Changing times for the cane

I was born in an era when strict child discipline and corporal punishment were the norm, whether in homes or at school. 

From a child’s point of view, the teachers were considered to be ‘in loco parentis’, with the same powers as their parents. The more ‘touchy-feely’ parent-child relationships we experience today did not exist in those days. 

Most of these households would have kept a cane for naughty children, and any indiscipline or bad academic performance on our part would be dealt with by putting that cane across hands, thighs and bottoms. 

I am the mother of a 12-year-old boy, and have been teaching in a Christian missionary school for the last 20 years. 

When I started my teaching career, the cane was in frequent use, and the students were beaten mercilessly at times. I vividly remember the day I joined my school and my first meeting with Sister Molly, the principal. 

Amongst many other things, she emphasised the imperative for discipline in the classroom. Where there was a breach of discipline, she told me, painful consequences should follow.

She added: “All our students are like our Holy Mother’s children, who are bound to falter in their path of journey towards success because they are still ignorant about many aspects of life. We must bring them back on track, if not by counselling, then by force. 

“Education and punishment go hand in hand, for which sometimes rods or canes – blessed by the Holy Mother – need to be used. Of course, it hurts us more than it hurts them, but they realise it only when they enter and excel in their personal and professional lives later.” Sister Molly ended her little lecture by handing me a junior school cane.

Of course, a lot of time has now passed since that encounter, and many governments – our own included – have since banned the use of corporal punishment in school. Establishments such as our own tried to argue the case for keeping the cane, but we were eventually, perhaps inevitably, overruled. 

Therefore, our school held a meeting to establish alternative plans which would ensure the children were brought up in the way we and their parents should wish. We decided on a number of points:

  • Firstly, teachers would be given additional professional training in classroom discipline so that day-to-day order could be kept without the use of the rod.
  • Secondly, we held a liaison meeting with parents to explain that responsibility for disciplining the children for any misbehaviour would now fall on their shoulders. At this meeting, we emphasised the wisdom of the proverb: “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish him with the rod, he will not die. Punish him with the rod and save his soul from death.”
  • Finally, parents were urged to go through their child’s school diary on a day-to-day basis, where any problems or misbehaviour would be highlighted by the teacher, and act on this information accordingly.

All the above meant that parents – including myself – now had to take a rather different approach to bringing up our children.

When the changes were instituted, my son was just approaching five and about to transfer from kindergarten to his first year in primary school. I decided that the time was ripe to begin keeping a proper implement for his discipline at home, and so I asked Sister Molly if I might have one of the junior canes no longer in use in school.  She appreciated my pro-active attitude to parenting and gladly handed over a rod. 

My son is, in general, a well-mannered boy. That doesn’t mean that it hasn’t been necessary to use the cane, however, and I have often had occasion to make him bend over and whip his bare bottom, leaving red lines and welts across his buttocks. Times may have changed, but in my opinion the key to bringing up well-behaved, successful children has not!

Contributor: Uma

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