Friday, January 13, 2012
K. O. Vaughn & THE PADDLE
Someone wrote to ask why I had not yet done a piece on Kenneth O. Vaughn, the first EHHS Vice-Principal. I had a reason, but it was a little difficult to express because my thoughts of him involve a larger, more complex body of thought than just a few anecdotes and observations. The fact is, when I think of K.O. Vaughn, I’ve always recalled him as the “Enforcer.” He was the school’s disciplinarian, which in our time meant….THE PADDLE! And since corporal punishment in public schools has been a lively topic over the past decades I’ve thought it worth a rational treatment.
Mr. Vaughn was a skinny, relatively tall Ichabod Crane-type of guy; energetic, always jovial, neither quiet nor boisterous. He roamed the halls with a smile on his face, but behind that cheery smile many of us knew that he was really, “the enforcer.” As the enforcer, he was the academic teachers’ go-to-guy when they had a discipline problem with someone. In my recollection few, if any, academic teachers wielded a paddle themselves…Mr. Vaughn took care of that for them. You knew that behind that mousy or meek female or male teacher, lurked the possibility of a trip to Mr. Vaughn’s office and in short order, a stinging backside.
One of Mr. Vaughn’s regular tasks was to patrol the student parking lot to ensure that no one left campus without having a proper pass. Get caught without a pass…the PADDLE! He also patrolled the hallways during a school assembly in the auditorium to ensure no one ducked out of a remote doorway to go play pool, instead. Get caught ducking out…the PADDLE! And during lunch periods he would patrol the few local food joints to snare anyone away from school without a lunch pass. Get caught eating away from campus without a lunch pass…the PADDLE! You get the idea. I think he was also the de facto school truant officer which gave him more opportunities to swing the PADDLE!
Ken Vaughn coached the tennis team during the spring so, it was said that he had a good swing. He was an accomplished musician who had some kind of connection with the Carswell AFB band which visited the school to perform once or twice each year.
As it was at Meadowbrook Junior High, the male coaches at EHHS handled their own discipline matters, which were almost an ongoing event, especially in the PE classes. At the Junior High, the shop teachers were notorious enforcers, but at EH, I think they weren’t quite so active. To understand the inconspicuous role the PADDLE played in our public school matriculation, you would almost have had to have been there. In my own experience, it was a constant threat from the first day of the 7th grade until graduation 6-years later.
Of the coaches, only Ron McBee and Dub Graves were enthusiastic wielders of the PADDLE. Both of them were mostly employed as PE teachers, each of them having a full day of classes, so there was an ample supply of potential miscreants. The other coaches, George Mitcham and James Willingham would swing a paddle now and then, but neither of them were nearly as prolific as McBee and Graves. Mitcham looked after study halls each day and Willingham taught American History.
Members of the school athletic teams could be targets, but not very often and never for trivial reasons as could be the case in the PE classes. However, of the 6-licks I got over my 6-years in the risk zone, 3 of them came from Coach Willingham…and I was completely innocent! It was Phil Nixon’s fault and I never really forgave him.
While in the showers after football practice one afternoon, Phil thought it would be funny to throw a wet towel at Coach Willingham, and so he did. The towel, heavy with water, hit Willingham in the back of his head with a resounding splat and nearly knocked him over, ass over tea kettle. Willingham, an easy going sort, slowly turned around with a wide, exasperated grin on his face and asked who did it? None of the 8 or 10 guys in the shower replied, including Phil, the culprit. O.K., says Willingham…3 each. And Phil never said a word, nor did anyone else. It wasn’t so much that we wanted to protect Phil as it was a kind of adolescent camaraderie where we just wouldn’t give up a team mate. We did get a towel for cover, but it didn’t help any and for the record, Willingham didn’t swing very hard.
An 8th grade shop teacher delivered my first fiery tap…talking, as usual. And K.O. tapped me twice for some trivial offense reported by James Ledbetter, our resident EH Aggie. Can’t say I learned anything from those assaults, other than to be more careful about getting caught doing trivial stuff and that in my particular case, public officialdom was 50% flat wrong and only marginally right another 35% of the time. That 8th grade shop teacher nailed me fair and square.
After we left EH and during the tumult of the sixties that included the Civil Rights movement, the Women’s Rights movement, and Vietnam, the issue of school paddlings came to the fore of public discourse. It was only one of a number of anachronisms in our society. Our generation reasonably asked that if we were old enough to be called to war at age 18, why weren’t we old enough to have a beer in the local pub? Similarly and more pointedly, the same reasoning was applied to the voting age…we could be forced by the draft to go far away to kill and be killed, but we could not vote on those responsible for taking us into the war—both the voting age and the drinking age then was 21.
All those anachronisms were addressed and changed—if there is one substantial thing our generation contributed to improving conditions within our society, I would nominate that it was us who firmly pressed our elders and authorities with the question WHY? It was a reasonable question to which there was often no rational answer.
Men like K.O. Vaughn represented the last gasp of a dying institution … beating or threatening to beat our children into submission. I recognize that comment is a bit harsh and not really representative of the type of man K. O. Vaughn was. He and the others highlighted in this piece were all good-humored men, also fair and credible contributors to our secondary education. Smacking young fannies was an ancillary activity in their daily routines and probably of marginal effect in dispensing discipline. However, as the historian, Shelby Foote, liked to say (paraphrased), “there is nothing so conducive to maintaining a polite society than the threat of a punch in the nose.” Perhaps it’s the absence of the threat of a tap on the rear that has, in part, led to the sad state of affairs in our public schools today.
K.O. Vaughn retired in 1968 and his departure was appropriately marked with the dedication of that year's CLAN...
Either that same year, or the year before, Roy Johnson, Coaches George Mitcham, and James Willingham, also left EH. Coach Graves left in 1966 to work for a local Credit Union, where he stayed for 25-years. Many of the teachers we knew during our years there were also gone; after 1968 the school was substantially different than the one we knew. Many of us were starting our families, trying to hang on to those coveted II-S draft deferments, or for some of us, an all-expense paid trip to Southeast Asia was our award following receipt of a snail mail message from our local draft board.