Ian Jack was writing in yesterday’s Guardian about having been belted at school, commenting that he felt at the time that it was unfair but wondered now whether it really did him, and presumably all the other young Scots any harm. Hmmm!
In Scotland they called it the “tawse”. In the school where I began my teaching career it was referred to as the strap. Here’s some info:
“In 1972, according to logs kept by teachers, the belt was used about 30,000 times on an Edinburgh school population of 80,000, and 494 girls aged between five and 11 were among the 4,201 schoolchildren belted in the spring term of 1973.”
So a short(ish) piece of leather was used to punish children as young as five and people accepted this as normal. Some places used a plimsoll. I remember primary school teachers who used to smack legs. Others, especially the head teacher used a cane. But I never saw anyone use a strap/belt/tawse until I worked in secondary in the early seventies.
When I started teaching in the early 1970s corporal punishment was still the norm. I was not allowed to strap because young teacher had to go through a probationary period before being given permission to do so. At the end of my probationary period I was offered that permission and turned it down. I also stopped sending disruptive pupils to the head of year as I knew he would strap the boys and his deputy would strap the girls. (Male teachers were not allowed to strap girls so female teachers did so - well, some of them!) My rationale was that if I was not prepared to administer corporal punishment it would be hypocritical to send pupils to someone else who would do it on my behalf. I worked on finding ways of making my pupils interested enough in my lessons to behave themselves most of the time.
I watched on more than one occasion as one of the female deputy heads of year practised her technique in the staffroom. She would make a chalk cross on the edge of a table and whack it with her strap. If the chalk cross transferred to the strap she had hit hard enough. She took a peculiar delight in showing off her skill, convincing me that she was a show-off as well as a bully.
Because that is what I still believe: people who inflict corporal punishment on children are bullies. What is more, they encourage bullying. For they persuade children to believe that might is right, that the one who hits hardest is the best and that it’s perfectly all right to use your superior strength to make others do what they don’t want to do.
So when Mr Jack wonders if being belted did him and his contemporaries any harm, my answer is that it almost certainly did!
Two more things on education this weekend. A teacher has just received an award for being the best teacher in the world does things like having her students clothes washed on the school premises, making sure they have breakfast, learning enough of the multiple languages used by her pupils so that she could greet them in their own tongue and when teaching art appreciation using works from their own countries of origin. I bet Mr Gove and his like would love her!!!
And then there are the teachers in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who saved their pupils by disobeying the directive to keep their classroom doors locked during a shooting and, by doing so, saved a fair few young lives.
“They were told to keep their doors locked during lessons and, during an active shooter crisis, to lock the door immediately and not open it”.
Imagine having to explain that to your class when you have “active shooter drill”. Imagine working in a situation where you need to be prepared for an “active shooter crisis”!
As one of the teachers, who did in the event shield his pupils with his own body, commented, this was not a choice he should have had to make. “This is going to sound kind of bad, but ... the school kids are mine, and I’m very, very protective of them, but I like me too. And nowhere did it say, when I signed up to be teacher, that, ‘Oh, yeah, by the way, in case of an attacker, you’re going to have to shield all the kids with your body.’”
There have been huge demonstrations in the USA asking for reform to the gun control laws. Maybe things will change.