"What would the more serious sanction be?" he asked, stalling for time.

"I think you know. You will be forced to receive your six swats in the nude."


"Which of those words do you not understand? I said you would received your six swats in the nude. Stark naked, in your birthday suit, au naturel. Get the picture?"

"You can't do that!"

"Oh, yes, we can." Her words were confirmed by nods by the other females around the table. "You can only make things worse for yourself by defiant talk like that."

"But I can't tell on my friends!"

"Then you can take the consequences." She turned to the group. "Who votes in favor?" She counted hands. "Motion carried unanimously. And I recommend that we appoint Mr. Cox to administer the paddling."

That motion also carried unanimously, with Mr. Cox staring down at the table, a blush coming over his face. He shifted his position so that no one could see what was happening in the vicinity of his lap.

"And the witnesses?" Vicki asked, according to plan. "According to the rules, two members of this Board have to serve as official witnesses, to protect against abuse. At least one has to be a student. Who shall they be?"

As previously decided (by coin flip), Tonya made a motion. "I propose," Tonya stated, "Deborah and me."

Tim Frobisher gasped and looked as if he were about to be sick. "But you are girls! I can't be made to strip naked in front of two girls, can I?" He looked wildly about the room, hoping for sympathy and support. Mr. Cox almost spoke up, but Deborah frowned at him, and he decided not to rock the boat.

Deborah looked at Fro. "I appreciate your concern, Fro, I really do. It *is* unusual to force young ladies to witness the disgusting spectacle of seeing a naked boy thrashed. In past generations, our sensibilities would have been spared such a sight. But this school operates on the strict principle of equal rights and responsibilities for male and female. Tonya and I were elected to the Board of Discipline, and we aren't going to shirk our responsibilities just because of our gender. That wouldn't be right."

"Besides," she said, smiling ever so slightly, "we might even enjoy it."

Tonya's motion carried, 4-0. Mr. Cox assuaged his conscience by abstaining.

To be continued.

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