A question of degree

This essay was generated by my introduction to the amusing punishment of the Naughty-step, and the way it seems to have been accepted by my great-grandchildren, to the extent that in play they send one another there, or a miscreant teddy bear. This caused me to look back at my own childhood in the 20s and 30s. There was a mantra that everyone seemed to honour, ‘If in doubt, thrash.’ When I was seven I was whailed with my father’s belt. In elementary school we were all caned for the most minor infringements and had blood blisters on our hands and bottoms, to prove it. The interesting thing was that I don’t remember a case of parents taking the side of the child against the authority. I was even caned for each mistake I made in repeating the poem that I was supposed to have learned for homework, up to a total of four. My mother accepted the situation as being normal, because she was a Victorian and had been brought up in that strict regime. We children accepted that it was a part of life, it was hurtful, and certainly stressful, from the minute you knew you were a candidate for yet another thrashing. But life was too interesting to dwell on something where there was no alternative and means of redress. At secondary school our prefects were permitted to cane, but the miscreant had the choice of the matter being referred to the headmaster, who would then cane you. This was really a clever move, because the disgrace of being caned by the headmaster, rather than one of the teachers, was so horrendous, there were none to my knowledge, except myself, who ever tested it.

Today the whole thing has reversed, a child can attack a teacher, and the teacher has very little redress. Parents take schools to court, or badger the headmaster. We were hit on the head with anything that came to hand, including the sharp corner of a 60° setsquare, or given a slap round the ear. I frankly don’t remember, and I was beaten more than most, that I suffered any serious psychological problems, I didn’t even have bad dreams. It was the system, we were inured to it and we accepted it because everybody did. The thing I’ve written about before, which I find highly amusing was that one child was sent to the Naughty-step, when she returned to continue to play, after the period of her incarceration, she promptly whacked her sister. It seems the Victorian values have come down through the genes.

I would like someone to explain to me why I should not be sceptical that the current philosophy for abandoning corporal punishment, in the hope that persuasion in some form or other, has not brought us to the level of irresponsibility, lack of self-control and lack of respect for others, that is so prevalent today. Postulating that damage to the psyche by corporal punishment is inevitable, is more to do with specialists wanting their theories accepted, without sufficient experimental evidence, tested response and historical experience, or what factual evidence taken over a wide area, in different circumstances, and different regions, might prove.

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