Sometimes (often), with or without reason, my mind wanders. A few days ago I imagined meeting my 3rd grade primary school teacher (as an adult and he much older). We exchange some sort of greeting but then I grab him by his collar, bend him so that he is facing the ground, and with my right hand, belt him one on his bony backside, hard.
‘ What’s that for, you bastard? ‘, says he.
‘Grammatically questionable status description sir, however that’s just what I thought when you belted me the same way. In front of the class, I was nine and used a pencil the wrong way. Would you like a pencil where the sun doesn’t shine?’.
This thought bubble cameo, of past meeting present, was prompted by a news article. It referred to comments made by a Dr Kevin Donnelly, co-chair of the Australian Curriculum Review (Prof. Ken Wiltshire other co-chair). He said that he had no problem with corporal punishment if the school community was in favour and handled it correctly.
Corporal punishment in schools is not part of the curriculum review, just a personal view from Mr Donnelly expressed during a radio interview. The media grabbed his comments and ran with them. A misleading grab for headlines you might say; and it worked.
Now I’m writing on the subject and find, surprisingly, that hitting kids in schools is still happening.
From memory, I didn’t tell my parents of this confusing punishment. Not because they were mean but because I was a kid and kids don’t speak up for various reasons. When I grew up, parents smacked little kids to discipline, boys didn’t hit girls, you didn’t kick anyone when they were down (didn’t kick anyone anyway) and you shook hands after a fight. At school, teachers hit you with hands, rulers and canes in the quest for discipline. This status quo was not really questioned, it just, was.
I don’t remember other hits before the pencil incident but in my later school years, I copped the cane a few times. There were one or two dubious canings but most were for the usual things. It was accepted routine and, putting bruised fingers aside, humour managed to creep into this useless and questionable practice…
The Deputy Headmaster at high school had a reputation for being firm but fair and handy with a cane. His office was in the main administration building (old two storey Federations style), the building always seemed quiet and if sent to his office, you waited outside his closed door until summoned. Everyone who passed knew why you waited. A student could get anything from one to six cuts of the cane. I’m glad they were capped at six; three per hand could really hurt and last for days.
If a few guys were sent at the same time (happened more than once), on the way to the office we’d look for a Brylcreem kid and run our hands over his hair. We left with slippery hands, he was left reaching for his comb.
The Dep. Headmaster, one of those with a naturally fierce looking face, had the habit of tapping the carpet with the cane and saying ‘right, yes, on that spot’. Knowing this, we stood on the wrong spot, more than once and he had to tap the carpet more than once. It frustrated the Dep. Headmaster, gave a laugh to the kids listening outside the door and made it tough keeping a straight face for the fierce face.
A favourite threat by another teacher was ‘I’ll cane you lad!’. On a particular day he threatened one, then another, then in frustration ‘I’ll cane the lot of you if you keep this up!’. That was a mistake. We did and he had to. Around two thirds of the class had to be caned in the adjoining office. When he finished so had the class time. I think he was an okay guy and caning wasn’t really his thing.
The status quo. Kids compliance, school law and order. Well, I think differently now.
And among those different thoughts are those related to the teachers who actually hit kids. Was it part of every teachers job description, could a teacher opt out and could a teacher volunteer? The last one could be a worry I reckon.
Was there a caning training school? Hallowed halls of learning, alive with the sounds of canes ripping through the air accompanied by yells of ‘take that and that’ or ‘who’s laughing now?’. The mind boggles, but probably there should have been. A hit on the finger tips or high enough to catch the side of the thumb hurt a lot more than just over the palm or four fingers. If my physics was up to scratch I’d be able to calculate the speed of a weighty cane, 110-120cms in length, at the time of impact; I guess around 80kph give or take 10kph. Sounds a bit scary. No wonder it hurt and damage was done. If you know your physics maybe you can help here.
I’d also like to know whether teachers had a collection of canes in something like a quiver or golf bag? Depending on the kid and handsize, seriousness of the crime and prevailing weather conditions the choice might be a 1,2 or 3 cane or a hand wedge. Hooks and slices not allowed. While I’m on this tangent, were there favourite names like Stinger, Bruiser, Big Bertha and Knuckles or Lumpy, Bumpy and Slasher?
I may have digressed a little so back on the serious level. What about girls? My high school was boys only so I don’t know anything about how girls fared in the area of discipline. I think there could be some pretty bad stuff out there so if anyone, girls or guys, wants to say something, I’d like to see it.
Excepting the bastard who whacked me in 3rd class, most teachers I had were just doing their stuff. I never really disliked any of them; some were great. That doesn’t mean I think corporal punishment is okay. I don’t.
Perhaps a teacher or two could venture some answers to the questions posed just above. From Australia or wherever; it will make it interesting.
Word for today; corporal – (1) of the body (2) a military rank
More to come; Part 2 – same blog time, same blog channel