Corpun file 23626
San Francisco Call, 23 March 1893
Slap Or Spank?
School Punishment Query in Alameda.
It is Now Left to Parents.
"How Shall We Chastise Your Child?" Deferentially Asks the Board of Education.
Click to enlarge
"Now how do you want your children whipped -- rare,
medium or well done?"
That is the question asked by the School Board of Alameda of
parent of the pupils of public schools in that town. The
educators want the principals to do the punishment, but they
leave the nature and extent of it to parents. This is the new and
unique rule adopted by the school board and the board members
think very highly of the plan.
The board has decided that if parents want their children
cowhided, spanked with a slipper or bootjack in the good
old-fashioned way, it may be done without extra charge.
When Perrie Wilson of 1420 Sherman Street, Alameda, appeared before the board Tuesday afternoon and entered a protest against the method of corporeal punishment prescribed by that body as a
means if maintaining discipline in the public schools, he voiced
the hitherto unexpressed sentiments of a large number of parents
whose children attend the different schools of Alameda.
The punishment prescribed by the board is laid down plainly in
the book of rules us follows:
Pupils shall be punished only on the palm of the hand or hands,
the strokes to be given the principal with a leather strap, which
shall be made after a model placed in the office of the Board of
Not only this, but every teacher is required to keep a record of
each pupil so punished, in which is embodied the reasons for such
punishment, together with a description of the pupil minute
enough to be a shining example for the description accompanying a
Chinese certificate of registration. The rules further state that
punishment must be inflicted only in the presence of competent
D. J. Sullivan, secretary of the Board of Education and
Superintendent of Schools of Alameda, was seen yesterday by a
CALL reporter and asked to tell what he knew about the matter.
"Well," said Mr. Sullivan, "there has been considerable complaint about the method of punishment prescribed by the board, but Mr. Wilson is the only one who has thus far
appeared before the board to make objections. As reasons for his
objections, he said that the hands were made to work with, and
therefore should not be subjected to a punishment liable to
disable them or in any way tend to injure them. He thought the
strap a very dangerous weapon and liable to inflict permanent
"The particular cause of his complaint lies in the fact that
some time since his son's teacher complained to the principal,
Mr. de Brish, that the boy had been guilty of disfiguring the
writing copies and deserved punishment. The principal, knowing
the views of Mr. Wilson on the subject, sent for him, and a
consultation followed, in which Mr. Wilson succeeded in delaying
punishment until such time as he could lay the matter before the
board and endeavor to get that body to either change the mode of
punishment, or at least make this an exceptional case. There the
matter rests, and Edward, the despoiler of copies, is still
liable to punishment.
"Did Mr. Wilson suggest any different means of punishment as
being better than the one now in use?" was asked.
"Yes, he desires that Edward, at least, shall have
punishment administered in the good old-fashioned way. That is
that he shall be spanked."
"How about that strap? Is it on exhibition?"
"Yes. Here it is," and Mr. Sullivan took from its place
on the wall one of the straps referred to, which very strongly
resembled a razor-strop, and which bore same marks very strongly
resembling those produced by the back of a razor. It was the
model strap of Alameda. It was exactly 15 3/8 inches in length, 1½ inches wide and each section -- there were two -- was one-eighth of an inch in thickness. At the butt end, it was
nicely rounded so that it would not hurt the tender hands of the
principal who was to inflict the punishment on the small boy.
When not in use the weapon is suitable for either a razor-strop
or a harness for a goat team. It has a brilliant black polish,
which is kept bright by frequent applications of stove blacking.
It is kept flexible by constant use.
The method used is this: The culprit is told to stand forward and
hold out his hand. The principal then takes his stand exactly 3
feet 1¼ inches from the victim, raises the strap over his head
like a Chinaman cutting wood, takes a last look at the flogging
directions of the laws, brings the strap down heavy and hits --
the air. The small boy has withdrawn his hand. The next stroke is
somewhat like the first, except that the principal holds the
boy's hand and succeeds in making him think that he has been
smitten. The next stroke is a repetition of the second, only on
the other hand, and a fourth results in the small boy's collapse
and the principal getting a bruised knuckle from the strap.
This ends the punishment, and, amid the applause of the
spectators, the boy wipes his eyes on his coat sleeve and leaves
But the strap is to be superseded by other implements of
castigation under the workings of the board's new rule.
The parents are to decide how the punishment is to be inflicted.
And so this is the question of the board for the parents to
decide, "How shall we punish your child?" They ask the
question with some show of feeling and sentiment, though, as a
matter of fact, it is not likely that they are more deeply
concerned than a waiter is in asking a similar question regarding
an eater's plans and specifications for his tenderloin steak.
And the answers, as given to Call men Wednesday, are various and
"Oh, touch 'em up lightly," said one parent. "Just
give 'em a strap once in awhile across the back. But do it
"Take a switch to them." said another parent, "but
don't hit their faces. Just tap them lightly across the
"Dress 'em down with a ruler," said a Park-street man.
"and don't be gentle about it at all. If my children do
anything wrong show 'em that they've got to behave."
"I am in favor of the switch judiciously applied to the
broadest part of the anatomy," said a lawyer.
"Take a club to 'em," declared a Park street butcher.
"Make 'em act decent or kill 'em."
Mrs. Duncan of 1719 Sherman Street said:
"I've got a boy attending the same school as the Wilson boy,
and I know there are times when he needs a good thrashing, and
Mr. de Brish has our authority to give it to him."
"What do you think of the strap system of punishment?"
she was next asked.
"To tell you the truth, I think it would be much better if
the teachers would just take a child across their knees and give
it a good old-fashioned spanking. That would surely do no injury,
and if properly done the child would not forget it in a hurry,
The next person seen was Mrs. Mockel, who is the mother of a
numerous family, and therefore should be a competent judge of the
merits of the style of corporeal punishment she advocates. When
asked whether she preferred to have her children strapped on the
"hand or hands" Mrs. Mockel promptly replied:
"Taken across the knee and spanked, by all means. That's the
old way, and I have found it very efficient." And the
obedience of the little ones clustered about her was good
evidence of the truth of the statement.
"I don't want my children whipped at all," said one
Alameda father to The CALL man, who asked him how he wanted them
And I won't have them whipped, either, if I can help it, and I
think I can, the bombastic wisdom of the local school board and
trustees to the contrary notwithstanding.
"Education in the Eastern States has gone beyond the period
of whipping several years since. It is high time that the rod
should be banished from the California curriculum by State law.
"When they burned witches in Massachusetts they flogged
children in school. The enlightened New Englander has passed that
period in his moral evolution. It is time California forgets the
vigilance-committee days and broke its school rods.
"My children are not brought up by the rod at home, and I
will not have them whipped by other people. They're neither dogs
nor cattle. We treat them as humans at home, and I mean that they
shall not be treated otherwise at school."
Quoth another parent, a mercantile man:
"In the first place I don't want my children whipped at all,
except by their parents. Secondly, I don't want them struck on
the palms, for the breaking of bones is thereby engendered. Nor
do I want their ears boxed, for it is a dangerous practice,
sometimes resulting in abscesses and deafness. Neither should the
head be struck. There is, however, a portion of the anatomy which
nature has prepared to resist chastisement, and here let the lash
be applied, if it must be. No harm is done, the blood is
quickened, the reversed position of the culprit is in itself
sufficient humiliation, and all necessary results are thus
Mrs. H. R. Harris was interviewed at her home, 1614 Sherman
Street, and she was very willing to talk on the punishment
"I don't exactly like to have anybody, whether teacher or
anybody else, punish my boy on the hands," she said,
"because the hand is a very tender portion of the body and
should not be injured." It takes but a slight blow to
cripple one of the fingers for life, and the slight blow does not
hurt the boy enough unless he does get crippled.
"Take it all in all, I prefer to have him taken across the
knee and an application of elbow grease administered that he will
remember for at least a week, but which will not bodily harm
The general verdict of all those seen is to the effect that the
spanking process is far superior to the regulation strap method,
but all concurred in saying that the best way of all in such
matters was to leave it entirely with the teachers, who should be
kept within bounds regarding the severity of the punishment
inflicted by rules laid down by the Board of Education.
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