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The Sunday Call, San Francisco, 23 March 1902, p.13
Should Whipping in Public Schools Be Abolished?
SHOULD boys be whipped at school? The question always brings out a loud chorus of noes and ayes. But the ayes have it, and, according to Superintendent Webster, there are from 700 to 900 boys whipped during each school year in San Francisco.
The rod has always had an honored place as a factor in school discipline. In early days in San Francisco, as elsewhere, it was used without stint, without fear, without favor. Then came a time when it was not permitted to punish girls by whipping. Then came a rule providing that only principals or vice principals should administer corporal punishment. This was followed by rules limiting the methods of punishment to the use of rattan or strap, such punishment to be resorted to only in extreme cases, when all other means fail. There is a special clause that no excessive, cruel or unusual punishment shall be allowed.
While all this has been taking place boys have kept on being boys. Boys are the same to-day, yesterday, forever.
Ask any schoolboy why he gets whipped at school and he will answer, "for havin' fun."
"Havin' fun" covers everything from spitballs to staying away from school with no one's permission, and no excuse next day. You who were boys when you were little and those of you who were girls and not too goody-goody, just go back to the days when you kinked your knees under those low desks with the stiff, hard seats.
What did you do? Why, you shot notes across the aisle, scraped your feet on the floor, acted the clown when the teacher wasn't looking and some other boy was; you whispered and pinched your seat mate or the boy in front of you, you swapped marbles, made faces, told stories, played "hockey," fought -- in fact, what didn't you do?
Boys are doing all these things today, and girls, too, for that matter. They seem like little things to you, perhaps, but that is because you are not a teacher whose business it is to make a half-hundred or more restless, wriggling youngsters sit up like little wooden images and do nothing but study and recite.
Every day of the year boys are being whipped for doing these things. Now and again one boy's whipping attracts particular attention, and then people begin to ask, should boys be whipped at school? By whom? How? Why?
These are big questions with many answers.
There are those who think it a cruel shame that the teacher is not allowed to punish; that the only thing she can do is to send the child to the principal, who may or may not believe in whipping. In reply there are those who say that the teacher against whom the offense is committed is not the proper one to administer punishment.
When the matter is up to the principal there comes the question of how far the parent will support him. Some parents say "Whip," others say "Hands off."
In a case where teacher can't, principal don't and parent won't, what is to be done?
It is hinted that the rules in regard to corporal punishment may be revised. It is whispered that in the next revision the Board of Education may consult with the principals as to what methods would be conducive of best results.
Here are opinions gathered from people interested in school work. The principals quoted represent every district from Telegraph Hill to Pacific Heights, from the center of town to the Mission, covering the various conditions which affect the question of corporal punishment in the schools.
REGINALD H. WEBSTER, Superintendent of Schools.
"Discipline is like everything else; it is a business proposition. A teacher is born, not made. A firm, just person will request something done once, and if the offense be deliberately repeated it will not go unrebuked, and corporal punishment must be resorted to at times. .
"Humanitarianism is absolutely humbug. It is a silly sentimentalism that makes heroes of criminals and that encourages by mild treatment iteration of offense.
"Yes, I was punished in school -- once. It was for truancy. I was a little fellow of 9, and had up to that time been in a private school. When put in the public school I was alarmed at the discipline and that was the cause of my absenting myself. The teacher had threatened to punish all who did not have a certain lesson at a given time, and, while I had it, I was afraid and stayed away. I was punished both at school and at home. I remember she used a big black walnut ruler, very large, very wide, and very thick, and sympathetic playmates said gave me twenty-five strokes on each hand. I didn't have time to count them, but I think it was a rather severe punishment for a little fellow. However, I did not resent the chastisement. It put me in a proper sense of humiliation and respect for law, and I regard that teacher to-day with a great deal of affection."
JAMES DENMAN, President of School Board.
"It should not be used as a means of keeping order, but as a power to prevent outrage. A teacher that cannot keep order without that means is a very poor teacher: but now and then there is an outbreak that makes corporal punishment necessary.
"I believe that 60, if not 75 per cent of our teachers, could maintain discipline without corporal punishment.
"I do not think teachers should have the privilege of punishing pupils. They might do it in a burst of passion, whereas the principal, who is free from the annoyance caused by the offense, is better able to judge, whether the case warrants such punishment. Young teachers are more severe than old ones, and my opinion is that women punish more than men.
"For girls the best punishment is suspension, and for most boys, but not every boy. When a child is suspended he cannot return to school until the father or mother comes with him. This often means that the father must leave his business, which annoys him a little, and he hears the truth about the child's conduct in school.
"There is very little corporal punishment in the San Francisco schools. Seven to 900 cases in a year, with about 50,000 school children, is not a bad showing."
MAYOR E. E. SCHMITZ.
"It was a peculiar affair, as I see it now. The teacher had told each one of us to write a letter at home and bring it to school. When I read mine she said it was not my own work; that I had had help. I told her I had not, and she said to me, 'You lie.' Boylike, I said 'You lie back.' She sent for the principal, who is still in the department, and he gave me a beating which I felt I deserved no more than the teacher.
"I don't believe any good ever came from beating a boy brutally; but for those who prove incorrigible, there is no doubt about the necessity of corporal punishment. I think this should be restricted to blows on the hand with the rattan or strap. If it is right to take a boy and whip him until he is black and blue, then it would be just as right to go further than that, if he does not behave, and treat him still more brutally. Whipping on the hand has the proper moral effect and is not cruel."
JAMES T. HAMILTON, Principal of Lincoln Grammar
"As for truancy, that is an open question just now. It depends on whether you have the support of the parents. It doesn't do much good unless things are made uncomfortable for the boy at both ends of the line. If his parents write an excuse when I know the boy has been playing truant, whipping will not cure the boy of truancy.
"As to whether teachers should be allowed to punish, I would say some should and some should not, and it is hard to draw the line. It is necessary for the vice principal to have authority to punish when he has charge of the boys in the yard, otherwise they would not respect his authority.
"No, indeed, I do not believe corporal punishment should be abolished. It was tried here once and we had a terrible time, and had to go back to it. Parents do not want it abolished and I know of no leaders in educational matters who advocate the abolishment of corporal punishment. There are people who have beautiful theories on the subject; but if we can govern without corporal punishment, why not govern without jails and penitentiaries?
MISS ALICE M. STINCEN, Principal Pacific Heights
"Firmness and kindness will accomplish what severity never would. I make truth the cornerstone of everything. I have the children understand that no matter what they do they should tell me the truth about it; then I can excuse."
MISS KATE CROWLEY, Principal of Mission Grammar
"I do not think it would be wise to abolish corporal punishment, as it would give boys a feeling of 'They dasent touch me.' But I believe in few rules and in making children feel that any punishment is very serious. Of course the teachers have a demerit system, and we keep an office book, and it is a very serious thing for a child to get his name in the office book. After the March vacation we allow the children to work off the marks against them, and a child whose name remains on the office book at the end of the term is deprived of his certificate. He is promoted, but has no certificate to take home with him until he works off his bad marks.
"We make a strong point of obedience, and the parents in this district co-operate with us in every way. Some parents deprive the children of privileges on Saturday and Sunday if they do not show a good report for the week. When parents propose to whip the child at home I advise against it, suggesting that they use some of the many ways they have of making the child feel that he has done wrong.
"We have very little truancy, and we leave that to the parent to correct. For tardiness we have a stragglers' book, and it is accounted a bad thing to have one's name in that book. The three cases of corporal punishment I have had to report have been for rough conduct in the yard. It is hard for boys not to run and play in the yard, but we try to make them understand it is not because we do not want them to have fun, but rather as a matter of protection to them on account or the limited space.
MRS. FRANCES A. BANNING, Principal of Everett Grammar
"It is no pleasure to any one to punish a child, and I think parents should be grateful to principals for not turning the boys out of school when they have the option of suspension and punishment.
"Cases of truancy I report to the parent, or, if necessary, to the truant officer; but I sometimes punish for tardiness. There are many cases where parents ask us to punish the children; but if they do not wish it, then we have to find some other way.
"I think corporal punishment is more necessary among smaller children. Above the sixth grade children have sense enough to know what they come to school for. There are some little girls that I think would be benefited by corporal punishment.
"In the discretion of the principal it might be wise to give teachers authority to punish, and this is allowed in the lower grades; but teachers as a rule do not want the privilege. They prefer to let the principal do the whipping.
"Most parents feel that while their children are in school they should be under the authority of teacher and principal. That is right. The school should have absolute authority in its own province; and by its not having this power many children are upon the street who should be in school."
T. B. WHITE, Principal of Washington Grammar School.
"However, I would be in favor of abolishing corporal punishment, let the consequences be what they may. I say this because mistakes are sometimes made in administering corporal punishment. One cannot always understand the disposition of the child, and there may be cases where punishment is remembered with bitterness in after years.
"Another bad feature of corporal punishment is that there are timid children in school who are frightened and terrified by the thought of it. Of course, we never punish in the presence of the class, but they know of it, and the timid child constantly fears he may do something that will cause him to be punished.
"I think discipline could be maintained without it, because more responsibility would be thrown on the parents, and in time the thought of being turned out of school on account of bad conduct would have a deterrent influence on most boys.
I believe in constant, persistent training in rightdoing. If there could be perfect uniformity in this from the lowest to the highest grade there would be little need of corporal punishment.
"I believe in corporal punishment only to correct some bad trait of disposition -- not for the ordinary offenses that most boys commit. I very seldom punish for truancy. I try to have parents deal with that, and it is only at their request that I punish the truant. If tardiness is habitual I first notify the parents and to try to have them correct it. If that fails I punish.
"I remember being punished twice in school, and it made me very indignant. Even now I feel that the punishment was too severe for the offense. I was only 9 or 10 years old, and when my name occurred in one of the sentences given the grammar class for parsing I laughed. For this I was whipped severely with a bunch of switches, after the fashion of those days. Another time I was whipped for fighting.
MRS. K. E. BROGAN, Principal of the Moulder Primary
"For truancy? Never. For tardiness? Never. To me it seems the height of folly to punish a boy for truancy, for in most cases truancy, as well as tardiness, is the fault of the parent. But where a boy is disobedient and defiant, the only remedy is whipping. Corporal punishment is more necessary with smaller boys than larger ones. You can appeal to the reason of older boys.
I would not favor giving teachers the power to punish, and I do not think my teachers desire it. The children in our school are well bred, responsive and inclined to do right, and where such conditions exist all that is necessary is to make the school work interesting and there is little trouble with discipline
MISS H. P. McFARLAND, Acting Principal of the Clement
"There are so many other ways of reaching a child. When one is reported to me for disorder, I appeal to him on the ground of his having broken a rule probably through thoughtlessness, but I let him plainly understand that if he returns to my office on a similar charge he will be dealt with more severely. By this I mean that he will be retained after school, given extra work, or that his parents will be sent for to talk the matter over. One of these methods usually has the desired effect, for we have the support of parents in dealing with the children.
"We have been asked by parents to punish their boys, but I always say I will try to reach the boys in some other way, and I do reach them in some other way, for I am a strong enemy to corporal punishment."
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