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School CP - July 1977

Corpun file 20885


Daily Express, London, 29 July 1977

If we want teachers to do their job, we must let them keep the cane

EDUCATION SECRETARY Shirley Williams asked for views on corporal punishment and has received a dramatic reply from Britain's second biggest teachers' union. Ban the cane, they say, and we will take it as a vote of no confidence. Here their leader explains why.

By Terry Casey
general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters and Union of Women Teachers

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I BELIEVE almost every parent in Britain would live to regret a ban on the cane.

But that is not because I am some kind of brute who believes in being cruel to children.

It is because corporal punishment is an important part of the kind of education system we have and abolition would undermine that system.

We are not just there to reach, we are also there to supervise, to notice if there are things wrong with the children in our care.

We are in loco parentis -- in place of the parent -- and that means we care much more about the children we teach than if we just had to stand in front of them and lecture them.


If we stopped worrying about their standards of behaviour, about their manners, about whether they were drinking or even taking to drugs, parents would notice soon enough.

But if we are no longer responsible for the way they behave, then that is what is bound to happen.

The squeamish abolitionists do not understand this. They do not understand that parents and schools have these responsibilities, and must have a comeback when children misbehave.

For it is misbehaviour. We must not allow ordinary naughtiness to be construed as maladjustment. The children themselves recognise this. They expect parents and teachers to take firm action as soon as possible if they commit a serious misdemeanour. I am quite sure most schoolchildren are not abolitionists.

After all, the alternatives are not that attractive. The abolitionists are always saying that no other European country uses the cane. It is perfectly true, but that does not mean children are never hit.

When young Hans is suspended from a German school for three days, he can expect to feel a taste of his father's belt.

And young Ivanovitch in Russia probably doesn't get away scot-free when his misdeeds are displayed on the noticeboard of his father's factory. It's not calculated to make him popular.


They have other methods, also, on the Continent. Children who misbehave are held back for a year. That's quite wrong. Children should only be kept down if their academic performance is not good enough. And, in any case, a child who is held back is hardly going to behave any better. He could well behave even worse.

The abolitionists also claim that if you treat children violently they will act violently. In that case, why has the generation which has probably known less violence than any in history turned out to be so violent -- and in a vicious, unfair way?

I do not believe that violence is all automatically evil.

There is a certain amount of aggression in healthy young men and if, when I was a teacher, I saw a fight between two boys who were the same age and weight and height, I always walked very slowly across the playground to stop them. By the time I pulled them apart, their male pride had been partly satisfied.

I don't feel the same way about girls. You expect them to indulge in a little scratching or hair-pulling -- but it worries me to see them fighting like boys.

It cannot be true to say, as the abolitionists claim, that the kind of violence we see now -- five boys ganging up on one, girls fighting -- is encouraged by the cane.

Of course, the cane doesn't cure people of bad behaviour. If it did, most of my generation would be plaster saints. But it is a good way to deal with an unpremeditated, impulsive misdeed.

When I taught in the East End of London, I once told a boy that I would not be caning him. Instead, he would be banned from playing football for a few days.

That boy came out on to the football field, begging me to cane him instead. He couldn't stand the longdrawn out punishment, and I do not blame him. If he had been punished on the spot, the incident would have been closed.


I feel the same way about depriving children of trips to the theatre or other events because they have misbehaved. It can plunge a child in to gloom for months. I really believe a few cuts with the cane would be better and kinder.

There are even worse things that can happen if the teacher cannot take action in a moderate and effective way.

You can have a situation in which any lout could act in a provocative way towards a teacher. The teacher could just lose control and clout the child.

That could be very dangerous, and I believe it happens in European schools quite frequently, because the teachers have no other outlet for their frustration.

I remember clearly from my own days at school how we treated a teacher who was a pleasant, inoffensive man who wouldn't say boo to a goose.


We were not thugs, but we treated him very cruelly.

Youngsters, even decent ones, respond with nothing but contempt to a weak teacher. He could expect more mercy from a cage of Bengal tigers than he could have done from us.

That is what children are like, and I think teachers should have some response to it.

If I could believe it was morally wrong, and against natural law, I would want to abolish corporal punishment no matter what the consequences might be.

But it seems to me that some form of corporal punishment by the parent, or a substitute for the parent, is quite in accord with the natural order.

All adults have the right to train their young. But they do not have the right to be brutal to them, and that is something quite different.

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