Corporal Punishment

In the Seventies it was just starting to become unacceptable for children to be hit as punishment. Corporal punishment was the term used for the sanctioned and premeditated physical punishment meted out by teachers. It does not include the teachers who threw chalk or blackboard rubbers at children because of chatting in class or getting the answer wrong, being rapped on the knuckles with a ruler for fidgeting or poor handwriting (like that’s going to work!) or any of the other spontaneous abuses that were performed. It does include caning, ‘the slipper’, and various other inhuman acts. Although this was perfectly common and acceptable back then, it seems barbaric in retrospect. How the world can turn in one generation!

I was smacked across the head by Mrs Smith when I was five. She had asked ‘does anyone know the colours of the rainbow?’ I’d shouted out ‘yes, it’s red and yellow and pink and green’ because of the song. She slapped my head and said ‘don’t be stupid, pink isn’t in the rainbow’. This is an example of teacher-pupil attack that was not sanctioned corporal punishment but still happened regularly. If it happened today the teacher would be arrested, possibly imprisoned and would never be allowed to work with children again. It doesn’t matter if I was an irritating little oik, slapping children is just not done.

Though I was bullied, slapped, shaken and generally knocked around throughout my childhood, I didn’t have any official corporal punishment until I was nine. This was in the special school for hyperactive children that I attended during my junior years. I had the slipper for locking the taxi-diver’s keys in her car. This was actually an accident as I was trying to be helpful by locking the car and hadn’t noticed the keys there. I was too proud to admit to making a mistake so it was treated as a deliberate act of malevolence.

Plimsolls on Shoeboxers.comI was cornered by three teachers. They bent me over and smacked my backside with a black shoe, of the kind we used to call ‘pumps’ or ‘plimsolls’. The embarrassment was worse than the pain. Although I hated myself for doing so, I cried from frustration at the injustice. Afterwards I could have kicked myself for making such a fuss over being hit once with a slipper, which was quite comedic when you thought about it. It was hardly comparable to the types of beatings that children would get at home. I think that the humiliation was the worse part.

I never had the cane in school, although I got so close I could have spat on it. In another junior school I’d got into an argument with a stupid boy who was making snide remarks about me, and I’d pushed him over. I got called into the Headmaster’s office and I think the Deputy Head was there as well. He spoke to me seriously about this offence and about how I was very close to having the cane. He pointed to the cane in the corner of his office, which was quite a thin bamboo one.

In fact, he said, if I were a boy then I’d be getting the cane right now, but as I was a girl they were going to let me off with a last warning. This made me indignant as I could see that it was sexist and implied that they were treating me differently simply because of my sex rather than my behaviour. I almost said to them that they should give me the cane in that case, but didn’t. I realised that if I opened my mouth, anything I said would be taken as backtalk and would get me into more trouble. Besides which, however much it might improve my kudos amongst the boys, I really didn’t want to have the cane.

Corporal punishment was finally outlawed in 1987 in the UK, but by then the majority of schools had stopped using it. In the high school they didn’t use the cane, but they had plenty of other ways to humiliate me. 

The problem with hitting children as punishment, apart from the fact that it could result in lasting injury and (at least now) imprisonment for the perpetrator, is that it just doesn’t work. It may work as a deterrent to other children who witness the abuse, but the child who is hit becomes gradually resistant to the pain and requires a more excessive punishment each time to quell the rebellious spirit. You finally reach a point where you realise that it doesn’t matter what you do, you’re going to be hit anyway, and if the worst has already happened to you then you’ve got nothing to lose. At that point you become a menace to society because you just don’t care any more. Then you either go off the rails completely or you have to find a reason to care.


Josie Henley-Einion, author, blogger, Legend in my own Living Room

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