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School CP - September 2000

Corpun file 6083

Otago Daily Times, Dunedin, 12 September 2000

When children were ruled by cane, strapping and spanking

By Gordon Parry

THE dreadful things done to small children by so-called guardians, and even parents, have kept cropping up in the news this year. To the great majority of us it is inconceivable that adults could be deliberately cruel to infants. Yet it happens and keeps on happening.

I was brought up in an age when "spare the rod and spoil the child" was a common expression. Children who stepped out of line at home or at school were spanked or strapped, and expected it.

This was the way of the world. And, I must interpolate, in spite of what the experts say about those who are chastised becoming chastisers, I have never had the least inclination to lift a hand to a child.

How deeply ingrained was the attitude to corporal punishment I had not realised until I came across a 1942 news item referring to Waitaki Boys High School where corporal punishment was regarded as a Good Thing. Both masters and prefects used the cane and I imagine this pattern was repeated in a great many other boys' schools.

A member of the Board of Governors decided that the time had come to make a change. He gave notice that he would move at a board meeting that caning be abolished.

This was a revolutionary proposal and it seems that others worked on him because he backed away from total abolition and simply moved that prefect caning should stop.

Two branches of the Old Boys' Association wrote to support the status quo, but the most astonishing outburst came from F.W. Milner, Waitaki's famous headmaster known to generations of boys as "The Man". He asked whether the board wanted him to "add to the current deluge of sloppy sentimentality by turning out Waitaki jellyfish and molluscs, or to turn out he-men with backbone and spirit, and tough enough to face the stern realities of life".

The mover of the motion managed to find a seconder but they were the only two to vote in favour. It is a pity that there is no way of telling what variation there is between the ratio of jellyfish to he-men almost 60 years ago and now.

Thinking back, I was not particularly perturbed about being caned at high school. We all agreed that the cane was preferable to lines or detention. But the cane was administered in the head's study. I still recall that it was worse at primary school where one was hauled out to the front of the class to be strapped. The humiliation hurt me much more than "getting the cuts".

Gordon Parry is a Dunedin writer and broadcaster.

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