When my brothers and I were growing up, an essential piece of household equipment was a razor strop. It hung prominently on the kitchen wall. Whenever we failed to respond to a gentler urging to do right, the strop was called into use. The recipe called for a brisk application in the general area of the overall’s hip pockets. I remember experiencing this unwelcome application only once, but the daily sight of the strop was a powerful reminder of the consequences of wrongdoing. Ernie Wilborn’s house did not have the embarrassing strap in the kitchen and Ernie did pretty much as he pleased. I always thought Ernie was exceedingly lucky.

In high school, in keeping with our academic progress, the principal’s office had the nail in the wall like our kitchen, but instead of a razor strop, it supported a half-inch thick paddle. When we misbehaved, the teachers sent us to the principle, a large, stern, thick-armed man who knew how to use the paddle and did not suffer for lack of material to keep in practice. Ernie supplied a large portion of this practice. Ernie was often in the principal’s office. But, by this time Ernie was bigger than the principal. He laughed as the principal gave him his licks, although sometimes the pain brought a few tears. Ernie dropped out of school with a couple of years remaining. I would like to be able to say that Ernie did well, but to be truthful, life did not serve him well. Although he missed out on institutions of higher learning, he was well acquainted with institutions of sterner discipline. Ernie was my friend. Thinking of him makes me sad.
I thought of these things as I read recently of some modern “behavior-modification programs.” The article spoke of the anguish of parents as they see their children sink deeper and deeper into rebellion, drugs, anger, self-hatred, self-limiting beliefs, low self-esteem and scars on the soul. It compares short-term “behavior-modification programs,” the rugged, wilderness, boot camps, with long-term programs that are heavy with counseling. The article said, “They need a structured place of love and accountability.”

“A structured place of love and accountability!” Isn’t that what the scriptures teach? “Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right.

Honor thy father and thy mother (which is the first commandment with promise) that it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth. And ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath but nurture them in the chastening and admonition of the Lord.” Ephesians 6:1-4

When we, ideally a Christian mother and a Christian father, provide a structured place of love and accountability where God is honored and family is sacred – where Christian principles are nurtured from earliest years – many of youth’s problems will vanish.

Still, I wish two things: One, that Ernie never finds out about this article. And, secondly, that I had known that whipping was really “behavior modification.”

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