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The New York Times, 3 December 1873
Corporal Punishment In Public Schools.
The Board of Education will this afternoon take up for consideration, and possibly for final action, the report of its Committee on Teachers, recommending the repeal of the by-law prohibiting corporal punishment in the Public schools of this City. Any public discussion of the internal government of our public schools is to be deprecated, as a general rule, for the evident reason that it tends to weaken authority. Questions of this class should, as far as possible, be left in the hands of the teachers, for every restriction to which they are subjected will be construed by disorderly scholars as a license extended to themselves, and it may safely be taken for granted that teachers whose discretion cannot be trusted for proper treatment of their pupils have mistaken their vocation. This matter of corporal punishment, however, is one which the public has always insisted on discussing, and, to a great extent, on deciding for the teachers; and since it is now brought forward for important action, those who are interested in our public school system are entitled to be informed of the exact position of the question.
A brief review of the manner in which corporal punishment came to be abolished in our schools will aid to a clear comprehension of the subject. Nearly all the information needed we find in a careful and able report submitted to the Board of Education Oct. 5, 1870, by Messrs. NATHANIEL JARVIS and WILLIAM E. DUBYEA, then the Committee on By-Laws. From this document it appears that during the year 1864 there were over one hundred thousand cases of corporal punishment in the male grammar schools and primary schools and departments, while twelve principals of primary schools and departments found themselves able to maintain order without an appeal to the rod. In 1865 several complaints were made to the Board of Education and to the Superintendent of Schools of cruelty on the part of teachers in inflicting corporal punishment, and in the same year a resolution was offered in the board instructing the Committee on By-Laws to report a resolution prohibiting corporal punishment in all the primary schools and primary departments. This measure proved too radical, and the committee finally very reluctantly reported a by-law directing that corporal punishment should be inflicted only by the Principal or Vice Principal, and by the Vice Principal only in the absence of the Principal.
Notwithstanding a protest from the teachers, this regulation was adopted and went into force. The very first month that the by-law was in full operation -- November, 1865 -- the corporal punishments were at the annual rate of 46,000, a decrease from the year immediately preceding of over fifty per cent., and the three months' return at the close of the year showed a still more decided diminution. In 1866 the actual number of punishments in all the schools was 34,000, and 64 schools out of 193 were conducted without the rod, while the average rate of scholarship had increased from eighty-one to over eighty-four per cent., and the increase in average attendance was nearly 2,000. Upon the strength of these results the board, by a unanimous vote, abolished corporal punishment in the female schools, the primary schools, and the primary departments, leaving it in force in the male departments. In 1867 the whole number of corporal punishments in the male department was 13,000, being 7,000 less than in the same department in the year preceding; in 1868 it was but 8,000; and in all the female departments, in eighty-six primary departments, and in half the male departments, corporal punishment had entirely disappeared. In January, 1870, a majority of the Principals of the male departments discontinued corporal punishment, and in thirteen schools where it was retained it was inflicted but 268 times in the month named, while the number of punishments in the male departments in the corresponding month of l866 was over 2,400. After the ascertainment of this fact, a by-law was adopted early in 1870 abo1ishing corporal punishment in the public schools. During this time the attendance steadily increased, and the scholarship at one period -- in 1868 -- reached the very high average ninety-five -- nearly fifteen per cent. above any previous year.
This change in the mode of governing the schoo1s, which Superintendent RANDALL had strongly urged in his last report, was at first warmly indorsed by his successor, Superintendent KIDDLE; but that officer, in his report for 1871, gave indications that his opinions were undergoing a change, and in his last report -- that for 1872 -- he "unhesitatingly recommended, in the light of a large experience, as teacher and Superintendent, that the board should reinvest the principals with the right to inflict, under proper regulations and restrictions, corporal chastisement upon their pupils." This recommendation, which has been before the board since January, resulted at the last meeting in a report from the Committee on Teachers -- Messrs. J. M. HALSTEAD, John CROSBY BROWN, WM. DOWD, and FERDINAND TRAUD -- advising that corporal punishment be authorized in the male departments of the grammar schools and of the primary departments, substantially under the same restrictions which were in force when it was abolished in 1870. This is the report which is to be acted upon by the Board of Education this afternoon.
From this plain statement of facts it seems clear that a grave error was committed in the unqualified abolition of corporal punishment in 1870. The mere knowledge that the teacher had authority to use the rod, even under restrictions, was evidently sufficient to hold refractory pupils in check; and it was altogether an unwarranted and illogical inference, because a qualified authority to inflict corporal punishment had diminished the necessity for it, that its entire abolition would do away with all occasion for recourse to it. If the Committee on By-laws, which declared against the restoration of corporal punishment in 1870, and whose report we have summarized above, were wrong in claiming the increased attendance and the higher grade of scholarship as among the immediate results of the abolition of bodily punishment, the report just submitted by the Committee on Teachers very greatly weakens the strength of its position by attributing to this same cause -- the fact that principals cannot flog their scholars -- such remote results as the lack of personal cleanliness, falling off in the general tone of the pupils' manners and morals, carelessness about books, slates, &c., defiance of parental authority at home, rudeness of scholars, and even the lack of promptness on the part of teachers in correcting offenses. Certainly if teachers are to look to the rod as the corrective of their own shortcomings, as well us of those of their pupils, parents will be very reluctant to see its rule restored, even in the most qualified manner.
While we have full confidence that the Board of Education will reach a wise decision upon this important question, we can only regret that the grounds upon which its action is to be based were not stated in the report of the committee with more directness and point, and with greater freedom from generalities -- especially as the Board of Education in Boston and one or two Western cities as well, if we are correctly informed, which were upon the point of abolishing corporal punishment, are awaiting the result here before taking final action.
The New York Times, 4 December 1873
The Board of Education.
The Question of Corporal Punishment.
The Report of the Teachers' Committee Considered -- A Lively Discussion -- The Subject Laid on the Table.
At the meeting of the Board of Education yesterday the principal subject under consideration was the proposal embodied in the report of the Committee on Teachers for the restoration of corporal punishment in the male grammar and primary schools. The report states that the main points brought out by the investigations of the committee were as follows:
Obedience to ordinary commands relating to the customary
exercises of the classes is no longer prompt and exact -- the
time of teachers being wasted while waiting for careless and
dilatory pupils to obey -- so that the "drill" of
classes in their ordinary movements and exercises has
Willful and defiant disobedience is much more common than
heretofore, and manifestations of ill temper and ill manners much
more frequent, thus showing a great falling off in the general
tone of the pupils' manners and morals.
Tenth -- Teachers have to some
extent fallen into the habit of overlooking offenses committed by
boys known to be beyond parental control, and have thus lowered
their standards of discipline to the injury of their pupils.
Fifteenth -- Juvenile lawlessness,
rudeness, profanity, and crime have manifestly increased since
the abolition of corporal punishment, thus proving a directly
evil influence upon society in general.
The committee, in conclusion, recommend that section 40, of article 14, be amended so as to read as follows:
"No corporal punishment of any description shall hereafter be inflicted in any female grammar or female primary department or school under the jurisdiction of the Board of Education. Any punishment inflicting bodily pain of any kind shall be deemed corporal punishment. Corporal punishment in the male departments of the grammar schools, or of male pupils of the primary departments and schools,shall be inflicted only by the Principal, or, in his absence, by the Vice Principal, on proof of flagrant and persistent misconduct after all reasonable efforts to reform the offender shall have been made. [...] it shall be the duty of the Principal to keep a record of such punishments [...] and any teacher, other than the Principal or Vice Principal of a male department, who shall inflict any corporal punishment, may, on the recommendation of the City Superintendent, on proof of such delinquency or improper punishment, be removed by this board.
Mr. Halstead, in behalf of the Committee on Teachers, moved the adoption of the report. He thought the reasons given in it were sufficient to warrant the passing of the resolution. It seemed to him that they should not hesitate to secure proper discipline in our schools by means of the adoption of the report.
Mr. Farr remarked that under the law regulating the proceedings of the board it was impossible to carry out the proposal of the committee, because where there was a mixed primary school they had no power to inflict corporal punishment. He moved that the whole matter be recommitted to the committee.
The motion having been seconded was put, and defeated by 10 votes to 7.
The putting of the motion for the adoption of the report was therefore rendered impossible, and on the motion of Mr. Paterson the report was ordered to lie on the table.
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