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School CP - November 1903

Corpun file 19670


The New York Times, 22 November 1903

Teachers Favor Corporal Punishment

Believe in Axiom "Spare the Rod and Spoil the Child."

Discuss the Subject at a Banquet -- British Pedagogue Criticises New York Public School System.

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Members of the Male Teachers' Association met at dinner at Shanley's uptown restaurant last night, and after the repast listened to a discussion by a number of invited speakers, who had "Corporal Punishment, Its Desirability, Its Limitations, &c.," for their topic. After a pretty thorough thrashing out of the subject the consensus of opinion seemed to be in favor of a sensible use of the rod as conducive to the quickening of the intellect and a proper deportment on the part of the pupils.

Frederick J. Reilly, President of the association, was toastmaster. The first speaker was H. Coward, President of the National Union of Teachers of Great Britain. Mr. Coward came to the United States as a member of the Mosely commission and has toured the country with that body. He narrated last night some of the observations he has made while here.

"Your public school system in this country," he said, among other things, "is as yet in its experimental stage. Especially here in New York you seem to make a little too much of trimmings, but I dare say that before long you will do away with that and devote more time to the essentials of education. We think, also, that your schools in this city would be better if they were not so large. It must be quite a task for a Principal to remember the names of all the pupils. Perhaps Dr. Maxwell conducts his annual examinations of teachers for the purpose of testing their memory in this respect, and I do not know but questions of such tendency would be as useful as many of the questions asked now.

"We are not troubled in England over the question of corporal punishment, because there every Principal has the right to inflict it when deemed necessary. In many of the larger cities of England, there is even now a movement on foot to relax the rules somewhat and vest the same right in the class teachers.

Kind of Boy Who Needs It.

I have no hesitation in saying that, while there should not be too much corporal punishment, and while it should be used only as a last resort, there is a certain kind of boy that comes from a certain kind of home to whom corporal punishment is a necessity if anything good is to be made of him. Out of every hundred boys, ninety-nine will behave themselves without it, but it is the hundredth boy that is the serious menace to proper discipline in the classroom, and in his case, the rod should not be spared. Every teacher will at some time find himself between the devil and the deep sea, and in such stress that he is driven to do in violation of rules what he should be able to do with regularity and recognition."

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Dr. Myron T. Scudder, Principal of the New Paltz Normal School, who was the next speaker, said he thought the administration of large doses of personal discomfort was an ideal thing for scholars who needed touching up a little.

"We have not words of disapproval strong enough," he said, "to condemn the brutality that often characterized the old system of education. But in entirely eliminating corporal punishment we have gone to the other extreme. I believe in corporal punishment. I come from a family that believes in it. One of my earliest recollections of family discipline brings me back to a time when for one entire week I was locked up in a room and fed on bread and water and whipped twice a day by my mother. That was for swearing. I was in a cherry tree and was ordered down, but as I was pretty near the top, I thought it was safe to use cuss words, so I said things. Nobody ever heard me swear since, at least not very often. Any swearing I have done has been on the quiet.

"American parents as a rule allow children to run all over them. They put up with any amount of inconvenience in order that their children may have undue liberties, which are decidedly a danger to a child at the age when it should learn to obey and respect its elders. I will say that I have secured in my home the leisure I desire in my life by a judicial exercise of corporal punishment.

"The question to my mind is not of the propriety of corporal punishment, but how it can be exercised within the proper limitations. Would I whip a child for lying? No. For stealing? No. Disobedience and disrespect for elders are the only offenses to my mind that should be met with corporal punishment.

"I dare say that before we can obtain tolerant consideration of the question before us from the public, we must do away with the species of degenerate sentiment which finds expression when some noted criminal is going to be executed, and he is being showered with flowers, loving messages, and gifts. We have slidden into the slough of mawkish sentiment about this thing, but the question is one that must be settled and be settled soon, and you are the people to do it. The rule of the Board of Education forbidding corporal punishment is one that not only adds to the turbulence in many schools, but it makes law-breakers of many teachers as well, and for that reason you should see to it that it is withdrawn."

Dr. Bernard Cronson, Principal of Public School No. 125, who recently presented a petition to the Board of Education on behalf of the Male Principals' Association to restore to teachers the right to inflict corporal punishment on refractory children, spoke in a vein of satire of the difficult plight of many teachers under the present restrictions in that regard.

"If you are tormented and your children are contaminated by a wicked boy and you cannot take it out of his hide, you can at least call the police if you are an ordinary mortal. And that is only right. But you are not an ordinary man, but a teacher. And as a teacher what can you do?

What Philosophers Advise.

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"Well, if you look up the philosophers on the matter you will find that you can first tell that boy that the Articles of Confederation were of no use because they could not be enforced. If that does not help, you can impress upon his mind, and not with any unnecessary harshness, mind you, that there are such things as chain gangs and prisons and electric chairs for grown-up people that are bad. If that fails, then what can you do? Well, the philosophers will tell you, you must exercise your sweet personality. You must try to charm him into being good.

"Now, I have a friend who is somewhat of a humorist. He happens to have a son. One time the son came and asked his humorous father for a nickel to buy soda. 'Why soda?' said the father. 'I am thirsty,' said the boy. Well, this humorous father replied 'If you were an ordinary boy that would be all right. But you are my son. Go and quench your thirst without drinking.'

Now, I must confess that kind of humor is a trifle too pedagogic for me. But then there are some other things I cannot grasp. I cannot understand how anybody out of Eden can dress himself without clothes, nor how any one could sneeze without a nasal appendage, nor how you can correct a boy with the articles of confederation. Nor do I understand how it is going to make an incorrigible boy good to parole him in the custody of an aged female missionary. And yet there is a higher power than the Board of Superintendents and higher even than the Board of Commissioners, and that power requires of you that you make that bad boy a moral being."

"Love, moral suasion and the Ten Commandments," said Dr. P. David Schultz, a physician, who next spoke, "are all right, but let me tell you -- these little fellows in our class will control the situation every time if you have not the right to inflict corporal punishment on them. If you have the right I do not think you would be called upon very often to use it, but it is important that you should have it and that the boys should know it."

Mr. Ossian Lang, editor of The School Journal, who was the last speaker of the evening, said he was in favor of having the right to inflict corporal punishment vested in male but not in female teachers. He said in his observation there were certain days when, under a female teacher, the boys were worse behaved than on others, and that their bad behavior was largely due to the teachers' irritability.

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