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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 83

Corporal Punishment

Corporal Punishment.

To the Editor of the "Reformatory and Refuge Journal."


The Times lately published letters from Mr. Chadwick, Miss Hesba Stretton, and others, in reference to a case of excessive corporal punishment at Frampton Cotterell, and a leading article on this matter for which all those engaged in educational training may well express respectful thanks.

Thirty years of practical and successful work as Manager of large Schools of both Girls and Boys will justify my offering a few lines on a subject of great importance, yet of greater difficulty of treatment than most people suppose.

The amount of corporal punishment in the schools of my youth was both wicked and foolish, but I believe that its abolition would have been equally unwise. The radical fault in its administration was its habitual use to impart School learning instead of being reserved as a punishment for moral offences. It is hardly necessary for me to say that in one point of view I entirely agree with the Times correspondents that this mode of punishment is extremely disagreeable and repulsive to the Teacher or Parent who may be obliged, and may feel it his or her duty to inflict it. They deserve more kindly sympathy than is generally bestowed on them by unreasoning and impulsive people.

With regard to the culprits punished, I must, at the risk of being thought unfeeling, express my belief that the punishment inflicted, even if intentionally severe, is not so horrible as sensitive persons suppose; and does not leave that animosity which ignorant people imagine to be engendered in the hearts of naughty children.

With no lack of respect for the Times correspondents I venture to doubt whether they have been practically and intimately concerned in the training of children. Service as a Member of a School Committee is a very different experience from that obtained by the personal daily work of an individual Manager, whether he or she be the actual Teacher, Superintendent, Master, Warden, or Governor. And this applies to families—"old maids' children" like "bachelors' wives" are proverbially the most perfect of their class. Fathers and mothers know better.

In my own management of Schools I have endeavoured to impress upon my subordinate teachers of both sexes, the great principle that their own skill is proved by the small amount of punishment inflicted. An apt illustration has been afforded by a remark of that great surgeon, John Hunter, to his class of students after the operation of removing a tumour, "Gentlemen, whenever you have need of the knife you may justly feel humiliated that your science is not yet sufficient to supersede it." But John Hunter was no quack, and page 35 he did not shrink from the use of the knife when no other certain remedy was available.

Colonel Inglis, the experienced Government Inspector of Reformatories and Industrial Schools, in his latest Report to Parliament, gives some shrewd remarks which, slightly abbreviated, are as follows:—

"Theoretically I am in favour of abolishing corporal punishment, looking at it from a practical point of view, I am not. In every School it must occasionally occur that the sort of material we have to deal with can only be successfully appealed to by the judicious use of a cane, and a few strokes may bring a girl to reason, and save her from worse punishment. A Superintendent of a well ordered Girls' School told me that she had only occasion to use corporal punishment once in last year; but that she was certain that she could not maintain discipline if the girls knew that it was forbidden by the rules. At the Girls' School at B—, this was forbidden, and a case occurred of a girl who had become almost insanely unmanageable. The punishment allowed by the rules, such as shutting her up in a bed-room, or extra work given out to her, having no effect, she was taken before the Magistrates and sentenced to a mouth's imprisonment and hard labour, and five years in a Reformatory. 1 have no doubt that timely corporal punishment properly administered would have brought her to her senses, and saved her from both prison and reformatory.

"To do without corporal punishment altogether requires an amount of tact and managing power rarely met with, and when corporal punishment is entirely forbidden, there is always a risk of illegal and unauthorized punishments."

In addition to the teaching of these wise and humane men, I would ask your readers to consult a clever little tract, "How shall we order the child?" published by the Church of England Sunday School Institute, the entire tone and teaching of which are embued with Christian love and sympathy for children.

Long experience has shown me that there are certain children, and that there are certain sins, which not only imperatively demand bodily chastisement, but are actually fostered and increased by continual preaching and attempts to reason with young offenders.

That a saucy girl or an impudent boy shall set their Teachers at defiance, evidently strikes at the root of all successful schooling, and England would certainly suffer for such license.

It has been my duty to inspect scores of Schools in Britain, and a few on the Continent; and I invariably inquire, inter alia, as to the punishments employed, for so long as human nature is such as it is, there must be punishments.

A common result of my further enquiry, after a reply that there is no corporal punishment, is to find that though the birch or the strap are forbidden, a black hole, a box on the ears, the loss of dinner, the deprivation of playtime, are common. As if these could not be, as they generally are, far worse punishments than a two minutes whipping.

The cane is, in my opinion, a bad instrument of punishment, and a box on the ear is a most wicked one. The strap or Scottish "tawse," or the English birch rod, are more wholesome.

Reasonable, temperate, solemnly administered exceptional bodily correction, seems to me, after many years study, the most merciful punishment for young children. To deprive them of food is to impede their growth, to put them into solitary confinement is a terrible mental blow, and to quote incessantly our Saviour's example, or to chatter about the love of Jesus, tends to degrade by undue familiarity the holiest form of teaching.

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It will be objected that the infliction of corporal punishment may easily be unjust or excessive, but observation in Schools, or among School children, will convince any one that the substituted punishments are even more likely to be both unjust or excessive. The facility of sending a child into confinement, or of making it stand up on its legs for thirty or even sixty minutes, is more dangerous in this respect, and the pain, sometimes amounting to torture, of the latter punishment, is inconsistent with the absence of corporal punishment. The infliction of a hundred lines of Virgil to be learnt by heart, may be mentally far more injurious to a little boy than a sharp and short "swishing."

Kindly intentioned folks, when they talk indignantly of exceptional abuses of punishment, seem to be ignorant of the sins with which we, practical trainers of children, have to deal. Acts or words of indecency, petty thefts, &c. are faults that require sharp and prompt treatment, and the younger the offender is the more likely is this to effect a cure. To illustrate this: The Matron of a School of Orphan Girls of the lower, but not the lowest class, reported to me that a recent arrival, a girl of ten years old had thrice stolen cakes and other eatables. She had been once sent to bed for this offence, and deprived of a meal, &c. There had not been a case of theft, previous to her arrival, for many years, and the birch was almost unknown in the School. Here this punishment, privately and very seriously administered by my order proved entirely successful, supplemented as it was by the loving maimers, advice, and subsequent watchfulness of the Matron, and her Staff. I ought to add that that she had previously threatened the girl with this punishment, a measure to which I positively object; threats are almost always mischievious, the incidence of both punishments and rewards should be positive to be salutary.

In private families, especially in the higher class, this form of punishment should be rare, but to assert that even the most loving mother ought not thus to correct a disobedient, or an untruthful child, displays profound ignorance of human nature. I have known a mother talk for an hour to a saucy child, about "the love of Jesus but it is hardly necessary to point out that this was a very inefficient, as well as an unsuitable mode of treating the not unnatural delinquency of a little boy.

In truth, mothers and fathers, perhaps unconsciously, shrink from chastising children as they shrink from holding them for vaccination or any other pain—from cowardice, not from kindness—and by threatening without acting, they too often ruin their children.

Chastisement is to be sparingly and reluctantly used, never in haste or in temper, and always with sorrow as apparent as it ought to be real. "It is a foolish pity and a cruel kindness which spares the rod, but its use is to be dictated by love, regulated by judgment, never to be prompted by hasty temper or by caprice."

A judicious system of rewards in any school, admits of a ready and most useful mode of punishment by the loss of these rewards or privileges when faults have been committed. How well it may work can be seen by a visit to The Boys' Home Industrial School in Regent's Park Hoad, where by a judicious system of rewards and privileges to be earned by good conduct, corporal punishment, though there are 160 boys, of the lowest origin, is kept down in a most satisfactory degree. I doubt not there are many such illustrative schools.

But what would this school be, or even any girls' school, or even any private family, were it known among the children that all corporal punishment was forbidden?

Liberavi animam mean. It is from a strong sense of duty that these remarks are offered; the education in our greatly increasing Elementary page 37 schools must not be limited to mere book-learning, much less must it be directed to the benefit of those children who are fairly well-behaved and fairly attentive, diligent and submissive.

The moral training of our children, especially those of the working class, is almost as important to Great Britain as the scholastic teaching. If teachers are to be forbidden to use the time-honoured means of enforcing obedience and respect for their authority, or are kept in fear of a magisterial summons when an indecent or a rebellious child is wholesomely chastised, they will bo heavily handicapped in their course of duty, and our nation will suffer by it.

I am, Sir, Your obedient servant,

George William Bell.