Due to my abiding interest in corporal punishment, I do find myself visiting a number of websites related to the subject, most of them demonstrating diametrically opposed attitudes.
There are those who have a keen interest in CP, experienced it without regrets as a child and wholeheartedly support it as a means of discipline for today’s youngsters. In my experience, these people tend to be older and were at school in the days when CP was still legal.
Then there are those who were badly abused in the past, and who mostly have a natural aversion to CP. However, even some of this group may still consider less harsh use of spanking as reasonable discipline. On the other hand, there are those who consider a mere single slap to the clothed bottom to be ‘abuse’ – the latter tend to be from a younger generation.
So we found that those supporting CP in the home are often abused online by others who suggest that they’re in favour of toddlers being harshly whipped, which is hardly fair comment.
The long and short of it is that we’ve gone from one extreme to the other in the past century, and thus I believe discipline and punishment were more balanced when I myself was in full-time education, half a century ago.
Roald Dahl writes about CP at several schools in his childhood. He was so ‘anti’ that he told his headmaster at Repton school that he would refuse to cane younger boys, in the event of him being made a prefect. The result was that he never was. Dahl’s anti-CP sentiments were so strong that they formed the basis of one of his short stories, Galloping Foxley, which was adapted for television in the series Tales of the Unexpected.
My own father attended a prep school where the headmaster once caned the entire class because he was dissatisfied with their work. Later, at boarding school, my dad was caned by prefects. He also administered the occasional punishment himself in time – although, as a fair-minded man, I can’t imagine that he abused this privilege. Dad was quite philosophical about his boarding school experiences – he said that the prefects maintained discipline, so allowing the masters to teach.
I remember once watching my sister being spanked by Mum with a light kitchen spatula. Perhaps rather inadvisedly, my sister’s response to the smacking was to keep yelling ‘it doesn’t hurt, it doesn’t hurt’. Quite possibly it didn’t, but it was still a foolish thing to say!
That aside, my only real experiences of CP were at school. I attended a small private primary school until the age of seven. One boy had his knuckles rapped with a his ruler by the strict headmistress (and proprietor), but I think he was more upset by the fact that the punishment broke his ruler, rather than the pain in his hand.
For the next year, I attended a private prep school. Here, CP wasn’t common but it was quite an event when it did occur. Only the headmaster used to beat the kids (only boys, never the girls), and he used a long-handled wooden spoon known as ‘the basting spoon’. I can recall several instances when a boy incurred his wrath, resulting in his roaring: “I shall bring up the basting spoon!”
You could have heard a pin drop as he galloped down the stairs to his study, while every child held their breath. Two boys were disciplined for throwing a ball of paper at each other, one boy was brought from another class by his form mistress for being cheeky to her, while a third was punished for gabbling and shouting out nonsensical answers. In retrospect, the latter possibly suffered from Tourette’s, which of course wasn’t recognised back in the mid-1960s.
On each occasion the miscreants were ordered to bend over and received three hefty whacks with the spoon. Nowadays that would seem barbaric since the ‘victims’ were only aged between seven and nine, but I suppose it was nothing more than a ‘short, sharp shock’ which stung but didn’t leave marks, and generally kept boys on the straight and narrow.
As an example of just how much stricter discipline was in those days, the biggest scandal in my time there came when four boys were ordered to report to the headmaster’s study after assembly. The basting spoon was applied to each of their bottoms in turn. Their crime? Someone had seen them eating sweets at the town’s bus station (half a mile from the school) while still in uniform!
My next school was a state primary my sister and I attended as something of a fill-in measure while a house move went through. Dad had changed jobs, requiring a relocation and thus presenting something of a problem, as private schools required you to give a term’s notice before leaving.
Although in the UK private schools are perhaps more strongly associated with corporal punishment, I have to say that I witnessed more spankings at the state primary in one and a half terms than I did in a whole seven years at my ‘big school’ later on.
Practically every boy in the class, myself included, ended up bending over for a slippering at some point or another. However, unlike the scary environment at my previous school, when spankings were given here the atmosphere was almost jocular.
Each of the form masters’ slippers (plimsolls, of course) had names – for my first time, I received ‘Archie’. When your behaviour was felt to have crossed a certain threshold, you were called out from your seat, told to bend over, received your whacks and returned to your seat.
The spanking stung and brought tears to your eyes but it was generally only around three strokes and was quite bearable. Then the lesson continued.
One of the few occasions when I recall the master actually sounding angry was when one boy was heard in conversation with a boy from another class in the corridor, and they used ‘naughty’ words – ‘wee-wee’ and ‘poo-poo’, to be exact. The resultant whacking seemed more severe than most.
Girls never got their bottoms smacked – at least not in school. Maybe they were simply better behaved than the boys, but more likely it might have been against the local regulations.
After we finally moved house, I spent just over a year at another state primary school. However, here there was little evidence of CP going on. I certainly witnessed none, though I did hear of a boy being slippered in another class for ‘back chat’.
Finally, I attended an old-fashioned boys’ public school. CP was certainly used, but slipperings and canings in the Senior School were rare enough to become ‘hot news’ topics around the school very quickly.
In the Junior School, some housemasters were much more likely to slipper boys than others. This generally happened in private, although I recall a couple of instances when a master administered a severe whacking in the class, or just outside the door, reducing the victim to a sorry, weeping state.
In the Senior School, being caught smoking was generally an automatic caning, although some housemasters never seemed to cane their charges, preferring to issue lines or detentions. I must have mixed with a bad crowd, as several of my own friends were caned by their housemaster or the headmaster, either for smoking or general misbehaviour!
In summary, I think the level of discipline was about right in my schooldays. You didn’t have the brattish behaviour that many kids exhibit nowadays, but older boys weren’t given the dubious privilege to cane younger boys either.
I think the level of punishment should suit the age of the child and the offence: a moderate slap or two for young children, hand-spanking or slippering for older kids, and maybe the cane for those in their teens. Obviously, the seriousness of the misdemeanour should also be reflected in the severity of their punishment.