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After a few days of student fights at Southwood High School in Shreveport, La., and 23 students arrested in three days, a number of local fathers decided to form a group called “Dads on Duty” and start spending time at the school throughout the day “greeting students in the morning and helping maintain a positive environment for learning, rather than fighting.”

Maybe you saw this on Steve Hartman’s recent “On the Road” piece on the “CBS Evening News.” It makes more sense than anything I’d heard about to help control the violence in schools across the country. According to the Hartman piece, there hasn’t been a single incident on campus since the dads showed up. More importantly, perhaps, the students seem happy with the dads’ presence.

The 40 dads in the group hope to form chapters across Louisiana, then move on to the rest of the country. Great idea. I never taught where a dads group like that was involved. But I always knew that the dads and moms who made time to attend parent-teacher conferences (or otherwise engage with their child’s education) had kids who tended to stay out of trouble.

I learned about that back when I was a student myself, too. My father didn’t show up at my school to prevent trouble like the dads in Shreveport are doing. But he did have to go to a school board meeting about my behavior my senior year. I had a study hall right before lunch and was reading a paperback novel hidden between the pages of my history book because — and I’m not kidding — we weren’t allowed to read paperbacks in school.

When the study-hall teacher confiscated it, I mouthed off and cut the study hall the next day. Instead, I went across the street to smoke a cigarette and talk to the World War II veteran who ran a little restaurant that was only open for students at lunchtime. He had spent nearly four years in the Army during the war, much of it in the South Pacific, and I liked to talk with him about his time in the Army.

After being sent to the principal’s office for talking back to the teacher and getting caught skipping the study hall, together with a few other minor misdeeds, I had to go to a school board meeting with my father where it was decided to suspend me for three days. At the meeting, the principal started to tell my father more about my behavior and how I was a bad influence on a couple of younger kids who were always in trouble.

“Now don’t start blamin’ him for what other kids do,” my father said, interrupting the principal. “I know how he is and will deal with that. You’re not tellin’ me a dang thing about him. But I don’t want him takin’ the blame for some other parents’ kids. That’s their problem.”

I was proud of how he stood up for me to the principal. And my father did “deal” with me. Having been suspended, I went home looking forward to the next three days off. But that changed drastically the next morning when my father came to my bed and told me to get up.

“I don’t have to go to school today,” I said and started to roll over and go back to sleep.

“No, you don’t have to go to school for the next three days,” he said quietly. “But you’re going to be cuttin’ brush in the fence row up there on the Sally Place there by Thornt’s.”

“But it’s only 6 o’clock,” I said, squinting at my watch.

“Your mother is cookin’ bacon and eggs, packin’ a pail for you an’ fillin’ the water jug,” he said. “Get out of bed, now. We’ll eat breakfast, an’ I’ll take you by the fence row an’ come back for you at 5 o’clock. I’m haulin’ lime all day.”

When my father let me out of the truck at the fence row, I grabbed the pail and the water jug, and he tossed an ax across the ditch into the field and said, “You keep at it until I come to pick you up. I’ve cut a lot of fence row in my time an’ know how much a feller should be able to cut in a day. You’d better keep at it. Just stack the sprouts up, an’ we’ll burn ’em later.”

That’s the way it went for three days. I was so tired when I got home each day that I ate a little supper and headed off to bed. By the end of the third day, I was ready to go back to school. Anything was better than spending the day all by myself and cutting sprouts in a fence row. And with a little urging, I even made the honor roll for the next six weeks and high honors the last six weeks of my high school days.

“Dads on Duty” may not have fence rows for students to cut. But these dads at Southwood High School in Shreveport are apparently a welcome addition there. They’re a firm, supportive and effective deterrent to bad student behavior.

Ray Elliott is an author and former high school teacher who lives in rural Urbana. He can be reached at rayelliott23@att.net.

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