Dear Hannah Marie Perez,
Congratulations. You just about broke the internet this week. The video you took (while pretending to text) of your son being disciplined by school officials in Georgia has had more hits than a UFC Main Event. I can’t help but wonder if your insta-fame is more of a burden than you first imagined. The internet backlash has been massive and extreme, both supporting and condemning you.
The video of 5 year-old Thomas being disciplined by the principal of his elementary school is disturbing, but not for the reasons they have enumerated on various media outlets. I listened this morning as Savannah Guthrie and company assaulted the heartless school officials who were trying to discipline your out-of-control child. What they said disturbed me. They decried the draconian practice of corporal punishment practiced in schools throughout Georgia and 17 other states. They talked about how you and your child were victimized by the school administrators. I smelled liberal bias, but I wanted to be fair. After all, I love me some Savannah Guthrie.
So I watched the video.
Here’s what I saw. I observed a child who was distraught because he was about to be punished for bad behavior. He acted in a manner that just about all of my children did before they were punished. They were afraid (because punishment hurts); they bargained (in hopes of changing my mind); they wailed (further indicating the need for the punishment). They appealed to other authority figures (hoping my authority would be trumped and the punishment would go away). Thomas was indeed distraught. But Thomas was acting like a kid about to get a spanking. Nothing more. Nothing less.
I saw two school officials who acted in an entirely loving manner. They never raised their voices. They never belittled Thomas. In fact, one of them can be clearly heard to say, “Whenever you make bad choices, you have to have consequences” (around the :50 mark of the video). What a truthful and loving thing to teach a child! They not only tried to correct Thomas, but these two school officials engaged you in what I think was a completely-missed-by-you attempt to mentor you in child rearing. At the 1:58 mark in the video, you say, “He does this to me.” At the 2:00 mark you are kindly asked, “What does he do with dad? I’m just curious. Does dad spank him?” Your response did not shock me. You said dad did not spank him. “He just takes his hat off and goes, shhh, on his leg or something.” You said all of this without losing your camera shot. Impressive. These ladies were trying to help you understand the importance of discipline in the home. Educators will tell you that children who receive consistent, appropriate discipline in the home seldom if ever need to receive discipline in school.
At 1:45 you say to Thomas, “I’m not listening to you. I’m texting.” Clearly, you were videoing (which I think was within your right). But what I wished you would have said was, “Thomas, you broke the rules. There must be consequences when we break the rules. You are getting a paddling from these ladies. And after that, you’re getting one from me if you don’t stand still and take your punishment. Next time, you will think before you make bad choices.” Sadly, that’s not what you said. Instead, you sat there, feigning disengagement, acting as if you were texting through this entire episode.
Hannah, why did you post the video? I think your intentions were clear. You were trying to expose bad behavior on the part of the Jasper County schools. Why did you think what they were doing was bad behavior? I only saw what you posted, but their behavior was entirely appropriate. Honestly, this causes me to question any insinuations of wrong-going or inappropriate threats they allegedly made off-camera. Unwittingly, in your attempt to expose school officials, you did the opposite. You demonstrated a complete lack of parenting on your own part.
But I want to help. Seriously.
Proper discipline of children is a Gospel issue. If we properly discipline our children, we are sowing the seeds of Scripture into their lives. We are teaching them the eternity-shaping truth that sin has consequences. To fail to discipline our children is to forego an opportunity to instruct them about the reality and damnable end of their own sinfulness. Discipline, whether it is corporal or some other form, drives home the painful reality of consequences. We have often heard the platitude, “Spare the rod, spoil the child.” Did you know that platitude is actually a distortion of Scripture? Proverbs 13:24 tells us, “Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.” Corporal discipline, according to the Scriptures, is an act of love. It is part of how we point our children to Christ, who bore our punishment on Calvary. It is part of how we help them see the consequences to their own sin. If their sin has no temporal consequence, why should they think it has an eternal consequence? I would encourage you (and anyone else who reads this) to pick up a copy of Gospel-Powered Parenting by William Farley. He does a masterful job of helping us understand our responsibility to point our kids to Jesus and the role of discipline in that process.
I understand that your situation is complex. I’m sure you felt cornered by the school board because of the number of days your child had previously missed in school. I understand that a suspension (your other option instead of corporal discipline) would have put him over the legal limit creating consequences for yourself. The situation is complex; I get it. But the bigger issue remains. All children need loving, consistent discipline.
I have three kids of my own. If any of them had earned a spanking at school through their misconduct, I would have set my cell phone down, went and held my child still while they administered the spanking, and then asked them to step out of the room for a minute and leave the paddle so that I could reinforce their lessons on the seat of my child’s learning. I think that would be the most loving thing to do.