Thursday, May 13, 2010

Rosary Boys RC, corporal punishment and Mr. Orosco

                     Rosary Boys RC School

           Mr Orosco's Class of 1974

Rosary Boys Sports Day  (1974) I am in there somewhere.

Rosary Boys Sports Day Program (1974) with my name in the 50 yard dash. 

Rosary Boys Sports Day Program (1974) running 60 yard potato race

Ask anyone who attended Rosary Boys Primary school located in Port of Spain, Trinidad, who was the most feared teacher and they will respond “Mr. Orosco!”

Rosary Boys is an all male Catholic school. It sits on the corner of one of the busiest intersections in the city. Traffic feeding into Port of Spain from Maraval, St. Anns, Belmont, and Laventille all converge at Park and Charlotte Street.

At the corner of the intersection, stands a two story open-air building. Its tan color making it distinct among the grayish galvanized steel rooftops of surrounding buildings. Rosary Boys lies on a compound that includes a girls school and Catholic church.

The school is about twenty minutes from grandmother’s house in Trinidad. I would get up in the morning, put on my uniform, eat breakfast, grab my book bag, and walk a quarter mile to the junction of Morne Coco road and Saut D’eau Road.

The junction was always lively in the morning - people catching taxis to go to work, trucks transporting fresh vegetable to stores, kids hustling off to school. I would catch the taxi down to school. My uncle Thomas drove a taxi and he would often be the one to get me to school on time.

The twenty minute ride to school often was spent squashed between some grown man and an oversized woman. My uncle certainly made up for the little space I was taking up. I weighed probably 75 pounds at 10. Yes, very skinny.

So after twenty minutes of being part of the car door, I would arrive at Rosary Boys Roman Catholic (RC) School. I was in Standard Five. That is equivalent to the 5th grade in the U.S. My teacher was Mr. Orosco!

Mr. Orosco was a big muscle-bound man with a two inch afro sitting on top of a perfectly round head. He wore glasses that had clip-on shades attached to them. And he wore the clip-on shades outdoor and in. He was and still is to this day, the most no nonsense teacher I ever had. He made me strive to be the best. And he did it with fear – plain and simple. I feared the man. Everyone did.

Trinidad and Tobago at that time had corporal punishment in schools. Teachers were free to whip kids with their hands or any object if they wished. It was common practice.

Mr. Orosco's weapon of choice was the cane. In fact, he had a set of canes. Most were 3-foot long and three-quarters of an inch in diameter. The most feared cane in the set was the Black Mamba. It was a 4-foot long and one inch in diameter cane with black electrical tape wrapped completely around. To me it looked like a black broom stick. And he used it freely and often.

The first day of class I remember sitting wherever. Just the closest seat by the fan. The classrooms were cooled by large fans bolted to the wall that made tremendous noise when rotating. Breeze flowed through the large open spaces in between the top of the classroom walls and the ceiling. In addition to the whirling of the fan blades, noise from the streets could be heard quite frequently. Car horns, ambulances, even loud arguments were privy to our ears.

On the first day, Mr Orosco walked in with cane in hand, picked up the chalk, and wrote the letters ‘GPO’ on the board. He spoke in a loud assured voice, “This stands for Guy Peter Orosco. That is my name. Get to know it very well.” And from that moment on GPO consumed 8 hours of my life, my thoughts, and my actions every day. In that classroom he was God and you did not want to mess with God.

Mr. Orosco had a method for motivating students, he dished out consistent spankings. As he faced the class on the first day, he said, “you could sit wherever you want for now. However, after the first test, I will place the person with the highest grade in the first seat in the row farthest to my right. The next highest grade would sit in the seat behind the person with the highest grade and so on and so on. Got it.”

“On the second test, you will move based on your grades so that the person with the highest grade would always sit in the first seat in the row farthest to my right and the person with the lowest grade would sit in the last seat in the row farthest to my left. You would not receive licks for improving your grade”, he explained.

Then he presented an escape clause. He indicated that no one sitting in the row farthest to his right will ever be given licks. Ok all I need to do is stay in the first row and I would be safe from that damn cane. Hope does exist.

Where hope exists, despair lingers. His next statement would generate sweat beads on the faces of most boys in class. A sweat bead slowly made its way down my cheek, then to my chin, and dropped on my khaki shorts. Mr. Orosco stated that anyone scoring lower on their previous test will receive lashes with this cane equivalent to the number of seats you drop in the order. He said this as he whipped the cane in the air making this whooshing sound. 

So, if based on my test scores the second week, if I dropped three spots I would receive three lashes with the cane. He whipped it in the air again - whoosh. He said the good news is that you all get to choose where you get your licks. The choices are the palm of your hand or your buttocks.

Now I can’t say that I was brilliant as a young boy. But that cane was good motivation to do well. My grandmother never checked our homework or sat with us to go over our lessons. So schooling was not a priority growing up. So given the current state of affairs I was left wondering “how is my ass going to hold up in this class.”

The first test went well. I was placed in the third to last seat in the second row to his farthest right. Probably twelve boys scored higher than me. Not bad I thought. I could slowly improve as time went by, providing that other students did poorly.

I really wasn’t looking forward to the possibility of getting hit by the cane. Especially after seeing it used on one boy for misbehaving. One day all the boys in the school were outside at recess. We were playing, running, shouting, and jostling with each other. 

The teachers had this method to get everyone to stop doing what they were doing. It was called freeze. A teacher would blow a whistle and scream freeze and everyone would have to stop instantly where they were – frozen. It was like the game red light green light. The whistle was the red light. One day this boy in all exuberance kept on running and playing after the freeze whistle. He was in my class.

I thought he was dead meat. Mr. Orosco, the whistle still in his hand, motioned to the boy to come over. And right there on the spot, Mr. Orosco turned into a ninja. He slowly placed the whistle in his pocket with his right hand, switched the cane from his left hand to his now empty right hand while grabbing the boy’s right shoulder with his left hand spinning him around, lifted his right hand with a quick movement and placed two whacks on the boy's buttocks.

No one expects to act like Denzel Washington did in the movie Glory when he was being whipped. Maybe except for the crying part. A boy’s first instinct when getting hit by a cane on the buttocks is to try to get your ass as far away as possible from the next hit. Squirming, turning, and breaking loose and hauling ass are all fair game. But Mr. Orosco had a death grip on the boy and the next swing of the cane arrived nanoseconds after the first.  “I said freeze!”, Mr. Orosco yelled.

Believe me when I tell you, up to that point in my life, I had never studied that hard for a test than I did for Mr. Orosco’s second exam. 

I took the second test and the day he returned it was filled with anxiety. He had already queued the exams in order of the highest grade to the lowest grade.

He started to call the names. “Grab your bag and take your spot as I call your name.” he would say. Names were called, none of them mine. The boy two seats in front of me had to get up and was replaced by an excited boy who moved up. No cane for him. The boy in front of me had already moved up into a higher seat. No cane for him. One last name, I hope it is mine. How lucky could I get. I wouldn’t have to move. Call my name, I prayed as blood drained from my tightly clasped hands. The name. Damn, not mine. 

I instantly had visions of being pummeled by a cane at the hands of Mr. Orosco. The boy whose name was called stood there in front of me saying, “man get up, you are in my seat!”.  Jolted back to reality. I stood and moved to the side.

I heard my name two boys later. I had dropped two seats. That would be two strokes. Here came the sweat again.

Picking where you want your licks was a skill. It depended on what type of material your shorts were made from. How thick was your underwear. Does your ass still hurt from the last whipping and so on and so on.

My choice was the buttocks. The hands never worked for me. I got licks on my hand one time and was unable to write for a week. And I would have been damned if I would cause one spanking to result in another. No writing leads to no note taking leads to  no notes leads to nothing to study leads to poor test grade leads to dropping seats leads to being caned. It was the buttocks for me today.

Starting with the second row, individuals were called up to the board, asked how much and where. One would say, “two on the buttocks.” Two seats dropped and I want my licks on the buttocks. That's how it went.

And that is what I said. I turned to the board, slightly bent my knees, tensed my glutes, and wished it to be over. And in less than two seconds it was. The pain shot through my pelvic region like a wave washing up on a shore line. The wave seemed like it got intimate with every nerve from my lower back to my groin area. The sting remained as I walked by to my seat which wasn’t far - right in front of Mr. Orosco. First seat middle row. 

I had a front row seat to the entire ass whipping session. There was some joy in that.


  1. I can identify with this story - I survived Miss Hull and Mr. Alexander in the 60s! Cool post, though!

    1. Shared this comment with Mr Alexander... He was very amused

  2. Went to RBS 1948 to 1952, had many experiences of head slaps for haircuts to hand whipping for class work problems. Born in NYC and lived in Trinidad until 8/1952. Dad left T&T came to U.S. in 1936. Later became the President of the Westchester NY NAACP.

    1. Hey, that Teacher remains me of one we use to call "Chief Commander" my uncle. G.B.Y.

  3. Went to RBS class of 1983 he was still there. Ran into hus son in law in 06 in New York, he said that he was doing well.

  4. Graduated in 1978. He was an excellent teacher and strangely never administered corporal punishment; perhaps by then he had changed his approach.
    Every Saturday morning we had lessons to prepare for the 11+. It cost 10 dollars to those who could afford it and free to all those who couldn't. Do you recall his near Baritone voice? I went to Fatima afterwards - no doubt largely due to his endeavours as a teacher . Strangely not long ago I was working in Israel and he entered my thoughts.
    "Mr Orosco - you are a great West Indian"

  5. One of the best teachers i ever had. The second was Master Gunnery Sargent Washington. from Mckinley HS Washington D.C.

  6. Enrique Tiwari i remember almost all of these people and the teachers me and my brothers went to rosary boys rodney and swain those were the good old days.

  7. I can't believe this photo ..I just SAW ME ...and I actually remember some names, Mr Guy Peter Orosco the teacher said to me one time His initials and the general post office was the same .

  8. I can't believe this photo ..I just SAW ME ...and I actually remember some names, Mr Guy Peter Orosco the teacher said to me one time His initials and the general post office was the same .

  9. Orosco,Jerome,khan,Ms.Fuller, Mr,Ragay,Ms.Pierre in the canteen

  10. I had the absolute privilege of having Mr. Michael Khan as my teacher. What an excellent educator and individual. It's amazing how much these teachers pour into the lives of others and how undervalued they are in our society. True unsung heroes.

  11. I am trying to get in contact with Mr. Orosco if anyone has a contact for him please call me 363-2285.