A Study of Attitudes Towards Corporal Punishment as an Educational Procedure From the Earliest Times to the Present

by Robert McCole Wilson



table of contents



4. THE INTELLECTUAL REVOLUTION

The spirit of democracy and the Romantic ideals which sent men searching for a better, and often an ideal, life had been seeded in the 18th Century and began to bear fruit in the nineteenth. No longer could the authoritarian oppress without protest, and no longer were the edicts of the religious leaders accepted without question. On the one hand, some men thought that the technical progress should be used to improve the lives of all men, and on the other hand, some believed that a better life could be achieved through the development of the natural goodness which had so often been repressed or perverted in man. More and more, intellectual leaders came to believe that to achieve a changed society, man's whole character and outlook would have to be changed. To achieve this, reforms in the aims and methods of education would be necessary.



4.1 General Philosophical Attitudes Towards Punishment

As the theory of punishment in education cannot be separated from the general philosophical approaches to punishment, some of the development in this field must be looked at for a background to the development of educational thought. Probably the oldest idea of punishment is that of retribution as epitomized in the Old Testament "Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, stripe for stripe" (Exodus, XXI, 24), a doctrine, however, that was not supported by Christ who rather decreed "That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn him the other also" (Matthew, V, 39). More recently in a jocular fashion, W.S. Gilbert expresses the same idea in The Mikado (Act II): "Let the punishment fit the crime."

A fundamental part of Christianity and other religions has been the belief in reward and punishment, particularly in the world beyond this. The manner in which this belief supported the use of harsh punishment as necessary to save the soul of the child from future damnation has already been explored.

One of the first to analyse the purposes of punishment was Gottfried Leibnitz (1646-1716). He recognised that punishment may be inflicted for retributive purposes, a form of revenge to satisfy the offended party, or it may be for the practical purpose of preventing others. In the following passage we see an early example of a pragmatic approach to punishment.

There is a kind of Justice which aims neither at the amendment of the criminal, nor at furnishing an example to others, nor at the reparation of the injury. This justice is founded in pure fitness, which finds a certain satisfaction in the expiation of the wicked deed ... this punitive justice ... which is properly vindictive justice, and which God has reserved for himself at many junctions ... is always founded in the fitness of things, and satisfies not only the offended party, but all wise lookers-on, even as beautiful music or a fine piece of architecture satisfies a well-constituted mind.
It is thus that the torments of the damned continue, even tho they no longer serve to turn anyone away from sin, and that the rewards of the blest continue, even tho they confirm no one in good ways. (Leibnitz, 1926 edition, 137)

In 1764 Cesare Bonesana Beccaria (1738-1794) published his famous work, An Essay on Crimes and Punishments, in which he condemned all torture, including flogging, to extract confessions, and pleaded that no good and much harm was achieved by excessive punishment.

No man can be judged a criminal until he be found guilty; nor can society take from him the public protection, until it has been proved that he has violated the conditions on which it was granted. What right then, but that of power, can authorize the punishment of a citizen, so long as there remains any doubt of his guilt? This dilemma is frequent. Either he is guilty, or not guilty. If guilty, he should only suffer the punishment ordained by the laws, and torture becomes useless, as his confession is unnecessary. If he be not guilty, you torture the innocent; for in the eyes of the law, every man is innocent, whose crime has not been proved. (Beccaria, 1963 edition, 18)

At the end of the 18th century, one of the fullest analyses of punishment, including that of children, was made by Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), who showed how complex the problem really is. While others may not agree with his conclusions, his detailed examination cannot be ignored. Much of the influence of Rousseau (whom we shall examine separately) can be seen, but Kant finds punishment as the natural consequences inadequate. To Kant, the outcome of an action is incidental: the morality resides in the motive or intention generating the action.

All transgressions of a command by a child is a lack of obedience, and this entails punishment. Even if the transgression is due simply to negligence, correction is not useless. This punishment is either physical or moral.
Moral punishment is that which affects our desire to be honored and loved, this being auxiliary to morality; for example, when the child is shamed and treated coldly and reservedly. These inclinations should be preserved as far as possible. This kind of punishment, therefore, is the best, since it comes to the aid of morality; for example, if a child lies, a look of scorn is sufficient and most suitable.
Physical punishment consists either in the refusal of that which the child desires or in the infliction of chastisement. The former is closely related to moral punishment, and is negative. The other forms should be practised with caution, in order that they many not result in a servile disposition. It is not good to distribute rewards among children; it makes them selfish, and results in a mercenary disposition.
Obedience, moreover, is that of the child or the adolescent. Disobedience entails punishment. This is either really natural, brought by the man himself by his own conduct; for example, the child falls ill if he eats too much, and these forms of punishment are the best, for man experiences them, not only in his childhood, but throughout his whole life; or it is artificial. The desire to be esteemed and loved is a sure way of making chastisement durable. Physical means should serve merely to supplement the insufficiency of moral punishments. When the latter are of no avail, and recourse is had to the former, the formulation of a good character ceases. But in the beginning physical constraints supply the deficiency of reflection within the child.
Punishments which are angrily inflicted have perverted effects. Children then regard them merely as consequences, but themselves as objects, of another's emotions Children should always be corrected cautiously, that they may see that the only aim in view is their improvement. It is absurd to demand of children, when they have been chastised that they will thank you, that they will kiss your hand, etc.: this only makes them servile. If physical punishments are often repeated, they make a child stubborn; and if parents chasten their child for wilfulness, they only make them more wilful. Stubborn people are not always the worst, but often yield easily to kindly remonstrances. (Kant, 1904 edition, 191-193)

We can see in the above, that when he came to a discussion of the details of punishment, Kant was as concerned with its results as the justification or morality of it.

The clearest application at this time that the justification for punishment must be judged by its results was made by Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), who laid down that morals and legislation must be founded on the principle of utility; thus his philosophy was call "Utilitarianism". On punishment he made the following comments:

But all punishment is mischief: all punishment in itself is evil. Upon the principle of utility, if it ought at all to be admitted, it ought to be admitted in as far as it promises to exclude some greater evil. (Bentham, 1948 edition, 171)

He further states four purposes of punishment:

1. to prevent all offences
2. to prevent the worst (if there is a choice)
3. to keep down the mischief
4. to act at the least expense.

Subservient to these three objects or purposes, must be the rules or canons by which the proportion of punishments to offences is to be governed. (Ibid., 1979)

He himself does not appear to have applied the principle to the management of children, but a world which he influenced was bound to see an application. He, more than anyone else, changed the question from "is it right?" to "does it work?"

As the 19th century moves on, there is more and more acceptance that punishment is bad, that any good will be far outweighed by the evil effects, as the following passage from Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) illustrates.

The broad effects which can be obtained by punishment in man and beast, are the increase of fear, the sharpening of the sense of cunning, the mastery of desires; so it is that punishment tames man, but does not make him "better" -- it would be more correct even to go so far as to assert the contrary. "Injury makes man cunning" says a popular proverb: so far as it makes him cunning, it also makes him bad. Fortunately, it often enough makes him stupid. (Nietzsche, 1964 edition, 99)

It is always difficult to assess to what degree philosophical pronouncements bring about change, or are reflections of the change that is already occurring. Whichever is the case, in the 19th century, while the theory of punishment was opposing cruelty and injustice, so too did public opinion and actual practice tend towards more humane treatment of offenders, with a desire for rehabilitation rather than retribution. It was inevitable that the humanity which was applied to criminals would also be applied to children. While the 19th century, with the Industrial Revolution, was one of the worst periods of man's inhumanity to man, it was also the time of heroes of social reform who developed philosophies and attitudes on the treatment of the weak, the poor, and the downtrodden, which are generally accepted, if not always applied, today.



4.2 The Influence of Rousseau

Perhaps the single most influential writer in the development of modern education is Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) who did so much to change the concept of the nature of the child. Before this, there had been an interest in and sympathy for the child, but the child did not come first; the emphasis of Rousseau is on the child, his nature and his needs, rather that on childhood being a preparation for adulthood. In Rousseau's ideal world of education, as described in Emile, punishment would never come from the teacher, but as a consequence of the child's own acts, a necessary part of learning by experience.

I have already said enough to show that children should never receive punishment merely as such; it should always come as a natural consequence of their fault. (Rousseau, 1957 edition, 65)

Much of this approach depends on Rousseau's view of the natural goodness of the child.

Never punish him, for he does not know what it is to do wrong; never make him say "Forgive me," for he does not know how to do you wrong. Wholly unmoral in his actions, he can do nothing morally wrong, and he deserves neither punishment nor reproof. (Ibid., 56)

Rousseau's views are a curious mixture of morality and utility. While at times he may appear to be advocating the abolition of punishment for practical reasons, his arguments are based upon a premise of an ideal child which he never demonstrates actually exists.

Rousseau probably did more than anyone else to break down the traditional Christian view that the child is inherently evil. While he most certainly attempts to swing the pendulum to another extreme, it stimulated others into looking more closely at their own views of what a child is. After the time of Rousseau, there would be a growing difficulty for anyone to advocate the punishment of children because they were naturally bad.

Time and time again since then do we see the ideas of Rousseau being repeated either directly, or as part of another philosophy. In Romantic literature, William Wordsworth, for instance, portrays Lucy as ideal childhood innocence, and the child heroes and heroines of Charles Dickens are able to gain much of their reader's sympathy through the same feature.

In the school he set up at New Lanark, Robert Owen (1771-1858) was clearly influenced by Rousseau's ideas. Owen states that the basic principle regarding the affairs of men is:

Any general character, from the best to the worst, from the most ignorant to the most enlightened, may be given to any community, even to the world at large, by the application of the proper means; which means are to a great extent at the command and under the control of those who have influence in the affairs of men. (edited by Harrison, 1968, 44)

Thus by the manipulation of the environment, good men and bad, wise men and ignorant, can be produced. The emphasis has been, he says, on doing something about wrong acts after, instead of before, they happen. It is through education that the new way of life will be brought in, a life in which punishment will not be needed. And just as no punishment is the end, so also must no punishment be the means.

... the instructors and governors of the world will acquire a knowledge that will enable them, in one generation, to apply the means which shall cheerfully induce each of those whom they control and influence, not only to think, but to act in such a manner as shall be best for himself and best for every human being. And yet this extraordinary result will take place without punishment or apparent force. (Ibid., 106)

In speaking of the schools he had established at New Lanark, Owen says:

... that all rewards and punishments were excluded from these schools, except those which nature herself has established. By natural reward and punishment, we mean necessary consequences, immediate and remote which result from any action. (Ibid., 133)

The influence of Rousseau can be seen in this last statement.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1801-1882) also owes much of his thinking to Rousseau. His approach to punishment flows from his view that the child is not to be cast into a pre-conceived mould, but is to be given an opportunity of fulfilling his own potential uniqueness. Traditional methods of all types are thus suspect, for they are concerned with producing a child for the purpose of society, rather than for producing a child with beliefs and attitudes which develop from his own natural goodness. Punishment is the result of the desire on the part of the teacher to control the child, who will fulfill the teacher's or society's expectations of him.

The following passages are quoted at length because, although written over a hundred years ago, they show so well the current philosophy of education which is to give the child an opportunity to fulfill his own potential and desires, a philosophy in which punishment has no place.

I believe that our own experience instructs us that the secret of Education lies in respecting the pupil. It is not for you to choose what he shall know, what he shall do. It is chosen and foreordained, and he only holds the key to his own secret. By your tampering and thwarting and too much governing he may be hindered from his own end, and kept out of his own. Respect the child. Wait and see the new product of Nature. Nature loves analogies, but not repetitions. Respect the child. Be not too much his parent. Trespass not on his solitude.
But I hear the outcry which replies to this suggestion: -- Would you verily throw up the reins of public and private discipline; would you leave the young child to the mad career of his own passions and whimsies, and call this anarchy a respect for the child's nature? I answer, -- Respect the child, respect him to the end. (Emerson, 1966 edition, 16-17)
.... total abstinence from this drug [the use of rules], and the adoption of simple discipline and the following of nature, involves at once immense claims on the time, the thoughts, on the life of the teacher. It requires time, use, insight, event, all the great lessons and assistances of God; and only to think of using it implies character and profoundness; to enter on this course of discipline is to be good and great. It is precisely analogous to the difference between the use of corporal punishment and the methods of love. It is so easy to bestow on a bad boy a blow, overpower him, and get obedience without words, that in this world of hurry and distraction, who can wait for the return of reason and the conquest of self; in the uncertainty too whether that will ever come? And yet the familiar observation of the universal compensations might suggest the fear that so summary a stop of a bad humor was more jeopardous than its continuance. (Ibid., 224)

To Emerson, then, corporal punishment is the result of a wrong type of education; only by altering our concept of the purpose of education and its basic structure will we be able to significantly alter its methods. He is equally sympathetic towards the teacher in the usual classroom situation. No wonder, he says, does he resort to violent means in such objectionable circumstance.

Whatever becomes of our methods, the conditions stand fast, -- six hours, and thirty, fifty, or a hundred and fifty pupils. Something must be done, and done speedily, and in this distress the wisest are tempted to adopt violent means, to proclaim martial law, corporal punishment, mechanical arrangement, bribes, spies, wrath, main strength and ignorance, in lieu of that wise genial providential influence they had hoped, and yet hope at some future day to adopt. (Ibid., 223)

While Rousseau's influence has been general, it has been only partial as far as most schools are concerned. The fullest applications are to be found in the self-styled "free-schools", the most notable of which is Summerhill, established by A.S. Neill (1883 -). All forms of punishment, but particularly corporal punishment, are condemned by him. The "self-regulated" child is the result of no interference by the parent or teacher in the development of natural instincts. The reason for punishment lies not within the child but within the adult who tries to mould the child to a restrictive morality, or who suffers from his own personal problems.

No moralist, no narrowly religious person, no disciplinarian can have self-regulated children. Self-regulation means behaviour coming from the self, not from outside compulsion, but the moulded child has no self; he is only the replica of his parents. (Neill, 1967 edition, 9)
Spanking generally has nothing to do with the child; it is an outlet for adult rage and frustration and hate. (Ibid., 56)

Neill suggests that much of the trouble lies in the Christian tradition, for "if you sin, hell awaits you in the classroom and in the future" (Ibid., 57). The solution for this undesirable state of affairs "lies in the self-examination on the part of irritable adults." He wishes

... teachers and parents could acquire some consciousness of what they really are ... poor, undeveloped, unhappy people in a tawdry authority which they are too un-grown-up to use decently. They cannot help being as they are, for they are the victims and products of a home and school education that was ignorant of child nature. (Ibid., 57)

Much of Neill's attitude rests on his belief that aggressiveness is objectionable, and because punishment, particularly physical punishment, leads to aggression it is to be condemned.

The popular notion is that man is naturally aggressive. ... I really wonder if this is so. Is aggression due to thwarting, frustration? I ask because the most aggressive pupils I ever have are those who have been most disciplined at home and school. (Ibid., 80)

The Rousseauian approach to punishment is somewhat motivational: by using these means we will be better able to develop the type of person which we want. But because it is a special type of person, an ideal of the naturally-developed, unique, self-regulated person, that is wanted, and because Rousseau and his followers have felt that the type of person developed by the usual type of education is undesirable, their approach is basically an ethical one. Perhaps their most significant contribution is the realisation that punishment has been part and parcel of the traditional approach to education; that only by a re-examination of the whole educational structure including its purposes, and the total learning environment, can we develop a really new approach to punishment.



4.3 Other Nineteenth Century Educational Philosophers

While few people have been willing to accept Rousseau's philosophy completely, in one aspect his influence has been general, that of the new concept of the child's nature. It was this view of the child that most important reformers adopted as a base for their own approach. Even in those schools which were least affected by the reformers, the trend was away from the use of painful physical punishments to other more subtle methods of coercion such as verbal chastisements, detentions, extra work, shame, and so on. All these had been recommended by earlier writers, but they gradually became the more usual substitute for the rod or strap. In the 20th century, these also lost approval, at least in theory, and were to be used only after more positive methods had failed.

Those writers whom we have come to regard as the enlightened leaders generally emphasized that love of the teacher or an intrinsic motivation towards the task in hand, should be substituted wherever possible for compulsion.

Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi (1746-1827) was certainly not against corporal punishment. He discounts the view that it can harm the relationship between teacher and child, providing always that the child realises the general good will of the teacher towards him. Corporal punishment, then, must not be isolated from the larger situation and can only be judged as part of the general handling of the child.

In view of the different backgrounds from which my beggar children came, in view of their age, their deeply ingrained habits, the need of a simple way of making an impression on them all swiftly and surely, and the need to achieve one's aim with all of them, the effect of corporal punishment was considerable. The fear that one may thereby lose the trust of the children is quite unjustified. It is not single, rare actions which determine the feelings and attitudes of the children; it is the true nature of your disposition towards them as revealed daily and hourly to them, and the degree to which you like or dislike them which fix once and for all their feelings towards you. This done, the impression created by individual actions will be interpreted according to the firm judgement of these inner feelings. (quoted by Heafford, 1967, 71)

This must not be taken as approval of such a method indiscriminately or by anyone. Only after the teacher has achieved a relationship which is like a parent, can it be used without danger.

I am firmly against the striking of a strange pupil by a strange teacher, but not against a similar punishment by a father or mother. There are occasions when corporal punishment is undoubtedly the best thing; but it must be carried out with the greatest assurance from a parental heart, and the teacher who really reaches the point where he can act in the same spirit as a father or mother should have the right to act as they do in certain important cases which demand such measures. (Ibid., 71)

In Leonard and Gertrude we have a more detailed prescription of which punishments are recommended for which circumstances. Corporal punishment is to be reserved for the worst cases of moral offence.

The lieutenant's punishments were designed to remedy the faults for which they were inflicted. An idle scholar was made to cut firewood, or to carry stones for the wall which some of the older boys were constructing under the master's charge; a forgetful child was made school-messenger, and for several days was obliged to take charge of all the teacher's business in the village. Disobedience and impertinence he punished by not speaking publicly to the child in question for a number of days, talking with him in private after school. Wickedness and lying were punished with the rod, and any child thus chastised was not allowed to play with the others for a whole week; his name was registered in a special record-book of offences, from which it was not erased until plain evidence of improvement was given. The schoolmaster was kind to the children while punishing them, talking with them more than at any other time, and trying to help them correct their fault. (edited by Ulich, 1963, 504-505)

Prussia adopted Pestalozzi's methods and became a model for much of the world.

Johann Friedrich Herbart (1776-1841) also allows the use of corporal punishment, but only in extreme circumstances. As can be seen from the following, he warns against injuring the boy's self respect, and hardening him to this punishment so that it becomes ineffective.

It would be in vain to attempt to banish entirely the corporal punishments usually administered after fruitless reprimands; but use should be made of them so sparingly that they be feared rather than inflicted.
Recollection of the rod does not hurt the boy. Nor is there any harm in his present conviction that a flogging is henceforth as much beyond the range of possibility as his meriting such treatment. But it would no doubt be injurious to actually violate his self-respect by a blow, however little he might mind the physical pain. And pernicious in the highest degree, although, nevertheless, not quite obsolete yet, is the practice of continuing to beat children already hardened to blows. Brutish insensibility is the consequence, and the hope is almost vain that even a long period of now unavoidable indulgence will restore a normal state of feeling. (Herbart, 1909 edition, 34)

This attitude should be judged against his general view of punishment, which is a modification, or should we say a distortion, of Rousseau. Punishment should follow nature as much as possible -- that is, it should be the logical result of poor behaviour. It is not natural in Rousseau's sense, but natural in the sense that punishment is the sure result of wrong acts. The teacher must see that it does indeed occur and is consistent; it must not depend on the momentary whims of the teacher, and he must administer it in a quiet, self-controlled way.

Among educational arrangements to secure this, the punishments proper to education are conspicuous, which are not bound to a proportional retribution as are the punishments of government, but must be meted out, that they always appear to the individual as well meant warning, and do not excite lasting opposition to the teacher. The pupil's way of feeling here decides everything. (Herbart, 1896 edition, 243)

An excellent example of those who believe that all punishment corrupts, and therefore has no place in education is Friedrich Froebel (1782-1852). He has almost nothing to say on punishment, because, in his conception of education, not only does the necessity for it disappear, but it must disappear because of its evil effects. The influence of Rousseau is obvious.

In good education, then, in genuine instruction, in true training, necessity should call forth freedom; external hate, inner love. Where hatred brings forth hatred; law, dishonesty and crime; compulsion, slavery; necessity, servitude; where oppression destroys and debases; where severity and harshness give rise to stubbornness and deceit, all education is abortive.
In order to avoid the latter and to secure the former, all prescription should be adapted to the pupil's nature and needs, and secure his co-operation. This is the case when all education in instruction and training, in spite of its necessarily categorical character, bears in all details and ramifications the irrefutable and irresistible impress that the one who makes the demand is himself strictly and unavoidably subject to an externally ruling law, to an unavoidable eternal necessity, and that, therefore, all despotism is banished. (Froebel, 1895 edition, 13-14)

The growing democratic spirit is illustrated here where the freedom of mankind is extended to include the freedom of the child from oppression.

It is more than a coincidence that these writers are continental. When we look at most prominent English educational commentators, the prognosis for reform is not so optimistic.

Thomas Arnold (1795-1842), the great headmaster of Rugby School, if judged by his copious writings, was never reluctant to defend his institutions or methods, among which was the use of the cane. By today's standards he was authoritarian, in both social and educational matters. One aspect of this was his rejection of popular opinion as a base on which to act.

Popular principles sympathize with all who are subject to authority, and regard with suspicion all punishments -- liberal principles sympathize, on the other hand, with authority, whenever the evil tendencies of human nature are more likely to be shown in disregarding it than abusing it. (T. Arnold, 1845, 365)

The real servility which exists in England, whether among men or boys, is not an excessive deference to legal authority, but a surrender of individual judgment and conscience to the tyranny of public opinion. (Ibid., 377)

In the last quotation, Arnold was replying to an attack on the use of flogging and fagging in Public Schools.

Arnold dislikes the use of punishment and would gladly do without it, but the child is not yet ready to act correctly. We see underlying his ideas the doctrine of child depravity. As the child grows older, there should be less need to use such methods.

It is very true that the fear of punishment generally (for surely it makes no difference whether it be the fear of personal pain of flogging, or of the personal inconvenience of what have been proposed as its substitutes, confinement, and a reduced allowance of food) is not the highest motive of action; and therefore the course actually followed in education is most agreeable to nature and reason, that the fear of punishment should be appealed to less and less as the moral principle becomes stronger with advancing age. (Ibid., 366)

Arnold is not willing to concede the idea which has kept appearing since the time of Quintilian, that corporal punishment is degrading for the child. How can it be, he asks, when the child is inferior to the man?

There is an essential inferiority in a boy as compared with a man, which makes an assumption of equality on his part at once ridiculous and wrong; and where there is no equality, the exercise of superiority implied in personal chastisement cannot in itself be an insult or degradation. (Ibid., 368)

What then is to be done with the older child if he misbehaves, if corporal punishment is appropriate only to the young? He should be removed from school. We should note in the following extract that Arnold sees failure to learn as sometimes due to a lack of capacity, but sometimes due to a deliberate, therefore immoral, attitude. If this is so with the older child, then it is fair to assume that he would allow corporal punishment for the young child who deliberately did not learn. We know from other sources that such punishments were common in his school.

... if a boy above fifteen is of such a character as to require flogging, the essential trifling nature of school correction is inadequate to the offence. But in fact boys, after a certain age, who cannot keep their proper rank in a school, ought not to be retained at it; and if they do stay, the question becomes only a matter of choice of evils. For the standard of attainment at a large school being necessarily adapted for no more than the average rate of capacity, a boy who, after fifteen, continues to fall below it, is either intellectually incapable of deriving benefit from the system of the place, or morally indisposed to do so, and in either case he ought to be removed from it. (Ibid., 369)

One point that Arnold makes quite strongly is that public opinion should not interfere with the teacher's right, or should we say duty, to punish. Where such interference occurs, the school suffers.

Thus the business of education is degraded for a schoolmaster of a commercial school having no means of acquiring a general celebrity, is rendered dependent on the inhabitants of his own immediate neighbourhood, -- if he offends them, he is ruined. This greatly interferes with the maintenance of discipline; the boys are well aware of their parents' power, and complain to them against the exercise of their master's authority. (Ibid., 229)

Arnold's approach is largely based on his belief in the need for children to "keep their place", as all men should do. Whatever his political beliefs, his social outlook was certainly not democratic.

One of the interesting implications of Arnold's remarks is that he saw a need to defend the use of corporal punishment, an indication that there was some growing feeling that it was not an acceptable practice. But if we are to believe Tom Brown's Schooldays, a semi-autobiography by an "old boy" of Rugby during the time or Arnold, the boys accepted the system, and no ill-will was born against the masters, rather the contrary.

Arnold was not without support from other prominent writers. John Ruskin (1819-1900), for instance, approached the disciplining of children in a very traditional, some may call reactionary, way. The present state of "moral disorganisation", he complained, was because "the rod of correction" had been forgotten. While he was a reformer in other areas, Ruskin offers the following remedy for children:

The first essential point in the education given to children will be the habit of instant, finely accurate, and totally unreasoning obedience to their fathers, mothers, and tutors. (Ruskin, no date, Vol. II, 135)

Matthew Arnold (1822-1888), the son of Thomas, and a school inspector, had made several visits to continental schools and had been influenced by how they coped with the control of children. In contrast to his father, he believed that corporal punishment was an outdated and unacceptable method of achieving discipline.

.... flogging ...., without entering into long discussions about it, one may say the modern spirit has irrevocably condemned as a school punishment, so that it will more and more come to appear half disgusting, half ridiculous, and a teacher will find it more and more difficult to inflict it without a loss of self-respect. The feeling on the continent is very strong on this point The punishments in French schools are impositions and confinements. (M. Arnold, 1912 edition, 148)

But this is not to say that discipline is not to be regarded highly, rather the contrary. He advocates the freeing of the teacher from the need to placate fee-paying parents who substitute indulgence for responsible upbringing. In contrast to those of the lower classes, the children of the lower middle-class do not receive discipline from deprived circumstances, but their parents, because they are half-educated themselves, do not realise the need for respect, obedience and self-control.

The teacher's hands cannot be strengthened too much in the schools which this class frequents; for if they are not disciplined at school, they will, while young, be disciplined nowhere. (Ibid., 3)

The general ferment of intellectual ideas was bound to have its effect on education. Herbert Spencer (1820-1903), for instance, is noted in the history of ideas for his application of evolutionary theory to social and moral situations. In his book, Education, he devotes about forty-five pages to the punishment of children. The following is his approach in brief.

A child learns quickly and greatly by the painful consequences of his acts, such as touching something hot. But these, strictly speaking, are not punishments but "unavoidable consequences". Artificial consequences, or punishments, usually fail to produce reformation; indeed often have the opposite effect. The function of parents and teachers is to see that children do, in fact, suffer the consequences of their acts, through neither protecting the child from them, nor intensifying their effects.

The emotional reactions of parents when they scold, threat or strike can be regarded as a consequence, but this occurs when "ill-controlled adults make up the people", and is a sign of a primitive society. But in a civilized society, the displeasure will be manifest spontaneously in milder ways -- "measures strong enough for their better-natured children."

In brief, the truth is that savageness begets savageness, and gentleness begets gentleness. Children who are unsympathetically treated become relatively unsympathetic; whereas treating them with due fellow-feeling is a means of cultivating their fellow-feeling. (Spencer, 1895, 204)

It is interesting how, as the century moves on, no matter what is used as the basis for argument, the end results are remarkably similar. Evolutionist and Romantic, Christian and Atheist, seem so often to differ in their professed beliefs, yet are remarkably similar in their actions if they share the same society.

By the end of the 19th century, corporal punishment was not only still used, but was still justified and defended by authorities, with certain restrictions, in English-speaking countries. An interesting comparison between French and English attitudes can be seen in The History of Pedagogy, by Gabriel Compayré, a professor at a French Normal School. It was published in 1879, and translated into English in 1887 by W.H. Payne, an education professor at the University of Michigan.

One of the themes of the work is the gradual disapproval of the use of corporal punishment as pedagogical method, and its elimination in France by the early 19th century. But Compayré is shocked to see its continuous use and advocacy in English schools.

It is difficult to conceive the perseverance with which English teachers cling to the old and degrading customs of corrections by the rod.... A more astonishing thing is that the scholars seem to hold to it as much as the teachers. (Compayré, 1887, 202)

The word "degrading" indicates that his prime objection is a moral one, though elsewhere he quotes with approval those who oppose corporal punishment because it is not effective in bringing about the desired results.

But the translator, Payne, adds an interesting footnote:

On the question of corporal punishment is not M. Compayré not too absolute in his assumptions? On what principle does he base his absolute condemnation of the rod? What is to be done in those cases of revolt against order and decency that occur from time to time in most schools. There is no doubt that the very best teachers can govern without resorting to this hateful expedient; but what shall be done in extreme cases by the multitude who are not, and never can be, teachers of this ideal type? Nor does this question stand alone. Below, it is related to family discipline; and above, to civil administration. If corporal punishment is interdicted in the school, should it not be interdicted in the state? (Compayré, 1887, 203, footnote)

Payne, we notice, objects to it in all but extreme disciplinary cases. Notable is his attempt to relate the school situation to the larger social situation. One could speculate on whether the differences between these two writers was the result of differing conditions in French and American schools, and society.

In English-speaking countries, then, the belief slowly but surely grew that the use of the rod was to be limited, to be replaced wherever possible by more humane means and higher motives, but not be entirely discarded. We find in Upper Canada, for instance, Dr. Ryerson, the Chief Superintendent of Schools stating in his Annual Report for 1864, the following:

But there are some who go to the extreme of objecting to all corporal punishment of Pupils by the Teacher. Upon the same ground should they object to corporal punishment of a Child by a parent, -- an objection contrary to Scripture and to common sense. The best Teacher, like the best Parent, will seldom resort to the Rod; but there are occasions when it cannot be wisely avoided.
It often happens that Parents, whose Children most need the Rod of correction, are the first to object to it. Children that are perfectly governed at home, will seldom, if ever, need the Rod of correction, or suspension, or even reproof at School; but Children who are irregular, or not governed at home, can seldom be governed at School without the Rod.
But this exercise of discipline should never be done in a passion, or under the influence of angry feelings. A Teacher should never allow himself to punish a Pupil until his mind is calm and his heart free from anger. He should rebuke and chastise in love, -- showing that he acts from a sense of duty, and from kindness to the Pupil punished, as well as for the order and welfare of the whole School. (in Hodgins, 1893-1910, Vol. XVIII, 239)

Ryerson is obviously a transitional figure in this history. He is still strongly under the influence of Old Testament edicts, but sees the virtues of the new humanity, and of improved classroom techniques.

People who are in the "front-line" of teaching, are less likely to be influenced by philosophy than by the practical situation in front of them. Whereas the teacher had once reacted instinctively in one way only, many were beginning to analyse the child's situation, rather than automatically punishing an infringement. A mixture of the old and the new is shown in the opening address to the Ontario Teachers' Association Convention of 1869, delivered by the President, the Reverend Nelles.

My last observation is that the Teacher should appeal as much as possible to the higher motives. Fear, as an instrument of discipline, is to not be disregarded. I would not have a Teacher say to his School, "I never flog." Philosophers tell us of what they call "latent consciousness." There should be in every School a latent consciousness of the Rod, and this will need occasionally to be developed, and as it were brought to the surface by a vigorous application of the rod to some dozing offender who may be taken as a kind of "representative man."
But the best teacher is one who secures good order and progress with the minimum of whipping. It is easy to flog, especially for a big man to flog little children; it is natural to flog; there are so many temptations to flog; so many occasions on which this method seems necessary, that it becomes with some Teachers a kind of "royal road to knowledge," a sort of catholicon to cure all diseases, like "Radway's Ready Relief," or other nostrums of the day. That dull boy must be flogged though possibly his dullness may be but the slow development of great powers which flogging will not hasten. That Truant Boy must be flogged, although a proper system of Gymnastics and recreation might have prevented his playing Truant. That tardy Boy must be flogged, though his tardiness may be the fault of his parents. That equivocating Boy must be flogged, though his equivocation be the result of timidity, which flogging does but increase. Some teachers seem to think they best discharge their obligations by discharging the big Ruler at the heads of children; according to them, the tree of knowledge is the Birch. The old adage warns us not to flog when angry; but the fact is the presence of anger and the absence of moral power are chief causes of flogging.
The true Teacher will love and reverence children, and feel his way as quickly and skillfully as possible to their better nature. Fear, at best, is only an instrument; but the love of knowledge, self respect, respect for Teacher and Parent, the love of excellence, the sense of right, these are not only higher instruments, but ends in themselves. (Hodgins, Vol. XXI, 293)

That the Reverend Nelles felt such comments were necessary, indicates that the abuses he objected to were prevalent. How the teachers themselves reacted to this type of exhortion is difficult to say; the notes of the meeting merely indicate that "a hearty vote of thanks was awarded to the President for his eloquent address."



4.4 Summary

In the 19th century, the changing attitudes towards the treatment of offenders generally was reflected in educational theory. While Rousseau was the most revolutionary in his belief that the only punishments for children should be the natural consequences of their own acts, most of the other educational philosophers on the Continent such as Pestalozzi, Herbart and Froebel advocated the replacement of physical punishment with more subtle measures. The belief that motivation should be achieved through a loving relationship between teacher and child grew, and that the pupil should be inspired to success through interest in, and love for, learning placed greater emphasis on the need for a more attractive school environment and the need for educational methods to be more sophisticated and effective.

 

Home Next


Suggestions or comments to the author:

Mail to rmw@island.net

 

http://www.zona-pellucida.com/wilson04.html
©  Copyright 1997-2003 Robert M. Wilson