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School CP - April 1956
Marlborough Express, Blenheim, NZ, 5 April 1956
For Disciplining Boys --
"Go and see the Chinese Gentleman"
Somewhere about this time of the year, when all the hack work at the start of the first term is over, some master at a school for boys may be asked by his principal to "Go and see the Chinese Gentleman." Implicit in this instruction is the information that the stock of canes in the staffroom is becoming depleted and that replacements are due, says the Christchurch Press.
The master will then go to the shop of a Chinese importer on the southern side of the city. If he is a regular customer he will be taken immediately to the stack to make his choice. If he is a stranger, like a reporter who called, and asks about canes, he may be shown the bundles of basketmaking material which sell at 4/- per lb.
By whacking his seat, the inquirer will be rewarded by a broad understanding smile and taken to the corner where yard-long flagellation canes stand in varied array. Springy switches about a quarter of an inch in diameter "for little boys" cost 4d each. Those nearer the half inch, but still springy, "for big boys," cost 6d. (The reporter bought one of each for domestic use.)
Supplies the Trade
Mr George Wong gets them from Hong Kong, where they are smoothed off after being stripped in the fields of Java. He sells about 20 tons a year for making the framework of chairs and baskets, but about 30 or 40lb go to schools all over the country for "educational purposes." Mr Wong was on the receiving end of such canes at school in China and rates himself as something of an expert. He prescribes the ideal as 3ft to 4ft long and "12 millimetres across."
The "Chinese gentleman" confirmed the reports of schoolmasters that business in and with canes is not nearly so brisk as it used to be. Corporal punishment in post-primary schools is, today, reserved only for cases where all other forms of punishment have failed and usually the offence amounts to some kind of persistent insubordination.
The Dominion executive of the New Zealand Post-primary Teachers' Association is, this month, discussing corporal punishment (among other things) at the request of the Education Department.
In Parliament last October, Mr Clyde Carr, M.P. for Timaru, asked the Minister for Education (Mr R. M. Algie) whether he would consider favourably the drafting of regulations "proscribing" the infliction of corporal punishment by prefects. Mr Algie replied that it had never been thought desirable to deal with this question by national legislation.
"The matter is quite properly left to the discretion of the local controlling authorities to deal with in their by-laws as they consider fit," he said. He understood there were now very few State post-primary schools where prefects were authorized to give corporal punishment, and he was assured that these cases were carefully controlled by the principals.
Corporal Punishment Declining
In general it could be said that corporal punishment in both primary and post-primary schools had steadily declined. "I consider that it is much better that the teachers themselves should come to an acceptance of the very real limitations of corporal punishment as a method of control rather than attempt to govern its use by legislative direction," the Minister said. He promised to discuss the issue with the Secondary School Boards' Association and the Post-primary Teachers' Association.
The Minister's impressions were borne out by inquiries among Christchurch schools. There is only one private school where caning by prefects is still carried out. In the State schools the practice, once followed by some, has been abolished, and caning by masters is also on the decline. Punishment in front of the class or in corridors has now generally shifted to the staff room and is applied by the master who has been offended.
The number of strokes may range from two or three to six. "One is seldom given," one master said. "If the offence warrants caning, the punishment must be something to be remembered. That is the general feeling and accounts for the fact that caning is now done less frequently and only in serious cases of rank insubordination when nothing else seems to make an impression."
Several schools consulted said that canings would not average one a week although odd masters were "cane happy." In most cases "detention" (written exercises after school) or forfeiture of games or other pleasures are sufficient punishment.
Among the boys there are few complaints. Some cite cases of alleged injustice, but a very large majority (including offenders) say "He had it coming to him." Those who have left school think the total abolition of caning would rob men of high spirit of some of their best anecdotes.
"Tradition" was the answer of most masters to the question why the cane was preferred to the strap in post-primary schools. As most masters, parents and boys agree that ancestral caning is a continued necessity, it seems that the "Chinese gentleman" will still be sending orders to Hong Kong.
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© Colin Farrell
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