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2:11 PM Thu, Jan. 17th

Column: Mr. Borgard v. the Board of Education

Arizona is one of 21 states that allows corporal punishment in schools. Even so, statistics show that Arizona reports very few incidents of physical punishment used on students. The current superintendent of public instruction, Tom Horne, is against the practice, and both Kingman Unified School District and Kingman Academy of Learning say they do not allow it in their schools.

I bring up the subject because I received an e-mail from an older gentleman this week who believes it should be re-introduced at the schools and used extensively to "teach these damn kids some respect." He went on to say how well it worked for him, how it kept him on "the straight and narrow." Hmm.

They didn't call it paddling when I began junior high in the early '80s. They were called "swats," and I was warned to avoid them like the plague. The older kids talked about getting swats, but my friends and I didn't really believe they were real ... until one of us got swatted a month later. It was no surprise that it was Chris Jones. He was the class bully, and he secretly smoked. He got swatted by the vice principal, Mr. Tubbs, during lunch recess, so we were able to see him immediately after he exited the office.

I remember seeing his red eyes and the pained look on his face. It scared the crap out of me. He said it didn't hurt, but you could see that he was lying. He had cried. Chris Jones! I wanted none of that. I would love to say that I stayed on "the straight and narrow," but I was a rambunctious kid and soon was sitting in Mr. Tubbs' office.

"Do you know what this is here?" Mr. Tubbs asked me one day after I was caught fighting on the bus.

"Uh, it says Board of Education. You smack kids with it," I muttered.

"I discipline students who don't respect the rules, Mr. Borgard. For instance, you, Mr. Borgard, on the bus this morning. You didn't respect the rules."

"So, you're going to hit me with that?" I asked.

"Let's say you have one in the bank for now, Mr. Borgard. However, the next time you decide to break the rules, we are going to make a withdrawal. Do you understand what I mean, Mr. Borgard?"

I did. And I made sure to never break a rule again ... for about a month. In fact, throughout my three years at that junior high, I continued to accumulate swats. I used every trick in the book to keep that paddle on the wall behind Mr. Tubbs' desk and not on my butt. I screamed, I cried, I begged, I reasoned, I bargained - anything to keep from being swatted ... well, other than obeying the rules.

By the time my final semester in ninth grade rolled around, I had eight swats "in the bank." I actually thought I was going to exit junior high without ever getting swatted. My big mouth had other ideas.

I sassed a teacher one morning and found myself in the vice principal's office. The teacher was a sweet lady, an older woman who never yelled, and she loved to hug her students all the time. I really liked her, but that morning, I pushed her too far. She decided she had to make a point with me, so she walked me to Mr. Tubbs' office. As we sat in his office, she explained what I did and asked Mr. Tubbs to let me know what the consequences would be the next time I acted up.

She didn't know about the eight swats I had in the bank. Mr. Tubbs explained that it was time to make a withdrawal. She turned white. I have never seen the color run out of a person's face faster. She suddenly developed a stuttering problem as she tried to talk Mr. Tubbs out of the paddling. She said things like, "Oh, it really wasn't that bad. I probably overreacted. I think we can excuse it this one time." I played it up for all it was worth. I would look at the ground and swing my feet when she looked at me.

Mr. Tubbs would have none of it. He insisted that I receive one swat, and he told her that she would need to be the witness because his secretary, who usually sat in on swats, was picking up supplies at the district office. Mr. Tubbs had to send me out of his office into the waiting room while he discussed it with her. After 10 minutes or so, he came out and told me it was time.

As I walked into his office, I could see that the teacher had moved her chair to one corner, and she wouldn't look at me. She stared at the ground while she drummed her fingers on her leg. I felt sorry for her. Mr. Tubbs ordered me to lean across his desk while he plucked his Board of Education from the wall. As he moved around the desk, I looked up enough to see the teacher's legs shaking like crazy. Poor thing.

All I could think of as Mr. Tubbs explained to me why he was going to smack me was that I should have worn those corduroy pants my mom always wanted me to wear. Those things were like an inch thick, and I could have used the padding. The scream began even before the Board met my butt ... but it didn't come from me.

"Ahhhhhhhhhhhh!" my teacher yelled out as the paddle hit my back side. "Oh, Lord. Oh, Lord! I'm so sorry, Mark. Oh, Lord." She then began to cry, rose up, grabbed a tissue off Mr. Tubbs' desk and quickly ran out. I was stunned. So was Mr. Tubbs. He simply waved me to go back to class. All the way back I kept wondering why I had fought so hard to keep from getting swatted. It hadn't hurt a bit.

Needless to say, I received a very big hug from my teacher when I returned. She kept patting me on the head and saying how sorry she was. My classmates were bewildered, wondering why she was so upset when I was the one who got in trouble. I must confess that I used the situation to my advantage. I made it a habit to be late to her class, and she never once said a word. She knew I still had quite a few swats left in the bank, and I knew she wasn't going to be the one to trigger a withdrawal.

A few days before the end of school, and an end to junior high and Mr. Tubbs forever, I got into a fight. The head of the hoods (the pot smokers) singled me out. I was told to meet him (and his buddies) at lunch in a vacant lot across from the school. I decided that I wanted none of that, so I smacked him during second hour instead. The surprise gained me the advantage, and I tore him up. I felt so good about besting the chief hood that I forgot all about the swats in my account until Mr. Tubbs reminded me by grabbing the Board of Education off the wall. He said it was time to make a full withdrawal.

I'm not sure what came over me that day. I looked straight into his eyes and told him, "No."

"Excuse me, Mr. Borgard. I didn't catch that."

"I said, no, you're not going to hit me with that board."

"I'm afraid, Mr. Borgard, that you don't get to make that decision. Now, lean across the desk."

I stood up and walked out of his office. He quickly followed and tried to grab me as I exited to the outside. I pulled away and kept walking.

"You come back here, Mr. Borgard," he yelled as I crossed the football field. I walked the two miles to home and waited for my dad to arrive. Dad showed up a few minutes later.

"What happened?" he asked.

"I'm done with the Board of Education, Dad."

The next year during my first year of high school, I heard that the school board had agreed with my assessment, and the paddle behind Mr. Tubbs' desk stayed on the wall after that. It seems that there was a teacher who pleaded with the board to discontinue the practice. I never found out if it was my teacher, but I'll bet all the swats in my bank account that it was.