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Volume 14, Issue 4: Childer

The Spanking Spoon

Douglas Wilson

A great deal of wisdom comes from wood, particularly when that wood is applied to the least wise portion of a child's anatomy.

After writing this initial sentence, it occured to me that we might want to have our attorney check on the legality of the advice I am about to dispense. But then I thought that the people in social nazi services who would object to it are the way they are because they weren't spanked enough as children. And so this is why we have to start disciplining children—we have to break the cycle of violence.
One of the most foolish nostrums of our day is the notion that if you "strike a child you are teaching them violence." It is preeminently foolish because it is partially true. Children do learn by example and they do replicate, when they are grown, what their parents did unto them.
So let us change the proverb slightly. "Strike a child and you are teaching him to do the same." But this is the whole point. We should want our children to grow up and do the same thing—so long as the circumstances are the same. In other words, when our child is grown, and he is confronted with a son who just clobbered his sister on the head in order to grab her toy, we should hope he remembers what to do.
On the other hand, if a parent flips out and spanks a kid in the midst of an irrational anger, or spanks too hard, or too young, the child learns that too. And this is where the nazis have a point. There is such a thing as child abuse, and the children who are so abused are likely to perpetuate that abuse when they are grown. We pass on what we know.
But partial truths are still dangerous. The reason the ignorati in child protective services have everything so muddled is that they are behaviorists, and, as such, they do not understand adjectives and adverbs. What they see in any form of corporal discipline is a "big person striking a little person." They do not see this being done righteously, or judiciously, or angrily, or calmly, or wickedly, or in any other way that implies a fixed moral standard. Because they have no category to understand such terms, they simply try to dispense with them. They are necessarily unsuccessful in this, as we shall see. At the same time, their inabilities in following a line of argument have not yet slowed them down much.
Because their thinking processes are made out of wood, all they can see is the wood of that spanking spoon. They cannot see the immaterial context. They cannot see justice or injustice—only violence. But the wood, by itself, teaches nothing. If the spanking is administered by a fool, then the wood is inculcating folly. If a wise man spanks his son with wisdom, he is dispensing wisdom. All discipline presupposes a certain view of the world, and all discipline is the point where that view of the world is defended and extended.
This same kind of blindness afflicts those who believe that it is a contradiction to oppose abortion-on-demand and simultaneously support the death penalty. Thinking they have got you in an impossible bind, they say, "Well, you're pro-life, are you? So why do you think the state should execute murderers?" Let's see. Is it a mass of contradictions to oppose the execution of innocent people who have not had a trial, and support the execution of guilty people who have had a trial? And the shrewd questioner scratches his head over this. Guilt? Innocence? These are strange words.
The behaviorism of all our social-service agencies is a worldview, and a comparatively durable one. As such, it really does discipline (just as every other worldview does), and sometimes with ferocity. This discipline of theirs presupposes a fixed standard which must be enforced at all costs. Despite this fixed standard, the behaviorists seek to preserve the charade of relativism by two (unsuccessful) devices. First, they act like their discipline is actually treatment or therapy. They are not punishing or disciplining, they tell themselves, they are healing. But this just pushes all the questions we had about right and wrong into the realm of normal and abnormal, functional and dysfunctional. Why is dysfunctional bad? Who says? By what standard?
The second device is that of smuggling in ethical categories from the Christian worldview, in the hope that nobody notices. This is an effective trick because no one usually does. When they say that striking a child we teach him violence, we need to have a greater readiness to call their bluff. Why is it wrong, or unhealthy, or dysfunctional, to teach a child violence? They might counter by saying that it teaches indiscriminate violence. But what is wrong with that?
Right and wrong are embedded in the world, and God embedded these categories deeply. Our first parents ate from the tree of the knowledge and good and evil, and we cannot pretend that we don't know these categories as living realities. When we undertake the pretence—and not infrequently presume to take other people's children away on the basis of it—we do not eradicate the distinction, but are rather choosing sides. Relativism is no question mark, but is instead a dogmatic embrace of wickedness.
God is wise, and His Word is good, and He has given the rod to parents. But He insists that it be used in line with His character, which is wise and good and kind. And so we must return to the wisdom our children can have transmitted to them through wood. This wood is a remarkable conductor of wisdom, but in order for the process to occur, the one wielding the wood must be also wise.

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