I am so glad we don’t have such a thing today, and so glad, too, that I never had to fill one in. The book speaks of a more brutal time – “A Record of Cases of Corporal Punishment” – as it tells us on the inside cover. The copy I found in Cwm School, relating to behaviour in the junior school, ended in 1959 and covers the previous 10 years. What strikes you first of all is the range of misdemeanours which were deemed worthy of physical punishment. In some cases it seems disproportionate and certainly in many cases completely unproductive.
The first entry concerns Vivian Thomas who was a persistent truant, for which he received two strokes of the cane. Many of the other entries concern more serious offences, such as bullying. Some families appear repeatedly, as well as some individuals. Clearly as a deterrent the effect of the cane or the slipper was limited. And of course all the victims are boys.
Punishing a child for not attending school is hardly going to make the victim change their mind and start to think it is e welcoming and happy place to be. It seems illogical to me. But Vivian came back for more when he was punished for bullying two pupils, one of whom suffered “severe lacerations” to the wrist. In brackets after Vivian’s name it says ‘This child is very naughty.’
He wasn’t the only repeat offender.
One boy kept getting himself into trouble over a period of about 4 months. He seemed to have a particular problem with a lunchtime supervisor. Swearing at her, then locking her out of the school at lunchtime, and being found in possession of a knife taken from the Dining Room – and using it, though we are not told what he actually did with it. Damage to the drinking fountain in such circumstances was perhaps a step too far. As a result he was given two strokes of the cane. This is unlikely to have addressed the causes of his behaviour.
James got himself into trouble for fighting with pencils in class, ‘resulting in a pencil being driven into Mark Lewis’ hand.’ For this he was suspended. For ‘indiscipline to the class teacher,’ Paul received ‘one slap on the buttocks with a gym slipper.’ His friend had one stroke of the cane ‘in the presence of his mother’ for throwing a stone and breaking two front teeth of a boy with the unfortunate name of Dean Stone.
Swearing (or ‘dirty language’) and smoking are common misdemeanours. In fact, two boys aged 9 were caught smoking after stealing four bottles of milk and thumping another boy. One of them ‘spoke truth.’ He received one stroke. His accomplice, Jeffery, at first lied about it, so he received ‘one stroke to persuade and one as a punishment.’
Sadly he was back for more a couple of weeks later. Jeffery was part of a gang of boys who set upon Stanley. But then Stanley had his turn a couple of months later when he himself was caned for truancy.
It would be wrong to think that this was a violent school. There are, in fact, few entries, no more than four per year. But violence was certainly rewarded with a violent punishment. And the same names keep cropping up for the same offences. It is hard to see what good it did. I imagine that the cane was regarded as an occupational hazard. For some of the boys it certainly didn’t modify their behaviour. It just reinforced the fact that the exercise of physical power is the way to impose yourself on someone else and in this way achieve what you want.
In many cases such violence was simply a matter of revenge, which did absolutely nothing to modify behaviour and, in fact, gave out precisely the opposite message. That violence is acceptable when it is committed by those with power.
Of course it can be dangerous to judge the past by the standards we employ today, but I know that I am happier having worked in schools during more enlightened times.
Thank you for visiting my website. You can find details of my current books by looking in the menu, for each title has its own page. Of course, you can buy copies of any of them on the How To Buy page.
A signed copy is the perfect present – especially for yourself…