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-- THE ARCHIVE --


UNITED KINGDOM
School CP - March 1907



Corpun file 23809

The Manchester Guardian, 14 March 1907

Corporal Punishment.

Statement Issued by Mr. Paton.


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We have received the following copy of a letter addressed by Mr. J.L. Paton, the High Master of the Manchester Grammar School, to the parents of the boys at the school:

Dear sir or madam, -- I have obtained the permission of the Governors to circulate to all parents of boys attending the Grammar School the following letter which I addressed to my chairman on March 6, the day on which the attack on the school was made in the City Council.

I subjoin a letter received by the Chairman from the Stipendiary Magistrate, an extract from a letter of Dr. Clement Dukes, and a resolution of the Governors.

This statement will put my parents in possession of the facts, and there I am content to leave the matter, feeling as I always do that unless I possess the full confidence of my parents I have no business to hold my position any longer. -- I am your obedient servant, J. Lewis PATON. 11th March, 1906.

My dear Chairman, -- The incident in to-day's Council meeting suggests three separate questions. 1. The whole question of corporal punishment. 2. This particular form of corporal punishment by means of the birch. 3. The facts in the special case of last October which was brought up at the meeting of the City Council.

1. On the first question I will merely say: -- (a) Corporal punishment is the tradition of this school and in other British schools of this grade. (b) No other form of punishment has been devised which marks so effectively the difference between offences against school regulations and offences against the unwritten moral law (such as lying, impurity, dishonesty, wilful disobedience to authority). (c) It is recommended for the discipline of adolescents by the leading authority on education in America, Dr. Stanley Hall, in his book on "Adolescence." (d) It needs careful safeguards and supervision, and it is for this reason that the high master is by the scheme made responsible for all cases in which it is inflicted, whether by himself or by his colleagues.

2. As to the second question, the use of the birch instead of the cane, I must refer Governors to the documents which I laid before them in October, 1904, when the change was made. I consulted Dr. Clement Dukes, for upwards of thirty years medical officer of Rugby School, and the recognised authority on school hygiene, Dr. Dukes was kind enough to send me an advance proof of his "Health at School," from which I read to the Governors the following extract: --

Corporal Punishment.

I approve of the use of this punishment rather than expulsion for some of the graver offences, and for the continual repetition of lesser faults, which other punishments have failed to control. I approve of the use of the "birch" only, for it simply temporarily stings, and neither damages the skin nor the subjacent structures. It should be administered only on the place suggested by nature; and thus applied I continue to advocate it as one of the kindest, most impressive, and least injurious punishments. Further, it should be invariably administered by the head master, or in his presence, after a written report of the offence, and never by the form-master. 2. I entirely disapprove of the use of the cane, for it can act as an instrument of torture, severely bruising the skin and subjacent tissues for days and weeks. Moreover, a vindictive cut with the cane on the hand by a form-master can be too easily given in the moment of exasperation. This could not occur where the birch was employed; the use of the birch, too, allows time for the temper to subside before its application. ("Health at School," p. 309.)

I consulted also Dr. Westmacott. His reply was as follows: --

8, St. John-street, Manchester, September 28, 1904.

Dear sir, -- In reply to your letter re punishments, I believe that the birch is a safer method of chastisement than the cane. It can do less harm than a severe blow with a single cane, and at the same time a lighter stroke causes more pain, owing to the number of thin supple rods. The severity of application is more important than the size of the birch in dealing with boys of different ages. In all cases in which it is used the part should be naked, as injury might be caused by objects in the boy's clothing coming in contact with the body under the blow. The presumption is that in all cases the boy is in a good state of health, but if he is not, the injury from the one method would be very similar in all respects to the other. I shall be glad to have a talk over this matter with you some day.--
Yours faithfully, (Signed)
F. H. WESTMACOTT, F.R.C.S.
The High Master, Grammar School, Manchester.


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Surgeon Major G. H. Darwin fully concurred in the recommendation of the two other eminent doctors. I could not find that any doctor preferred either the Scotch tawse or the cane to the birch, and the birch was accordingly adopted.

His Majesty's Inspectors looked carefully into the methods of school discipline and its administration. Their judgment was as follows (I quote from their report, p. 32): -- "The system of punishments is carefully considered and seems to be effective without being unduly severe."

3. I come now to the particular case of the boy X. The boy came as a new boy in September, 1906; his age at entry was 13; he is a full-grown, sturdy boy.

On October 9, 1906, there was an accident in the upper corridor of the new buildings. A boy was thrown down, and, in falling, knocked his head against a projecting part of the iron balustrade and receive a severe scalp wound. The accident occurred in the dinner interval before the Prefects went on duty at 1 p.m. I examined seventeen boys as to this accident and from thirteen I had detailed evidence. I have preserved full notes of this evidence. The boy who occasioned the fall was the boy X. It was proved to my satisfaction that the throw was not intentional, but it was certainly rough. All the boys gave clear, straightforward evidence except X. Some of his statements were false; he was not open and frank. This was my first impression of him.

Two days subsequently, on Friday, October 11, he was reported to me by a colleague for telling a deliberate lie in order to escape detention. He was told to attend after school. He said he could not do so, as he had to go to the gymnasium master. This was not true. When confronted with the gymnasium master he had to admit the untruth. I told him to put down his trousers and I gave him five cuts with the birch. Mr. A. was present and was asked to witness.

On October 14, Monday, the next school day, the mother of X called and complained that her son had been over-severely chastised (I have no record of her exact words). She saw me and the master to whom the lie was told. I told her exactly what I had done; I quoted to her the medical authorities mentioned above; I told her I could not recognise that injury had been inflicted until there was medical evidence to that effect; if such evidence was forthcoming I was ready to make amends. I pointed out that a parent could always appeal in such a case to the Governors of the school. Mrs. X said nothing to me about applying for a summons or taking photographs. On the following day, the father wrote me a strongly worded letter, saying he would not allow his son to be subjected to corporal punishment. I wrote in reply repeating most of what I had said to Mrs. X; I said my whole object in being severe was to prevent any second punishment being necessary; if the offence were repeated, I would give Mr. X the option of withdrawing his son. On receipt of this letter X returned to school. His subsequent conduct and industry have been quite satisfactory. I asked him on the day of his return if he was fit, and assured him that there was no prejudice against him; several times since then I have praised him both on his terminal report and personally. Mr. A, who witnessed the punishment, has never been asked to state what he witnessed. No intimation has been made either to myself or the Governors by Mr. X. or by anyone else, that Mr. X was still dissatisfied.

The actual birch used was inspected by Dr. Westmacott this evening; he authorises me to say that he has no fault to find with it.

I am, your obedient servant, J. L. PATON.
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Resolution adopted unanimously by the Governors at a special meeting held at the school, Monday. March 11, 1907:

"That the Governors, having considered the case of corporal punishment to which attention was called at the meeting of the City Council on March 6, are satisfied that the action of the High Master in the matter was justified, and they desire to place on record their full and unabated confidence in him."

City Police Court, 8th March, 1907.

Dear Broadfield, -- In answer to your letter of to-day's date I may say that the summons referred to in the debate in the City Council yesterday was refused by me on the ground that in my opinion the punishment had not been in any way excessive. I need hardly say that no Governor of the Grammar School had any communication with me, either direct or indirect, on the subject of the summons. - Yours very truly, EDGAR BRIERLEY.

Dr. Clement Dukes, of Rugby, writes me to say: -- "Six to twelve strokes is a fair number to give a boy. I have been thirty-six years at Rugby. There has never been a case in which physical injury has been inflicted. It is quite impossible with the birch, but frequent with the cane."
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The staff of masters of the Grammar School have sent a letter to the Governors stating they have full confidence that Mr. Paton, the High Master, would not treat any case of discipline with either injustice or inhumanity.

The communication from the Governors of the School to the Lord Mayor will, as we have stated, be laid before a special meeting of the Education Committee to-day, called primarily to discuss the resignation from the Committee of Sir James Hoy the chairman. Until it has been dealt with by the Committee this communication is regarded as private.

(A meeting of Manchester teachers is reported on Page 12.)
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To the Editor of the Manchester Guardian.

Sir, -- I am very glad to see the letters of Messrs. Brentnall and Booth in your issue of the 9th inst. My sympathies are strongly with Mr. Paton for these reasons: --

1. Though I don't know Mr. Paton even by sight, I have heard sufficiently of him from Rugby, from University College School, and from Manchester to have the highest confidence in his sound judgment, his high character, and his intense sympathy with boys. I have no partisan prejudice in his favour, as he is, I believe, both a Nonconformist and a Liberal, and I am very far from being either. A young relative of mine was a pupil of his at Rugby, and regards as one of the greatest benefits which he received from his education there the friendship which he contracted with Mr. Paton.

2. The suggestion to suspend or withdraw a grant from a great school presided over by a great head master (which Mr. Paton certainly is) because he had punished a boy for a moral offence with some excess of severity -- if such were the case, which I deny -- is simply an outrage on common sense, common justice, and common decency.

3. The outcry against corporal punishment of schoolboys is simply a manifestation of ignorant sentimentality. No doubt corporal punishment as administered by people like Mr. Squeers was in every sense brutal and intolerable, but to suggest a comparison between Mr. Paton, who is a gentleman, or any other head master of a school of repute in these days with the Squeerses of old times is simply ludicrous and insulting to common sense.

4. Those who paint harrowing pictures of the boy's sufferings from his well-deserved punishment simply betray their ignorance. I can speak from knowledge. I have suffered both birching and caning; I have inflicted both, on some of my children and on some of my pupils. My own experience and that of my victims, voluntarily communicated long afterwards, is that the former is the less painful operation, though the marks (which no one need or ought to see) may to the uninitiated appear to betoken the contrary. I believe that medical authorities are pretty well agreed that of all the forms of corporal infliction in use in English schools and of all the instruments used for that purpose, flogging with a birch rod in the usual way is the least injurious. Caning on the hand is almost universally condemned, and the efficacy of an infliction on a covered portion of the body varies with the amount and texture of the ordinary (or extraordinary) clothing worn upon it at the time.

5. For centuries the birch was the usual form of school flagellation, and although no doubt in olden times school punishments, like those of adult criminals, erred greatly on the side of severity, that is no reason why a moderate chastisement should be regarded as an outrage. Probably a majority of the older men among aristocratic families have been flogged in the old fashioned way in their boyhood for much less serious offences than lying, and even the younger ones who have not experienced the discipline of the birch rod themselves have been at schools where they were liable to it on due occasion. Certainly no schoolboy who has had experience would regard five strokes with the rod -- which, I understand, was the amount of this much-exaggerated punishment -- as a very serious or severe infliction. I can only say that when I was a boy I should have expected -- and my expectation would not have been disappointed -- a much more severe personal penance for a similar offence, if at home from my parents or at school from my master. -- Yours, &c., EXPERTO CREDE. March 12.
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To the Editor of the Manchester Guardian.

Sir, -- In this discussion there seem to be two points at issue. The first concerns the character of the High Master of the Grammar School; the second the use of corporal punishment in schools. The character of Mr. Paton is above discussion; but the use of corporal punishment in schools is quite another matter.

The advocates of the birch rod of the boy-myself-sir school consider that the opponents of the system are sentimentalists. They speak as if reason were altogether on their side. But, to my mind the upholders of corporal punishment of this class are themselves the sentimentalists. Birching is considered by many sane people to be a degrading practice. But that is only one objection to it. The thing is silly in principle. Suppose a boy is an incorrigible liar. Will the infliction of severe bodily pain alter his state of mind? Very possibly it will make him afraid to tell lies to the man who will hurt him if he does; but will it convince the boy that the act of telling a lie to anyone is wrong? Men and women of rational minds abstain from lying or stealing not because they fear imprisonment, but because their sense of right and wrong deters them.

A boy goes to school to be educated into a state of moral rectitude by the process of reasoning, not by the infliction of bodily violence; and surely the birch rod in schools is simply a relic of barbaric methods of teaching, and should therefore be relegated to the limbo of the past. -- Yours, &c., SIRIUS.
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To the Editor of the Manchester Guardian.

Sir, -- Surely Mr. Howell is right. This is not a personal matter, and should not be argued on a personal basis. The letters in defence of Mr. Paton are quite unnecessary, for there is involved a far deeper question -- one which affects the public interest far more than any attack could affect Mr. Paton, -- and it is whether the practice is not growing, by which some of our citizens hold the easiest way to notoriety to be through the vilification of some well-respected public man. How far this should he allowed is the point which lies at the root of the question and calls strongly for an answer. I protest most emphatically against a state of society which -- I speak quite generally -- allows the character of a highly respected man in authority to become the sport and playball of any irresponsible councillor who cares to allege a charge against him. The attack is made under the plea of privilege; no defence can be made, and a great man has not the time, if he has the inclination, to brush off the attacks of any small, unconscionable fly that cares to worry him. -- Yours, &c., JUSTICE.
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To the Editor of the Manchester Guardian.

Sir, -- May an impartial onlooker utter a few words suggested by this controversy? If there be one thing that will not fit our boys for the important and honourable duties of future citizenship it is "mollycoddling." Some parents nowadays injure their children and lessen the teacher's influence for good by listening to petty complaints about punishment. It is a great mistake. It tends to sap the growth of true nobility of character and make puling, whining nobodies. Long ago -- those were manifestly more Spartan times -- when a boy was caned or strapped the last thing he dreamt of doing was to tell his father. He knew that most likely in that case the chastisement would be supplemented. That line of action, for the boy's sake, was immeasurably the better one. Let parents wisely, frankly, tenderly put their boys on their honour to be truthful, pure-minded, inflexibly fair and just, kindly and companionable to be, indeed, always and everywhere "jannock," and to honour their teachers, on whose efforts their future so much depends. And while warning the boys against getting into scrapes, let the parents with equal frankness tell them, should they ever happen to get into one, not to sulk or whine, but stick to the truth and take their chastisement like a man and be wiser for the future. If some such course as this had been more generally followed some recent controversies which have occupied many of your columns might never have risen. Above all things, may we be saved from a generation of "mollycoddles"!

I hope that Mr. Paton, personally by far the most valuable educational asset in Manchester at the present time, will not allow himself to be greatly perturbed by the somewhat un-English procedure at a recent municipal Council meeting It was only one of the little freaks of freedom. -- Yours, &c., March 12. W. HUME ELLIOT.
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To the Editor of the Manchester Guardian.

Sir, -- Some thirty odd years ago, when a pupil at the Manchester Grammar School, I was severely caned by Mr. Walker, the then high master, for a piece of dishonourable conduct I had been guilty of. I was not naturally a bad lad, and had erred as much through thoughtlessness as anything else. Anyhow, my possibly downward career was checked by the just punishment promptly inflicted, and I can say with a clear conscience that I do not remember being guilty of similar behaviour as boy or man since. So much for the efficacy of corporal punishment. But I was not stripped and birched; I was caned without removing a garment. Had the former occurred I should blush for shame and humiliation at the remembrance all my life.

It is all very fine for those who, happily, are not the parents of the culprit in question to send gratuitous testimonials to the "Manchester Guardian" of Mr. Paton's high moral character and sterling worth. These we all know but they are beside the mark. If a boy is guilty of conduct for which a good caning is inadequate, he merits expulsion, and in spite of all that has been said and written, I maintain that to strip and birch a lad is a brutal and degrading performance. -- Yours, &c., OLD BOY.
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To the Editor of the Manchester Guardian.

Sir, -- May I, as the mother of a Manchester Grammar School boy, add my protest to that of others against the unjustifiable treatment of the High Master at last week's City Council meeting? All honour to the man who, in these days of sickly sentiment, insists that the boys under his care shall speak the truth. Often when reading your columns the conviction is forced on me that many men holding responsible positions in the dear old city of Manchester would keep its affairs much cleaner if they could have had the advantage in their youthful days of a teacher like Mr. Paton. -- Yours, &c., ALICE H. TURNER.
Bowdon, March 12.
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To the Editor of the Manchester Guardian.

Sir, -- I was much interested in the last paragraph of the letter of your correspondent "H." in this morning's "Manchester Guardian." I take it that his idea is that the amount of corporal punishment inflicted should be strictly proportioned to the fees paid. This is a novel idea, and opens up a wide field for speculation. It would appear that in the moral elevation of the rising generation there is a fruitful field of enterprise for the descendants of some bygone Grand Inquisitor. -- Yours, &c. C. S. PENDEREL GLOVER. Glenholme, Langley Road, Prestwich.
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To the Editor of the Manchester Guardian.

Sir, -- Mr. Paton has been one of my heroes -- an ideal schoolmaster. I was the more grieved, therefore, to read in to-day's "Manchester Guardian" the report of his address at the Association Hall. Men make gods in their own image, and the image portrayed by Mr. Paton is not a pleasant one. The spirit breathed in that address is the same spirit that prompted men to defend the punishments of the Middle Ages. Since then we have grown to something higher and better. We are still growing; and it is as certain as I am writing these lines that before another hundred years have passed the cane and the birch will have gone the way of the branding iron and the pillory. In the meantime, one thing seems clear. Before severely birching a boy the father should be consulted and the boy given the choice of accepting the punishment or leaving the school. I would remove a boy of mine from the best school in England rather than submit him to such degradation. -- Yours, &c., W. H. H. March 12.
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To the Editor of the Manchester Guardian.

Sir, -- It is a great relief to those who have sons at the Grammar School to find that the Governors so thoroughly support the High Master, whom the boys thoroughly recognise as their friend. There are undoubtedly occasions when personal chastisement will save a boy from a much worse fate. Surely, that is better than the alternative of expulsion rather lightly put forward as the proper course by some of your correspondents to-day. Most people would feel that to be a lasting stigma. -- Yours, &c., WALTER SPEAKMAN. 302, Cheetham Hill Road, Manchester, March 13.

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