Give ‘Em A Damn Good Thrashing

Smacking – Ye Gods, I am agreeing with David Lammy!

Today he has called for the law to be changed so that parents can once more smack their children. Well, I wasn’t aware that it was illegal to do so (within reason). But I applaud his common sense. Shame so few politicians seem to possess that resource.

I can distinctly remember, at the age of ten, the day when it was announced that corporal punishment, smacking or caning errant school children, was to be banned.

The reasons were sound, and have been reinforced over the years. One need only look at Ireland and the way that schools operated under the Catholic Church to see why. Nuns took to beating with a sadistic delight in some cases; priests appear to have exercised paedophile tendencies with their use of the strap or the cane. There are all too many examples of cruelty, brutality and, yes, I repeat, sadism, in the way that Irish children have been treated.

In England too, we’ve had our grim examples. Fools who could not control their classes; bullies who enjoyed inflicting pain.

Yet for all that, I remember the additional discipline that canes or metre rules managed to enforce.

I remember early in my career being invited in front of the class, and Mr Rogers demonstrated with the aid of his metre rule that chatting to Mark Houlistan in the back row was neither attractive nor sensible when Mr Rogers could see and hear me. I also learned that throwing a pen at Mark in Latin was not effective as a means of learning that language. I was never allowed back in.

But I clearly remember the poor devil who came to teach my class full of modern principles of non-violence towards children. He was a kind, pleasant fellow in his early twenties who had been taught at college that old means of controlling classes were out-dated and silly.

Before him, we had learned under the rather more disciplinarian approach of a middle-aged man who rarely had to use physical forms of control. Like Nick Skues, our Physics teacher, and Mr Mossman, French, the older teachers used the cane extremely rarely – but the students knew that the ultimate sanction was there, and if they misbehaved, they would suffer that indignity.

Even John Jones (Chemistry) resorted to – I think it was a plimsoll – when a student (who will remain unnamed) conducted an experiment in the brand-new Chemistry block, investigating the period of time during which a Bunsen burner could be held at a cupboard door before combustion.

His yelps could be heard across the playground.

The new Maths teacher did not have a happy time. He entered the room with a mild, slightly anxious smile at first. The initial lesson was a little trying for him, but that was only the test. Once the class knew what they could get away with, he suffered unmercifully. Every lesson became more and more disorganised, with ribald comments, paper darts flying, and all kinds of misbehaviour, until the head of maths heard the noise and came to attend some lessons.

But the cane and beatings were not there to scare or terrorise – they were there to control, maintain discipline, and at the end of the process, to protect the students.

If you have several hundred young schoolkids, there has to be a means of stopping bad behaviour.

That was the concept I understood already at the age of ten.

After all, if there is no sanction, the natural escalation of response to poor behaviour is demolished.

Today, children can have lines issued, just as in the past. They can have detention, they can lose privileges such as playtime, they can have additional homework passed out. But when, in my day, children fought, argued, swore at teachers, or played truant, there was the additional penalty of the cane, either with or without the knowledge of the parents. Now this punishment doesn’t exist, and so the worse behaved children go through periods of being excluded from school, leading up to actual expulsion. These children then go to alternative schools, and are often starting on a spiral of failure, leading ultimately to their having no qualifications, no hopes, and commonly criminal convictions.

The cane provided a useful pause in that chain of detention through to expulsion. No doubt sometimes poor teachers would misuse their authority. But I never saw that myself. However, I did see (and experience) the effects. And, I remember, while talking to a barber, swapping memories of canings. He told me he always opted for a caning rather than lines. Lines, he explained, took up so much time. A caning was unpleasant at that moment, but after two rubs of the offended body part, the pain was considerably abated.

David Lammy has decided that if only parents could smack their children, we wouldn’t have had the outbreaks of yob violence that we saw last year.

The old prison at Lydford. Lydford Law ruled here, where they'd hang them in the morning and open the court later to convict.

That link has not been proved – and never will be. The rioting that devasted London and other cities had much to do with opportunity, and a common desire to loot because they could. Most were cases of simple theft – and most of those already caught were found to have criminal records already, we understand.

Perhaps, if their families had smacked more often, those looters would have been better behaved – but I doubt it. And for the reason that I anticipated at the age of ten.

Because I believe very firmly that as soon as discipline in school was taken away, with the ultimate punishment of physical force being removed from the teachers, then a fracture appeared in the education of our children. If they learned that teachers could not respond to verbal – or physical – violence, the power in the school moved away from the teachers to the pupils. And within a generation, those pupils became parents, who had never experienced physical restraint. Now, two generations on, the pupils who rioted and stole TVs, DVDs and clothes, feel immune from punishment.

So, yes, allow smacking at home, Mr Lammy. But parents already can. The big change that should be made is to permit corporal punishment at school and perhaps also in the courts once more.

But – and it’s a big “but” – when we had corporal (and capital) punishment for centuries, we still had riots. A good thrashing won’t serve to stop all bad behaviours.

10 Responses to “Give ‘Em A Damn Good Thrashing”
  1. Jack Eason says:

    One thing I will always remember from my school days Michael, was my dread of the cane, having experienced it on at least five occasions. Some of my contemporaries looked upon the stripes on their backsides as a badge of courage. I did not.

    The threat of corporal punishment, gave me a healthy respect for my elders and betters, along with hanging for murder.

    These days, sadly we have grown far too soft when dealing with miscreants of all kinds.

    Let common sense prevail, allow adults to physically punish their kids with a quick slap across the back of their legs. If nothing else, the shock of the action, may possibly deter them from disobeying again.

    Mind you, thinking about it, today’s parents probably never experienced the painful consequences of corporal punishment first hand. :)


    • I think that the lack of parental discipline when they were young is a big reason why we have the problems we do now. That and the assumption of ‘rights’ without any concept of responsibilities is poisoning our society.


      • I was intrigued by your comments about some masters at Caterham. I recall Jenkins (Latin, I think) who so completely lost control that he lasted just one term. It was said he had some sort of breakdown but of course I don’t know that for a fact. Keith Edwards.


      • Hi, Keith – Jenkins sort of rings a bell, but I can’t place a face to him. The mad Latin teacher I had was Horwood (I think). He threw me out of his lessons because I had thrown a pen at Mark Houlistan – he was angry and wouldn’t listen to my reasonable explanation that Mark had asked if anyone had a spare pen since his had run out. Horwood was deaf, and writing on the blackboard at the time and didn’t hear Mark’s request!


  2. fionamcvie says:

    Parent`s need to be able to disciline their children that is way the world it the way it is
    It does not need to be a hard smake even a light tap on their hand when they are little works

    I gave my children a smake when they need it and the all have turned out great
    none have got into trouble in school or with the law

    A smake from my parents never did me any harm


  3. maximusandz says:

    I have experienced corporal punishment, in the United States school systems, once as a 5th grade student (age 10) and once as an adult employee in the school system.

    When I was 10, I received 1 swat, from the school principal, for “participation” in a fight. It was humiliating for me as I had not started the fight and was very new to the school.

    As an adult, Speech-Language Pathologist, I was asked, by the middle school vice-principal, to witness the administration 2 swats (with permission from the parents). This was an eye opening experience for me. Both of the swats were administered by a 6ft.+ 200+ pound physically fit man. The student was a slim (less than 100 pound) 12-13 year old boy. Both of the swats lifted the boy off of the floor, even though he was leaning over a table. He did not cry and I do not believe it changed his behavior. I rejected any requests to witness swats after that. A year later corporal punishment was discontinued.

    I believe swats, etc. should only be administered by parents. It can be effective if punishment of any kind is consistent from an early age. When a child is neglected, they may break rules for any attention, good or bad.


  4. Nick Skues was indeed a pretty gentle fellow, but Johnstone, when he first arrived at Caterham, was intemperate with the gym slipper. I remember him storming into prep on evening, bending a lad called Michael Button over the desk at the front of the classroom (this was in Shirley Goss) and ripping his trousers down to thrash his bare bottom with a plimsoll. He used also to hurl chalk or board dusters across the room. On the other hand he did give me a bar of very luxurious Swiss chocolate for coming second in French. He said it wouldn’t have been fair to give it to the boy who came first, because he lived in Brussels. It was all a long time ago, and we’ve all moved on a long way.


    • Thanks for that! No one ever gave me chocolate for coming first or second, so I feel justified in being jealous now! I think most of the masters at Caterham were pretty good. Certainly I wasn’t aware of routine beatings such as the left wing press were always pleased to bring up. More often than not good teachers maintained discipline by force of their own character, but the fact that there was the threat of further punishments, before being forced to eject students from school, was a good thing.


  5. Timothy Griffin says:

    Some great memories of Caterham hool Masters evoked here – what time were you there? I recall that Bob Jarrams was pretty lethal with a board duster but luckily I avoided the cane in my five years.


    • Bobby Jarrams? He was pretty bad, but it was Philip Tuck who caught me a nice one on the head, and Mr Rogers who caught be over the hand with a metre rule! I was there about – oh – 73-78? When were you there?


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