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School CP - January 2008

Corpun file 19917


Daily Telegraph, London, 3 January 2008

Bouncers could teach schools discipline

By Lynette Burrows

In the light of yesterday's revelation that in some schools as many as one pupil in 20 has been suspended for assaulting staff, it is interesting to speculate what would happen if bouncers in clubs, discos and pubs were subject to the same restrictions as teachers when trying to enforce good behaviour among young men.

There are few places where young people congregate that are not patrolled by these large and implacable figures and they keep order with a remarkable degree of success.

The patrons are over 18 and frequently drunk, yet no one thrusts an angry face into the bouncers', or barges them and tells them, without expletives deleted, to get lost.

Their orders are obeyed and with a degree of deference that is almost exclusive to this domain. Terse orders, snapped out without ceremony, are quickly obeyed out of regard for the crushing reprisals that would greet a lack of respect.

Thus, bouncers are admired and the respect afforded them is not because of their educational qualifications or pleasant personalities but simply because of the force they are known to possess and their willingness to use it.

Force is a quality of ancestral significance to young men, written into their genes by the struggle for survival and its importance cannot be simply talked away.

In the argument about how discipline in classrooms can be restored to a level where the majority of pupils can actually learn, this simple fact about the masculine personality has been set aside as belonging to another, more primitive age.

In its place has been substituted a bureaucratic form of nagging that is essentially feminine, a sort of domestic pacifism, that is as likely to succeed in curbing male aggression as meeting an advancing army with fluttering handkerchiefs and shrill appeals to their decency. It doesn't deter young men's bad behaviour and never will, because there is no actual, or implied, compulsion.

Among all the wearisome educational platitudes we have had to endure in the last generation, the claim that corporal punishment has been "done away with" in schools is the most cynical and unconscionable.

In reality there is vastly more physical punishment in schools now than ever before - but it is administered by school bullies and not any lawful authority.

There are now statistics on head fractures, knife wounds and other serious injuries in schools. Pupils commit suicide to avoid going to school and all normal, well-behaved children are potential victims of violence, whether they have done anything to deserve it or not.

Is it any wonder that so many children play truant from schools where they learn nothing and are in fear, if not in actual danger? There is nothing "civilised" about this situation and yet teachers look the other way, pretend corporal punishment doesn't exist and suggest yet more brightly coloured handkerchiefs to wave at miscreants.

The most important effect of the abolition, in 1986, of official, legitimate corporal punishment in schools has been that hundreds of thousands of qualified teachers left the profession as discipline plummeted and their ability to teach anything became impossible.

Though, of course, not all schools have been equally affected, it will do nothing to remedy the situation to pretend that good schools are the norm. In many city areas in particular, they are not. So we now have the situation where an overwhelmingly female profession struggles, ineffectually, to contain outrageous behaviour.

Women teachers are insulted and victimised by some pupils in a way that makes the term "sexual harassment" seem coined for another age. Behaviour which would not be tolerated outside the classroom has become normal in too many schools.

Violence, obscenity, threats, outbursts of aggression, vandalism and theft are now part of school life so that the schools themselves - far from being places where civilised values are taught and enforced - have become training grounds for seriously anti-social behaviour.

Private schools are not immune to the ill effects of the mad, educational theory that has allowed this to happen in large parts of the State system, although the financial cost to parents gives them a literal and figurative clout with their children that is not available to other parents.

They also have their problems, largely associated with the prevalence of soft drugs at the upper end of even the best schools, which can have serious, long-term effects on the pupils.

The schools are obliged to take a softly-softly approach to the problem because they too have no effective punishments available to them. What could be stopped in its tracks, is allowed to continue because to sack all the children found to be using drugs would decimate school numbers and affect both their reputations and financial viability.

An effective answer would be to allow the re-introduction of corporal punishment on a school-by-school basis; possibly after consulting with parents and children.

Parents who once thought of corporal punishment solely in terms of "I wouldn't allow anyone to strike my child" are now more likely to see the benefit of having some means to curb the hitherto unimagined violence of some pupils.

Oriental countries show how it can be done. They have a disciplinary janitor, always on hand, whose attention, summoned by the teacher to remove the child from class, is sufficient to maintain an atmosphere where serious learning can take place. These schools turn out highly-educated, well-behaved children who outstrip us in almost every department - despite having far larger classes and less money.

We may not have thought seriously before about how bouncers manage to make our places of recreation "fit for purpose" but their unsentimental, cant-free, practicality is worth more than outraged condemnation.

They have, after all, managed to make bars and discos places where young people want to go, where the property and personnel are largely undamaged, and where the purpose for which they were established can be accomplished.

Lynette Burrows is an author on children's rights.

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