Tuesday, July 08, 2008
Six of the Best!
Sola's Note: After watching the 1939 movie "Goodbye, Mr. Chips" the other night, I began reading up a bit on corporal punishment in England's public schools. Now abolished, it is interesting that discipline problems seem to be on the rise. Here in America, while there are a few school districts that employ corporal punishment with a wooden paddle, the practice is dying out. And discipline problems are on the rise. The following was written by a retired headmaster in England. An interesting perspective.
A Headmaster's Recollections
In the mid 1960s I was appointed headmaster of a boys' secondary modern school in the English Midlands (this was before the days of general comprehensivisation, when state pupils who failed to get into the local grammar school were consigned to the less academic 'secondary mod'.)
The school had a reputation for ill discipline and poor examination results (echoes of today?) and the last headmaster had taken early retirement. I had been given the top job at a relatively young age on the understanding that I would stop the rot - so I knew that my career was on the line.
I called a grand meeting of the staff and told them the steps I intended to take. First of all, there would be strict enforcement of the school's rules concerning uniform, which were being widely flouted. For example junior boys were supposed to wear caps, but as often as not ignored this requirement, whilst the older boys presented a lamentable appearance with loose ties, turned-up blazer collars, non-regulation shoes and so on. All this would have to change, for in my opinion if a boy did not take a pride in his uniform he could hardly take a pride in his school.
The previous headmaster had had the power to cane but had seldom exercised this right - and when he did had carried out his duty in a half-hearted manner. This had led to a growth of unofficial corporal punishment by staff members, using rulers, slippers or whatever came to hand. I made it very clear that all such unofficial CP was strictly forbidden and that only the headmaster would give corporal punishment, using the officially sanctioned cane as supplied by the local education authority.
I announced that I would be compiling a list of 'caning offences' which would be widely publicised throughout the school. The boys would be given a week's grace to absorb the new rules. If my memory serves me correctly the offences in the list included disrupting classes, persistent latecoming, misbehaviour in assembly, fighting in or out of school, smoking, bullying, vandalism and persistent infringement of the uniform regulations.
For the first few days I think that the entire school was in a state of shock. I had the feeling that the boys were sizing me up - trying to guess whether I was bluffing. At the end of the week of grace I read the list of offences out in assembly and showed the lads a cane, stating that it was entirely up to them whether they ever saw it again. This was followed by several days of excellent behaviour (long serving members of staff could hardly believe their eyes!) before the hard core of troublemakers began to reassert themselves. It wasn't long before a steady stream of offenders began to appear at my door. Each and every boy received a talking to and was then caned.
Experience had taught me that it was no use 'sparing the rod'. If you did, word would soon get about the school that you were 'soft'. Since the object of a caning was both to punish and to deter a boy from reoffending, it needed to be made as unpleasant as possible. The object was to instil a fear of the cane into offenders and amongst potential offenders.
I kept strictly to the local authority regulations. There were no whackings across PT shorts or on the bare. To a schoolboy the cane is quite painful enough across his ordinary school trousers, believe me, especially when given with a modicum of expertise. I usually gave three or four strokes, or six in the case of persistent offenders. The maximum I was permitted to inflict under the rules was eight, but I saved this ultimate sanction for the very worse cases.
I never let a boy off his punishment, however much he might plead or promise to behave in future. I can remember cases of lads almost breaking down in tears just at the sight of the stick, and then making the most almighty fuss during their punishment - but I always made sure they suffered their allotted dose. The majority were much more stoical, however, accepting that they had been 'found out' and taking their medicine as bravely as they could.
As to the modus operandi of beating, I invariably positioned the offender over the back of a low chair, which presented the target area at an ideal angle. I made sure that I had plenty of room to swing and always aimed the cuts at the middle and lower part of the backside. Generally, I applied the cane with a will, with the proviso that younger pupils received their punishment with a lighter type of cane. The older boys were subject to a heavier senior model and six of the best with that cane was certainly no picnic, even for the toughest lad.
In the first half of that term my canes were in use several times a day, but later on things settled down, as I had expected they would. Now that a clear framework of discipline had been established, with sure and feared punishment for offenders, the school could function much more smoothly, with teachers being able to get on with their job of teaching, rather than to have to waste time keeping order. After all, any boy who disrupted a class knew that he could be sent to me for a caning - and that the experience would be extremely unpleasant.
As time passed by I was called upon to wield my canes rather less frequently and corporal punishment functioned much more as a general deterrent. I remember anti-corporal punishment campaigners claiming that caning was ineffective since examination of punishment books showed that the same boys were being beaten over and over again. I would agree that there are such persistent offenders within any school; on the other hand, in my experience there were many lads who seldom broke the rules again after the shock of their first caning. And in addition there were all those who were deterred from misbehaving in the first place by a healthy fear of the cane.
With British schools in their present state I sometimes wonder whether it was a mistake to abolish corporal punishment. Whatever they might say when bragging to their chums, in my experience the vast majority of schoolboys greatly feared the cane. But how many nowadays fear detention, extra work or even suspension in the same way?