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?


sheber said...

I am slightly repulsed by your obvious pride in inflicting pain for compliance. Since you are in the field of education, perhaps you might want to study the evidence of mental health and child development professionals regarding this practice? Just a suggestion...

Solameanie said...

Who are you addressing? Me or the headmaster?

If it's me, yes..I do believe in corporal punishment, although I wouldn't take it as far as the British caning system, necessarily. And quite honestly, I don't have much respect for these mental health and child development professionals that you cite. You can find other professionals out there who disagree with them. Besides, having an entire generation on ritalin (especially boys) ought to tell you something.

Generations of children (including me) got spanked for misbehavior and we're just fine. And it did keep order in the classroom. It's only this over-socialized, hyper-feminized culture that has a problem with it. We've had the last 30 years or so to do it your way, and its been an appalling disaster.

But it's generally no use trying to argue with people who hold your position. You have a decided worldview, and you'll impose it come hell or highwater.

Solameanie said...

I should say this also. I take my marching orders from Scripture, not child development experts. I think the Creator knows more about child development than anyone else. And Scripture has plenty to say about the rod of correction.

Anonymous said...

didn't paul once think that violence was once the best way? break the law, pay the price type of thing... then Jesus came and changed something about him?

Solameanie said...

Apples and oranges, I think, Jonny. Paul also said in Romans 13 that the state bears the sword for a purpose. You don't use a sword to spank, you use it to execute or wound. A personal change in heart accomplished by the Holy Spirit through the power of the Gospel is separate and distinct from disciplining a misbehaving child or youth. Discipline is intended to correct as well as punish.

I don't think anyone (at least I don't) advocate spanking for anything and everything. But it is appropriate for some offenses. And, as schools across our countries can attest, there is a serious discipline problem. Here in the States, a teacher can't much more than say "boo" to a student for fear of a lawsuit. The students know it, and get away with murder.

Anonymous said...

says more about the legal system and administration than the youth?

Solameanie said...

I think there's certainly enough blame to go around for everyone. Regardless, we've done it the "expert" way for 40 years . . . detention, reprimands, time-outs, demerits, suspensions, expulsions. While these methods work for some, many if not most laugh at them. "Detention? Big deal." They curse at the teachers, sometimes even physically attack them. Expelling them is the worst thing the school can do.

When I was in school and before then, talking in class, chewing gum and occasional fighting were the worst things that happened. Now, we've got sexual assaults, knifings, drug use and a host of other things happening in schools that most kids never would have dreamed of doing years ago. It is a genuine problem, and the left's method of dealing with it just hasn't worked.

BTW, don't be offended or knee-jerk in your reaction if I happen to criticize something going on with youth. Although my mother tells me I was an old man from my birth, I was actually young once. Believe it or not, quite a few young people your age agree with me on this, much to the horror of the establishment.

Gilbert said...

Remember Dr. Spock? Wow. What damage his book caused. I was one of his victims, in the sense that I didn't get disciplined properly.

Spankings? Wish I had more of them. But I must also say that discipline begins in the home. The schools shouldn't have to deal with the worst of this, anyway.

Solameanie said...


I can't imagine you even needing a spanking. Unless, of course, you blow a forecast and cause me to miss a good derecho.

Anonymous said...

Having just recently retired after working 35 years in public schools, I can assure you that hitting students is not necessary to maintain classroom discipline. In fact, it might in some cases work against it. If paddling were so successful, it wouldn't be needed more than once and that is clearly not the case based on the number of students who are repeatedly paddled. If you do your homework you will find that even students who ended up shooting up their schools usually came from paddling districts and were often the recipient of the paddle in those districts.

Being a good educator who is prepared, knowledgeable and motivating goes a long way in assisting with the maintenance of discipline in the classroom. To suggest that discipline is on the decline because paddling is on the decline clearly shows a naive and uninformed assessment. To support hitting students demonstrates a mean-spirited approach devoid of creativity. Glad I did not work with you as a teacher and would never have wanted you as a teacher in my school as a principal.


Solameanie said...

I normally don't respond to "anonymous" comments with no profile, although I see you do i.d. yourself as "Dennis." I could reciprocate and say I wouldn't want you as a principal in my district. The stats pretty much speak for themselves about the decline of discipline in schools, and to blame paddling for school shootings is patently ridiculous. Funny how so many generations before managed to take their punishment at school and not end up gunning the place up.

I'm hardly uninformed after years of watching this stuff and covering this stuff in the media. You can name-call all you like with the typical elitist attitude of professional "educators" and use terms such as "naive" and "mean-spirited" all you like. You know nothing of me, my heart or anything else about me.

I'd like to see school districts across the country show me some of this much vaunted "creativity" you talk about. Try Nashville on for size where teachers are afraid to even enter the classroom.

Simon said...

I got caned only twice, when I was 14 and 15. The second time I reckon the headmaster must have used the senior cane. I got a full six of the best and it stung like hell, the pain was excruciating and my poor backside was throbbing heavily all afternoon. I was heavily bruised, but unlike in the comic books, I still managed to sit down, albeit rather gingerly.

I don't regret being caned now, all these years later. It was an "experience" if nothing else, and taught me never to get caught smoking on school premises again.

I think they were crazy to ban it. They need some sort of deterrent. Detention and suspension are no deterrent to young lads with attitude problems. I didn't have an attitude problem and our headmaster only dished out caning rarely. Hardly anyone got caned more than 2 or 3 times in the whole course of their school career, which just goes to show what a deterrent it really was. And as I say, the second time when he really laid it on, was unforgettably painful. No way was I coming back for more!

I certainly learned my lesson: don't get caught smoking on school premises ever again! And I didn't resent the headmaster for beating me so severely. My punishmen was for a third offence, I'd already had 3 strokes the year before and had been warned what would happen if I got caught again.

After that 6 of the best I never got caught smoking again, because I stopped doing it!

Solameanie said...

Thanks for sharing, Simon. It is amazing that of all the posts on my blog, this one seems to keep generating comments eons after I posted it.

I have always thought a caning (or spanking) ought to be a last resort, but always an option. Unfortunately, there are people who have bought entirely into the Spockian "permissive" attitude toward child-rearing, and we can see the disaster it's been.

Anonymous said...


Solameanie said...

Thanks for sharing, Anonymous.

I can't remember now if I posted this earlier on the comment thread (this caning post is nearly 3 years old now), but here in the States when I was in elementary school (back in the 60s as well), a principal would typically give a student one or two swats with a wooden paddle. That's it. Very rarely would someone get more than that. And there was also very rarely any bruising or even red marks afterward. But when you hear the accounts of those opposed to corporal punishment, they always bring out the rare horror story to make their case.

When I was in junior high school, there was one gym teacher who would give boys what he called a "reminder" when they got out of line -- a single swat with a wooden paddle. I never got one, but most boys who did laughed afterward and said it really didn't even hurt.

The way some people talk, you'd think we were waterboarding kids and putting bamboo shoots under their fingernails. Nowadays here, the students run the schools and teachers are afraid to even speak sternly to them for fear of getting beaten up by the students or lawsuits from the parents. It's ridiculous.

Peter C said...

A recent thing coming into some junior schools is ex soldiers being trained, as every other teacher is trained, and then put in the classroom to teach. Their own background and discipline works on the pupils and on the other teachers. No cane though. Teachers should be taught how to instil discipline, but corporal punishment should not be banned. Bullies get away with beating up smaller kids, and getting away with it. Why should there be one rule for the big kids and one for the small ones.

As long as there is no possibility of injury, corporal is ok and a reasonable deterent. We did not get the cane at school but the head teacher was quite capable of giving an open handed swat across the backsidewhen necessary. He was consistent in his behaviour, so no rancour from us. I grew up and became quite large and muscular and met him. He was a normal sized man and he looked a bit scared. I just said ' hello Mr Hutchings', passed the time of day a bit, and carried on walking. He had not been a bully, he had always been justified, he did what he thought was best, and he seemed to get results.

I do tlike the idea of the soldiers in charge though. They produce some startling results just with their presence. The children do not seem to dislike them because they know exactly where they stand.

martyn said...

i went to a secondary school (mixed sex sec modern) in south east england during the 70s - plenty of cp being administered then - i only got the slipper 5 times and the cane twice - fairly low total for 6 years! to be honest i was really scared about getting the slipper or the cane! But of course i did - usually to do with playing football or being in the wrong place with the wrong people at the wrong time. I did get a well deserved 4 of the best for drinking a can of light ale in the street at lunch time. god did it hurt; the weals were really vivid and swollen. my final slippering, when i was nearly 16 was the worst - 6 spanks across just my pe shorts for being with a group of lads who managed to drop a training weight off a balcony in the sports hall - i was blameless but still got the whacking.

earlier in my school career i got two slippering from the pe teacher over the horse which was kept in a small alcove just off the main gym and used (it seemed) solely for punishing transgressors in pe lessons - i can still smell the leather top it had!

Solameanie said...

Thanks for sharing, Martyn. It amazes me this 2008 post still gets responses. Btw, my middle name is Martin. I much prefer the British spelling. Why didn't my parents do that?

Solameanie said...

BTW, as an inside joke of sorts, when the band Genesis had their 1982 reunion with Peter Gabriel at Milton Keynes, the title of the show was called "Six of the Best." No doubt recalling the bands' formative years at Charterhouse.

Anonymous said...

I was caned regularly at school and there is no doubt that regularity makes one more accustomed to it. I was brought up with caning and still need it. Regulation @ mail .com