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Today, London, 8 August 1964
Flogging, caning, spanking -- they are all aspects of our British passion for pain. It is, says KEITH ELLIS,
An Instinct that Shames us All
If we have virtually abolished corporal punishment for thugs, we lovingly retain it for our schoolchildren. We have, rightly, decided that it is barbarous to birch a robber who has beaten up a defenceless old woman.
At the same time, we officially approve the whipping of little girls aged seven for simple naughtiness. Many teachers still think that "six of the best" is the only way to knock arithmetic into mentally backward children.
The Ministry of Education washes its hands of the whole problem. "The administration of corporal punishment is left to the discretion of the local authorities," I was told.
"They, in turn, usually leave it to the heads and manager or governors of individual schools.
"But it must be carried out under the supervision of the head. And he is responsible for seeing that each award is entered in a punishment book."
How do local authorities exercise their discretion? In England and Wales, most of them are extremely coy about it.
The London County Council confirmed that it had to be carried out by the headmaster or by a senior master to whom the authority has been delegated. All punishments had to be recorded in the punishment book.
"It is extremely rare for girls to be corporally punished," I was told. "Only the headmistress may do it -- and it must be on the hand. Beyond that, we are not prepared to give details."
Some authorities have abolished caning. And even where it is allowed, some heads allow it rarely or not at all. But there is a flourishing trade in canes.
And some schools use the cane pretty freely. At one school in South London, there had already been two mass beatings when boys failed to wear their caps. Then boys of Class 4 started to shoot rice at each other in an English lesson.
When the culprits failed to own up, all fifteen boys were given four strokes each by the head of the upper school. Neither he nor the school headmaster would comment.
A boy said: "The rice was being used by some boys as peashooter ammunition. The teacher sent for help when he saw some of it being thrown about the classroom. I didn't throw any. But I was caned just the same."
The courts have little sympathy with parents who bring charges against teachers who have caned their children. Even when Liverpool magistrates fined headmaster John Gilchrist, of Ryebank School, £5 for caning a fourteen-year-old girl fourteen to sixteen times on both hands, Judge Laski allowed his appeal.
According to the judge, parents must expect teachers to maintain discipline. And he did not think this particular punishment excessive.
Advocates of corporal punishment in schools argue it is necessary for keeping discipline. "If the public would insist on small classes and good, well-trained teachers with that inward integrity that all children recognize, we could abolish it altogether. Until that millennium, give us some protection," says Norman Tosh, headmaster of Mount Junior Secondary School, Greenock, Scotland.
Is "that millennium" so far distant? The Rising Hill School is in one of the toughest districts of London. The population is highly mobile, the delinquency rate high. Yet when William Duane was appointed first headmaster in 1960, he abolished corporal punishment entirely. "At first," he admitted to me, "the effect on discipline was disastrous. The children had been so beaten up in their previous schools, they just didn't believe it and had to test it. But new children responded."
The results? "When the school opened, a hundred children were on probation. Now there are under a dozen.
"Whether or not this springs directly from the abolition of corporal punishment, only a social scientist could say. Corporal punishment is only a symptom of a bad attitude on the part of adults. What matters is whether you care for the children."
Experience elsewhere tends to support Duane. A survey of thirty West Riding schools showed that those that caned least had the best discipline. The heavy caners had almost twice as many children before the juvenile courts as the light caners.
A.B. Clegg, chief education officer, asked:
"Is it not possible that those who advocate more caning may thereby spread the disease they are anxious to cure?"
And that just about sums it up. Whether imposed by courts or schools, corporal punishment is becoming more and more an affront to the feelings of decent people. It does not deter. It merely provides an outlet for the authoritarian, even sadistic feelings of the people who impose it.
Society doesn't need corporal punishment to protect it. And teachers who are worthy of their calling should be able to keep discipline by earning their pupils' respect, not fear.
There is almost invariably an element of the sadistic in the use of corporal punishment.
It is a dangerous remedy because -- with the exception of the everyday, swift and unrehearsed parental slap -- inflicting deliberate pain can warp the minds of those who administer it.
And this, surely, is a shameful thing.
The civilized person recognizes these dark, hidden instincts -- and does his best to move away from them.
Our society must take a collective decision to do just this. We must get rid of this shameful neurosis -- once and for all.
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