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School CP - July 1987

The German Tribune, Hamburg, 19 July 1987

It's 40 years since corporal punishment got a general boot

(translated from Saarbrücker Zeitung, 19 June 1987)

By Horst Zimmermann

On 20 June 1947, Professor Heinrich Konen, the North Rhine Westphalian Minister for Education, took steps towards limiting corporal punishment in schools. Other Länder soon followed.

This was the beginning of the end of an ancient tradition where pupils were caned according to the principle that it was the way to make education sink in.

Punishments were recorded with pedantic precision. In the state archives at Radevormwald one can read records of what was dished out and for what.

For smoking in the toilet you got two strokes of the cane. Laziness got you four and for laughing during prayer eight.

It's not clear from the records whether punishment was of any pedagogical value. Already after the first world war modern pedagogics was of the opinion that corporal punishment was useless and counter-productive.

However the Nazis lifted all restrictions on punishment. They believed that punishment toughened up the pupils.

After the second world war democratic ministers took up where they had left off. They put forward the view that human dignity was incompatible with violence.

Heinrich Konen was the first to act. The examples of corporal punishment which one still comes across he said, "are the saddest evidence that a teacher can't teach."

The new ordinances did not create a ban. In general punishment was forbidden for boys and girls at the infant level. They still remained for older boys who acted in a brutal manner or as a defence measure for the teacher against attacks by pupils.

This of course was used as an excuse to carry on the old routine. It was between 1975 and 1983 that gradually a complete ban came into force.

Today schools have other measures to deal with troublesome pupils. They can discuss problems, give advice or warnings, inform parents, exclude from class, use expulsion, applicable to all schools if need be. This is by no means an exhaustive list.

Today this catalogue of punishments rarely needs to be applied. in comparison to the wild seventies, in which teachers were attacked by students and furniture demolished, the eighties are much more relaxed. Even cases of brutality among students have become rarer.

Smaller classes would appear to have had a positive effect on the students. Teachers have more scope to influence pupils and to build up a partnership with them.

Today's students are also more likely to be interested in their grades and less interested in time wasting.

Modern Germany has one of the lowest birth rates in the world. The consequences of the fallen birth rate means that schools are at pains to avoid getting a reputation for using punishment.

If a teacher does not apologise for any lapse in self-control he ends up before a disciplinary committee whose minimum punishment is expulsion or a fine.

The number of such cases amounts to about fifteen or twenty a year. Which in view of the possibilities for conflict is an astonishingly low figure.

Parents are the only ones allowed to apply corporal punishment. Although since 1979 degrading educational measures are forbidden. On the other slapping in general has not been classified as degrading by the courts.

At present legislators are debating a controversial law like one in Sweden, which would make it an offence for parents to hit their children.

Walter Wilken, head of the German Society for the Prevention of cruelty to children is against it. Such legislation would he said, "only encourage neighbourhood snooping."

The problem he added, "can only be solved when we succeed in convincing parents that hitting children is something that should not be done."

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