Wednesday, 10 August 2011

School punishment (for @danoprey )

Earlier this week I had one of those frustrating conversations on Twitter where I wasn't expressing myself clearly but I also came to realise that I was maybe holding on to some lazy assumptions.

The discussion revolved around whether it was necessary to beat children at school or not. I grew up in an environment where getting beaten by a teacher was nothing exceptional. Daniel felt that this was going to teach children that violence was a valid way of life.

My gut reaction was "for fuck's sake, it's not violence", but actually, of course, it is.

The whole situation in which I was educated was completely different: parents were much stricter and there was a general consensus that parents expected teachers to maintain strict discipline and that if you got punished, you deserved it. In fact, if you got punished at school, you'd almost certainly wind up getting punished again at home.

But there's more than one aspect to this violence. Firstly, it was not dished out casually. You had to explicitly transgress a fundamental rule. Teachers would always give ample warning. I never once got a beating or saw anyone else get a beating where I thought "that was patently unfair."*

Female teachers were obviously not going to administer corporal punishment, so you got sent to the headmaster, which was another level of scary.

It all took place in a spirit of respect and fairness. The teachers knew that the school was populated by testosterone-charged teenagers and that sometimes things would happen. Discipline was appallingly strict compared to what my daughter sees today, but I never felt like it got in the way of my education or my development as a person. (Maybe it did, but I didn't feel like it did, and that's what mattered to me.)

And the teachers respected us as much as we respected them. I don't for a moment imagine that beating someone inspires respect, but I respected my teachers as teachers, not because of their ability to beat me. I still remember them fondly, and regard them as inspirational, amazing people and I wish that all children could experience teachers like that.

But they don't, as we now have an environment where teachers feel it's appropriate to be "down wiv da yoof" and banter with the kids as equals.

You may well argue that we are all equal, and that's a valid perspective, but why the hell would you pay the blindest bit of attention to your "mate" when he tries to chastise you for your inappropriate behaviour?

So, as much as it's discriminatory, I can definitely see the logic in teachers being aloof, rather than trying to be all matey-matey. But aloofness, a strict (if commonsense) code of conduct and respect from teachers can only do so much to maintain discipline.

If a student is being disruptive, there is a need to restore order. If you reason with them, or point out that they are disruptive and they still carry on, the teacher has to have an effective sanction.

And here I get a bit lost as a libertarian. Currently, it seems like a student can be sent out of the class. That's great, but it means that the student misses the lesson.

@danoprey would rather see the disruptive student excluded from the lesson, and it being upgraded to excluded from the school if necessary. This will mean the student being sent to the office (which they may or may not do, unless accompanied, which means more disruption). Then there has to be some sort of appeals process to ensure that teachers are being reasonable. Then there has to be some sort of reasonable escalation process before someone is completely excluded to make sure that someone is given sufficient chance. And somebody has to keep completely accurate track of this.

This is all possible, I suppose, but I can see it becoming a lot more disruptive and time consuming overall.

I would rather see a swift punishment administered that means that focus can be regained and the class can continue with a minimum of disruption and that the offender is not prevented from learning.

And assuming all the other things are in place, like the code of conduct and mutual respect and all the rest, I can't really see what, other than a couple of smacks with a cane, will fulfil that role.

*I did once get a beating that was completely undeserved. But even at the time, as the "crime" was happening, I could see why the teachers thought I had transgressed, plus, I'd have had to snitch on a classmate to protect my arse. And that was beyond the pale.


RantinRab said...

Corporal punishment was banned in my area just as I left primary school to start secondary school.

Secondary school was more like a zoo than a school.

Speaks volumes.

Jim said...

We could solve the 'yoof' problem inside 5-10 years with the reintroduction of CP in schools. The schools themselves would improve dramatically quickly, but the benefits would take time to work through into the wider world, as I assume we wouldn't ever get CP as a criminal punishment.

Its all down to humiliation really. Currently if a kid acts up in class he gets to look like he's the boss. He can swear, spit, act tough, even jostle the teacher, and the teacher can to nothing. He or she is being humiliated in front of the other kids, and they can see it. No wonder the discipline in schools is zero. The kids know they are in charge.

CP turns the tables. The punk kid acting tough in class gets the cane, and is instead himself humiliated. His peers see that he isn't the boss, the man with the cane is. The kid personally has less incentive to misbehave next time (being caned hurt), and the rest of the class saw he got his comeuppance and don't want the same.

Its not rocket science.

tangentreality said...

I went to a normal comprehensive school, and the teachers there managed to enforce discipline without having to resort to beating the pupils with a stick.

That said, this was at a time when they were permitted to physically restrain or remove disruptive pupils. If you refused to submit to the teacher's authority, you were manhandled out of the classroom and frog-marched down to the headmaster's office. And you weren't excluded - you were placed in permanent detention. Your free time was taken off you - breaks, lunchtimes, and after school - and you were forced to attend lessons with the other scumbag kids, usually with one of the deputy headmasters, who was probably the guy who'd manhandled you out of the classroom in the first place.

My children are perfectly well-behaved, and are certainly not above a smack on the behind every now and again. But I don't need to resort to savagery to enforce discipline.

A return to the bad old days of the cane won't solve society's problems. Allowing teachers (and parents) to enforce discipline using common sense rules, and some physical force, where necessary, is.

jpblaw said...

Personally as a kid far preferred a quick whack of the bat, than some of the other torturous punishments when I broke the rules. And FYI as tweeted elsewhere, my godfather, a Crown Court judge got into trouble about this subject way back when.

Google Search:


Chalcedon said...

I find your description of schooldays very similar to my own. I got beaten a couple of times. I deserved it too. The masters were inspirational and very concerned for the well being and academic achievement of we pupils.

Times change and I know my children often complained that lessons were spoilt by one or two disruptive pupils and there were very few sanctions available to the teachers.

Anonymous said...

The cane might work alright in nice areas.

In the bad areas, gang areas, it is far too weak. It would have to be a severe beating, fists, boots, heavy stick until the recipient is broken down--or dead.Beating them until they give up fellow gang members would also help destroy gang structures.

Anonymous said...

I went to a school that had some disciplinary issues.

Now some teachers in the school were able to command respect and discipline by simple power of personality and skill. Other teachers could not control the classroom (full of the same students), we would literally have them run out of the room crying, kids are like pack animals and prey on weakness, I still feel like a right shit for having done that.

Now it wasn’t the worst school, but it was bad enough that I know some of the people I went to school with are in jail for various offences.

In principle I don’t agree that CP is needed to control a classroom, a competent teacher with a commanding personality CAN keep order without resorting to CP.

But not every teacher meets this criteria, most people know someone who is a teacher, ask yourself how many of them fall into this category. I just don’t think the type of personality I describe above predominantly fit’s the same kind of people that want to go into teaching, nice people.

The skills can be taught, but it’s also down to personality. Give a teacher the use of CP (holding the cane), would be a great mental boost, it would make them feel more authoritative.

bnzss said...

Sounds like you got some of that Stockholm Syndrome to me...

Jill said...

I'm in my 40s and my parents never hit me - but were simultaneously strict (respect, responsibilities) and liberal (no censoring, etc). I'm the same with my kids.

I tend to the view that the type of corporal punishment you describe (both at school and at home) isn't the end of the world, but there are always better ways than violence or brute force.

One size of discipline doesn't fit all and different methods can work well with different kids, different parents and different schools, but what I don't like about school discipline currently is the sheer bureacracy of it all. It leads to ineffective punishments and "issues" that drag on past all common sense.

It should be simple: kid fucks about in class > teacher doles out telling off/extra work/detention in authoritative manner > everyone moves on. Five minutes, tops.

I don't expect a letter home because Son Number 1 was giggling in class, but I did get one once. Jesus. "Why have I got a letter? Is he doing it often? His last report all had super duper behaviour marks." "No, it was a one off, but it's part of the parental involvement policy to send a letter."


At my sons' school, they get detention slips. This goes to the office to be collated. It is then dated (not today's date, a date for the detention, which could be up to a fortnight away) and returned to the form tutor, who then returns it to the child, who then knows when their detention will take place. The slip has an appeal section. If they've got something else on that day, they can ask for it to be delayed. I kid you not.

A month after flicking a bogey at the class swot, the kid may STILL not have done the detention. It beggars belief.

Jill said...

PS: I agree with anonymous that we need dynamic teachers with strong (and hopefully charismatic) personalities, and we don't have enough of them.

Jim said...

'It should be simple: kid fucks about in class > teacher doles out telling off/extra work/detention in authoritative manner > everyone moves on. Five minutes, tops. '

You are living in a fantasy world.

A) That's 5 mins of a lesson wasted, out of what, 40 mins? Couple of interruptions and you've lost 25% of teaching time. Great for the rest of the class.

B) What if 'giving a detention' has zero effect? Kid continues to act up, knowing the teacher can do nothing? What then?

C) This is not a question of a few kids being 'naughty' in class. Its a consistent attack on the authority of the teacher. My friend is a teacher in a local comp, in a reasonably sleepy small town. Even there he gets sworn at, spat at, jostled, wrongly accused of things by pupils (because they know they can accuse a teacher of something with impunity). He doesn't get the worst of it as he's a PE teacher and kids generally like his classes, especially the boys. In other more academic classes they play up even more. God knows what it must be like in inner city schools. Something akin to Beirut I suspect.

Look we've had 30 years of the 'softly softy' approach and look where its got us. Give us 30 years of CP and lets see if the results are any better.

Grimy Miner said...

When I was at school (in the mid 50's to mid 60's) the teachers were, mainly, male. These men had fought in the war (remember that?) and had experienced discipline and had instilled discipline in others. They had commanded the respect of fighting men, so controlling a bunch of kids was childs play (sorry).

Fast forward 30 years and most schools have a preponderance of female teachers who have come through university and teacher training. Dropping them into an inner city school would be like parachuting them into a war zone. Very few would survive. Very few did.

Pogo said...

I too was at school from the mid 50s into the 60s and though there was CP used, it wasn't used very often. However, the knowlegde that it might be used would give one pause for thought before indulging in mayhem.