Tri-City Ledger -

By Joe Thomas
Ledger Editor 

Folsom's tough love loved by all

 

January 24, 2019



I didn't get to know John Folsom until he had retired from his education career. I moved to Brewton in 1984 and moved to Flomaton in 1989. But I heard the stories about Folsom long before I met him.

Folsom died Monday in a healthcare facility in Daphne, Ala., but his legacy as a tough-love educator will be remembered forever by those who went to school under his watch.

I've written a lot of stories about people who have died and the impact they left on the lives they touched. I've heard the phrase 'the world would be a lot better place if we had more 'John Smith's' living in it.

That phrase fits John Folsom because I do think the world would be a lot better off if we had more people like John Folsom among us.

What I knew of John Folsom was reinforced this week as I began to talk to some of his former students from Flomaton High School. The central theme was tough, fair and loving. Many didn't think it was fair back in the day but they later realized it was. Another central thing was that Folsom truly loved every student under his watch. He wanted them to succeed and he did whatever he thought was necessary to make sure they did.

I used Teddy Roosevelt's famous phrase of 'Walk softly and carry a big stick' on my Page 1 story about Folsom, because I felt it fit Folsom personally. From what I was able to determine, what Roosevelt really meant by the phrase that was there was a need for diplomacy and compromise, but you needed that big stick on the other end in case the two other options fell through.

When I first heard about Folsom, I also heard about the paddle he carried while roaming the halls of Flomaton High School.

Buddy Smith described the paddle as being as big as Folsom's leg and when it was used you could hear the noise through the entire high school. After talking to Buddy I still scratched my head trying to figure out how he got out of Flomaton High School under Folsom's watch without getting that paddle slapped across his behind. Buddy said he came close but he said the students respected Folsom and they respected the paddle.

“Teachers could keep control in the classroom because you didn't want to be sent to his office,” Smith told me. “I didn't get hit one time. The teachers got my attention.”

I can hear it now: 'Buddy, if you don't straighten up I'm sending you to Mr. Folsom's office'. That's all it took for Buddy to straighten up.

Jack Carden was on the other end of Folsom's paddle in a trade off of either being expelled with two weeks left in his senior year or getting 10 licks from Folsom. Carden and two of his friends took the licks but, according to Carden, they were more than just licks.

Dewey Bondurant Jr., also said he was on the other end of Folsom's paddle a few times and says now he probably deserved it.

In talking with Smith, Carden and Bondurant I saw what most of us finally realize later in life: people like John Folsom, other teachers and other principals were tough because they really loved and cared about us. It didn't seem like love at the time, but the reflection shows the love and caring.

I experienced some John Folsom-like love from elementary school, junior high school and high school principals growing up in Tuscaloosa. Unlike Buddy, I found myself on the back end of many paddles.

As Buddy said, all it took was a teacher threatening me to straighten up or be sent to the principal's office and I straightened up; at least for a little while.

Folsom's tough love for his students probably did more good than any class they took at Flomaton High School. He taught them the life skill of rules needing to be followed and when rules are violated there are consequences. Early in life a rules violation was a paddle on the butt; as we grow older those violations can land us in jail.

The sad part is that Folsom's way and the way my principals handled discipline problems are long gone. I'm not even sure if a paddle is ever used in a public school any more. Paddle a student now and you'll be arrested for assault.

I can remember on more than one occasion I got an option: paddling or a call home. I took the paddling and prayed my parents didn't find out about it later.

John Folsom and people like him will be missed and as Bondurant said “He was a good man and a good man for Flomaton”.

 
 

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