Archive for April 8th, 2009

We watched the movie Doubt last night. It starred Meyrl Street as Sister Aloysius Beauvier, the “. . . the iron-gloved Principal who believes in the power of fear and discipline. I remember well the type.

I started the first grade at St. Joseph’s in 1957, back when Mass was in Latin and corporal punishment was the norm in Catholic schools. The nuns terrified us all in the first grade. Mother Superior was like the commandant of a prisoner of war camp. Discipline was handled in the classroom with a whack across the knuckles with a wooded ruler. If that didn’t work, you would be sent to Mother Superior’s office. She had a leather strop to beat the children with. No one I knew ever needed a second trip.

Rain of shine, we would play outside during recess. You were not supposed to get your clothes wet in the snow, but of course it happened. One boy in my class broke the rules, and he was forced to stand on the heater in our classroom with a towel wrapped around him like a skirt while his pants dried next to him. Humiliating, yes, and painful to spend hours in stocking feet standing on the metal grate while we continued our “education.”

Talking in class was probably the worst breach of discipline. There were two first grade classes at St. Joseph’s, and one day things must have gotten out of hand in the other. The nun teaching that class paraded three kids from room to room, explaining they had been talking in class and asked if we felt they should they should cut off their tongues for punishment. I remember sitting there as the three were told to stick out their tongues, scissors at the ready, while we decided their fate. Our class decided they should cut their tongues off, probably because we thought that was what the nuns wanted and we were too frightened not to.

All three were told to cut off their tongues, and all three, in tears, hesitated. The nun told them again to do it. Two of them just stood there crying. But the third, a boy, with his eyes closed and shaking with fear, cut off the tip of his tongue.  The nuns huddled up briefly, speaking in French. Jeanine Bouche sat next to me in class. Jeanine spoke French and normally she would tell us later what the nuns were talking about. She didn’t say a word. No doubt fearing for her own tongue.


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