Kids need to learn actions have consequences

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My Catholic nun elementary school teachers were disciplinarians. Without question, they were the toughest formal education teachers. Although I spent only four years in Catholic school, plus time in Catechism school, I have fond memories of the nuns I encountered. More to the point, I am grateful for the nuns’ life lessons.

All my life I’ve needed no prodding to study subjects I liked. On the other hand, only Acts of God – if I can be forgiven here for using that metaphor – could get me to study uninteresting subjects.

Suppose a teacher said, “Learn this” or “Memorize this.” If they didn’t also give, or if I couldn’t see, a compelling reason to learn or memorize the lesson, either I wouldn’t do it, or I’d wait until the last minute to complete it, often with the least amount of effort needed to do the work.

Our actions have consequences. Learning that lesson early on is perhaps the nuns’ greatest gift. My first experience with that lesson was early on. In public school first grade I had to also attend after school Catechism class at St. Bernard’s Roman Catholic Church. This class was preparation for receiving First Communion. A nun — I will call her Sister (?) — taught the class from the Baltimore Catechism, the traditional Church lessons for children in Catholic doctrine.

The Baltimore Catechism begins with a series of Q&A Lessons, starting with:

Q. Who made the world?
A. God made the world.

How many Lessons we were required to memorize between each class — I don’t remember. But the first or second class, seated among my classmates, Sister (?) asked me to stand and answer Question 6: Why did God make you?

I hadn’t done my homework. I had no idea why God made me. Maybe God was asking Himself the same question.

Sister (?) called me to the front of the classroom. She took me over her knee and gave me at least one no-nonsense whack on my butt with the palm of her hand. “Are you going to come to class again without memorizing your lessons?” she asked. I stood there, busted, red-faced, head down, and answered, “No, Sister.”

Our actions have consequences. I did receive First Communion, but have no other recollection of Sister (?) or her class.

Third grade was my first year at St. Hugh of Lincoln School. Classes were segregated into all girls and all boys classes. My teacher, Miss Schmidt, was a lay teacher. I remember her reading aloud to us 8- and 9-year old boys from Edgar Allen Poe’s works: The Pit and the Pendulum, The Cask of Amontillado, The Tell-Tale Heart, The Raven, and Murder in the Rue Morgue.

I still recall pieces of my nightmare trying to rescue my sister, Maribeth, from a pit and pendulum, and she is just out of arm’s reach. More consequences.

Sister Clarice, my fifth-grade teacher, taught all boys. Slender, of average height; she wore eyeglasses without frames and was a disciplinarian with rules of classroom decorum. Obey her rules and you were gold. Breaking the rules usually meant physical punishment. Standing in front of the class, Sister Clarice might give your open palm several stinging whacks with her wood paddle, or rap your knuckles with her wood rule.

Could I have learned actions have consequences in less physical ways? Maybe. But it would not have been quick setting.

Kids I grew up with, whose parents made sure nobody disciplined their darlings, didn’t avoid the actions have consequences lesson. At best they delayed the learning until college or the workplace, where the lesson hurt much more than Sister Clarice’s knuckle rap.

Tragically, for some classmates, when it finally happened, understanding that actions have consequences was the last thing they expected and the last thing they did.

Scott K. Fish has served as a communications staffer for Maine Senate and House Republican caucuses, and was communications director for Senate President Kevin Raye. He founded and edited AsMaineGoes.com and served as director of communications/public relations for Maine’s Department of Corrections until 2015. He is now using his communications skills to serve clients in the private sector.

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