Valediction to the Hickory Stick

My wife was chatting with a friend the other night, this friend being, by day, a high school pedagogue. The pedagogue told her that, a few days earlier, she had dimmed the lights in her classroom to play an instructional video, and that under the cloak of darkness one young scholar near the back had taken the opportunity to give head to another young scholar. Owing to modesty or fear of detection, the recipient scholar had taken the added precaution of holding a binder open before him on his knees, while pretending to read. His pretense of reading was, of course, his fatal mistake, since the pedagogue was not a little curious when she saw the young man apparently reading in the dark.

Just this past week, I spent a few hours in the back rows of some university lecture theaters, in order to observe young colleagues as part of their annual performance reviews. I was not aware of active fellatio, but as my wife hadn’t yet told me the pedagogue’s tale of scholastic sodomy, I wasn’t really looking. What I did see, and have so often seen before, were the screens of student’s laptops displaying all manner of amusing distractions. Some scholars were absorbed in reading news articles; some were chuckling over television programs; some were flicking with every appearance of ennui through their e-mail or twitter.

To my surprise, not one of these scholars appeared to be reading the Orthosphere.

I will go in to my office in an hour or so. It is Saturday morning, but I am teaching my first on-line class this semester, and so am under the lash to produce two seventy-five minute videos each week. I like to get things right, so each video is the work of many hours. I must admit that video production is satisfying, as any creative work can be, and I believe watching one of these videos might be, in some cases, more beneficial than listening to my corresponding lecture. But it would be a matter of watching the video in the right spirit, and that would not be the spirit that prevails in the back row of the class. This is a problem because, in an on-line class, every seat is in the back row!

The tale of scholastic sodomy has, I’m afraid, spoiled for me the old idea of “moving to the head of the class.” This phrase comes from the days when the best scholars were honored with front-row seats, although I do not think that there was in those days an expectation of active sodomy in the rear. In our times of reverse discrimination, I suppose the front row is reserved for blockheads, dullards and dunces. But this hardly matters, because technology is putting every young scholar in the back row, where mischief and mayhem are kings.

You may recall at least portions of this old song.

School days, school days,
Dear old golden rule days,
Readin’ and ’Ritin and ’Rithmatic,
Taught to the tune of a hickory stick;
You were my queen in calico,
I was your bashful, barefoot beau,
And you wrote on my slate, I love you Joe,
When we were a couple of kids.

I rather doubt the young woman was dressed in calico when she stooped to her work behind the binder in the back row of that dusky high-school classroom. And while her accomplice may have been named Joe, he was certainly not barefoot or bashful. Snapchat was, no doubt, the slate on which she first bared her heart (along with who knows what else).

How times change!

School days, school days,
. . . .
When we were a couple of kids.

Perhaps no change is so striking as the disappearance of the tuneful hickory stick, which in a schoolroom of yore was not only stout and ready to hand, but also studded with what one old writer calls “some rather sharp knots.” These words appear in a book produced for school administrators in 1885, and in which I find it argued that “marks of violence on the child” ought not to be taken as evidence of “malice or cruelty on the part of the teacher,” but rather as evidence of “obstinacy and perseverance” on the part of the child.

There were in those days safeguards against pedagogic brutality, but a teachers of 1885 was not encumbered by public prejudice against the vigorous chastisement of recalcitrant scholars. As a Philadelphia judge had opined some years before:

“The teacher required obedience to the rules of the school and it was refused. That punishment is used which she thinks is best calculated to produce submission, and in the manner and form common in all schools. This authority the law has delegated to her . . .”*

I imagine that this sensible old Philadelphia judge would be astounded to learn that we are now testing the rule against schoolroom sodomy, and that free-spirited scholars who refuse to obey this doubtful ordinance are in absolutely no danger of a sharp crack to their sensitive parts by a stout and nobbled hickory stick. He would be astonished to learn that young collegians loll through their (taxpayer-subsidized) lectures with what amount to bawdy theatrical performances and burlesque shows playing on the desk in front them. And this, once again, without fear of reproof by so much as the tap of a sarcastic word. I cannot imagine what he would think were he to learn that students in an “on-line” class receive their instruction while recumbent in bed, astride an exercise bicycle, or perhaps seated on the toilet. But I’d guess he would grasp that these places of instruction lie well beyond the reach of any hickory stick, real or metaphoric.

So fare thee well old hickory stick
Your tune we’ll hear no more,
But it won’t be quiet
Since scholars will riot
While the head of the class plays the whore.


*) George W. Kelly, The Power and Authority of School Officers and Teachers (New York: Harper, 1885), pp. 126-127.

11 thoughts on “Valediction to the Hickory Stick

  1. Pingback: Valediction to the Hickory Stick | @the_arv

  2. Pingback: Valediction to the Hickory Stick | Reaction Times

  3. In my primary school days, the best students were sat at the back of the class, on the working hypothesis that they required less direct supervision.

    • Many years ago we pulled our son out of an elementary school where the teacher told him to go to the back and read a book while she focused on his illiterate classmates.

    • Sodomy takes in all forms of extra-vaginal sexual behavior, buggery being the specific name of anal intercourse. The old laws against sodomy took in oral sex, which used to be just as illegal for heterosexual couples as it was for homosexual couples.

  4. Pingback: This Week In Reaction (2018/02/11) - Social Matter


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