Not-so-common sense

Ed Smith
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I think our society needs a strong injection of common sense.

Daughter Number Three sent me an article and video from The Globe and Mail today. Seems this school principal in Halifax got into a tussle with a male student and physically subdued him by wrestling him to the floor in front of dozens of students. You think that's highly controversial and, given the problems in some of our urban schools, perhaps somewhat appropriate?

Wait until you hear what happened to me as a vice-principal in a Newfoundland high school! But first, listen to the details of what happened in Halifax.

First of all, this was a junior high school where students aren't normally that big and this principal, Mr. Fell (which I think is his correct name), was large and ex-military. Come to think of it, I had a call from an elementary school principal one August with a a bit of a warning.

"You're getting a boy in September who's bigger than most of your teachers and a real discipline problem. We can't handle him anymore." Sure enough, he was very large and looked extremely strong. So before classes began for the year, I called him into my office. He didn't look real happy to be there and defiance was written all over his face.

"Jimmy (not his real name)," I said, "I'm really pleased to have you in this school."

"You are?" He didn't look as though he believed it.

"Yes, you're a real godsend."

"I am?" He looked even more unbelieving.

It was probably the first time in his school career he had been told he was sent by God.

"Yep. We have regular school dances here. Almost every dance, one or two older boys and younger men who aren't in school anymore get liquored up and try to get in to cause trouble. I need someone like you to keep them out or, if they get in, get them out. No fighting or really rough stuff, you understand. Just keep them from spoiling the dance for our students. Will you help me out here?"

He lit up like a Christmas tree. No doubt he had never been asked before to be part of the school staff.

"You can count on me, sir! If I say they don't come in they won't come in. If I tell them to get out, they'll get out."

He was as good as his word for the five years he was in school, and graduated with the rest of his class. We are friends to this day.

The other mitigating factor in the Halifax incident, which probably would not have been a factor in Newfoundland and Labrador, was that the principal was black and the student white. When the issue went before the school board, every black organization in the Halifax area protested his possible firing while the white population wanted him gone.

The board didn't fire him, but removed him from the school and placed him in another - I don't know in what capacity. The policy of the board was that physical force was never to be used on a student. If restraint is necessary, the policy says, the police should be called.

If it were my kid, I'm pretty sure I'd prefer that the principal restrain him rather than having the police come and remove them from school. The colour should never be a part of it. That's the second factor which causes the whole thing to fall off the tracks.

OK, my story.

He was one of those bigger Grade 11 boys who survived in a fairly large Newfoundland school on the shady side of school discipline. When I saw him roaming an otherwise empty corridor during class time, I was concerned about what might be happening.

When I asked him what he was doing, he gave me an insolent stare.

"I think you'd better go back to your classroom," I said.

"Not going!" Said loudly.

"What are you doing in the corridor?"

"None of your business!" Said louder.

"OK, let's go to my office and you can tell me what's going on."

"No!" Said quite loudly.

I put my hand gently on his arm. "Come with me, Jeffrey."

I saw him swing and ducked the punch in time. I realized this fellow was even with my own 74 inches and that could be a bit of a problem. I certainly couldn't hit a student, no matter how big, but somehow I had to subdue him before he decked me.

By now, the door to every classroom along the corridor was open and teachers and students were trying to get a view of what was happening. Not a good situation.

I desperately did not want help from anyone else because in those days that would have been perceived as a weakness in the teacher responsible for discipline in that school.

Somehow I managed to wrestle him the length of the corridor and into my office and into a chair. Then I locked the door and awaited developments.

To my utter amazement, he started to cry. I wish I could tell you what his problem was that day, but that might only serve to identify him, even now. But I understood why he lashed out, I really did, and while there were those who demanded that he be expelled, I argued against it. The boy remained in school and there were no further problems with him.

There was never any thought, as far as I know, about any disciplinary action toward me. Perhaps it was a different time and a different situation. Perhaps the most important factor in those far-off days was that people were sensible when it came to resolving difficult situations.

Daughter's article brought back old memories in a rush, and with them a profound gratitude that the people with whom I worked over the years were for the most part generously endowed with wisdom and understanding.

In short, common sense.

Ed Smith is an author who lives in Springdale. His e-mail address is

Organizations: Globe and Mail, Newfoundland school

Geographic location: Halifax, Newfoundland and Labrador, Springdale

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Recent comments

  • Dwayne
    July 02, 2010 - 13:23

    So well and truly stated! Fools rush in where angels fear to tread There is good in everyone; only through calm, patience and respect do we see the good in everyone! Despite normal human frustration!

  • Dwayne
    July 01, 2010 - 20:08

    So well and truly stated! Fools rush in where angels fear to tread There is good in everyone; only through calm, patience and respect do we see the good in everyone! Despite normal human frustration!