Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Punishers – weird technology of punishment in schools

Technology of punishment in learning? Surely not. Blackboards have long been used as instruments of punishment where pupils are asked to write the same line a set number of times. ‘Lines’ often had to be written in detention, after school. Many claim that linking punishment to writing is a strong demotivator, as future writing talks are likely to be associated with punishment. Others argue that writing practice is both a punishment and useful exercise. The argument around corporeal punishment in schools - useful for discipline or child abuse - has been raging for two millennia.

Roman punishment
From Sparta and Rome to the public schools of England, punishment has been seen as a necessary condition for education, especially of boys. Spartan education was militaristic and punishment (flogging) was common. Indeed stealing was seen as a virtue, only being caught shameful, and the ability to take pain a mark of courage. In Rome schools had a range of technology for beating students including the ferula (birch branches), scotia (leather whip straps) and the hardest leather whip the flagellum.

Dunces hats
The pointed ‘dunces’ hat, sometimes with a ‘D’ on it, was put on the heads of pupils who misbehaved and they were made to stand in the corner, sometimes with their face to the wall. The name comes from the Scottish theologian Duns Scotus, whose followers stubbornly refused to adopt to the new humanities and so ‘Duns’ became a byword for stubbornness and stupidity. The word dunce first appears I the middle of the 17th century and ‘dunces cap’ first appears in The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens. In Europe there was an equivalent, a headdress resembling a donkey’s ears, to indicate ‘stupidity’.

Spanking buttocks with canes was widespread, especially in English speaking public schools until relatively recently and is quite clearly responsible for what the French call the ‘vice anglais’ or ‘spanking’ on the bare or clothed buttocks. It was widely represented in novels, films, as a key aspect of British schooling. Rattan spanking canes, used for corporeal punishment came into common use in the late 19t century, when it was found they could deliver seething pain, even through clothes. The practice continued, largely in the English speaking public schools, usually by the headmaster but also by prefects, and although banned in most countries, still exists today.
Corporeal punishment was banned in England & Wales in 1999, Scotland 2000 and Northern Ireland in 2004. Although it still lingers and is still commonly used in Iran, many sub-Saharan and African countries, such as Zimbabwe and in Singapore and Malaysia.

In the US spanking on the buttocks with a foot long wooden or fibreglass paddle is legal in 19 states, mostly in the mid-west and south; Alabama Arizona Arkansas Colorado Florida Georgia Idaho Indiana Kansas Kentucky Louisiana Mississippi Missouri North Carolina Oklahoma South Carolina Tennessee Texas and Wyoming. Up to 20,000 students a year request medical help after being paddled. Some see it as a distasteful hangover, all too common in ‘black’ states. Others see it as child abuse and there are on-going legal cases.

Leather straps
The ‘strap’ or ‘belt’ was the mainstay of corporeal punishment in Scottish Schools. It was a thick leather strap, forked at the end and applied to the outstretched hands. I can still vividly remember the pain, burst blood vessels on my wrist and injustice for being late for school (it was the bus not me that was late!). The Lochgelly Tawse had the largest share of the market as it had no sharp edges, didn’t wrap round the hand and was lighter and easier to use. As a piece of technology it was exquisitely designed as an instrument of pain and punishment.

Whips have been used for centuries in schools. A worrying trend, however, is its routine contemporary use in Koranic schools, not just for bad behaviour but for failing on simple recitations, reading and writing tasks. Punishment in this context is largely around routine, rote memorisation tasks.

Technology twist
In an interesting technology twist, mobiles in classrooms have exposed some of the excessive brutality inflicted by teachers in some countries and have led to prosecutions and changes in government policy. Take these horrific examples from Thailand and South Korea. There are many others.

Pedagogy of punishment
Even in Roman times, the debate raged over the corporeal punishment of children. Quintilian (35-95 AD, was "entirely against corporal punishment in education... it is disgusting and slavish…the pupil whose mind is too coarse to be improved by censure will become as indifferent to blows. Finally, these chastisements would be entirely unnecessary if the teachers were patient and helpful…..And consider how shameful, how dangerous to modesty are the effects produced by the pain or fear of the victims. This feeling of shame cripples and unmans the spirit, making it flee from and detest the light of day."
Quintilian addresses the main issues, 1) it’s degrading; 2) victims become indifferent; 3) teachers need to find better methods; 4) demotivates and cripples the mind. Other arguments against include the possibility of showing that hitting others is acceptable, increasing aggression in children and possible trauma. These arguments were to eventually win the day and corporeal punishment is now banned in many developed countries.
The technology of punishment, based on the pedagogy of retribution and deterrence has long been part of education systems around the world. It was long believed to be an effective tool, especially for bad behaviour among boys. Interestingly, corporeal punishment is highly selective on gender. It has also been used to punish failure and at its most extreme to instil fear and push rote learning of set texts.

The argument for corporeal punishment in schools still rages, however, the practice has been banned in many countries and the general move is towards its eradication. It’s useful to remind ourselves that technology in schools is used for a very wide range of practices, some less palatable than others.


Silvia Muller said...

Enjoying your posts very much - thought I'd share one idea from the early 19th century. Joseph Lancaster did not believe in whipping students, but endorsed several unorthodox approaches to student discipline:

"Occasionally boys are put in a sack or in a basket suspended to the roof of the school in sight of all the pupils who frequently smile at the birds in the cage. This punishment is one of the most terrible that can be inflicted on boys of sense and abilities. Above all it is dreaded by the monitors the name of it is sufficient and therefore it is but seldom resorted to on their account."

It's also interesting to note his idea of punishing chronic lateness in getting to school by tying the miscreant into a carpet and leaving them on the floor of the schoolroom to ensure their timely arrival.

Silvia Muller said...

Enjoying reading through these posts a lot - couldn't resist bringing up Joseph Lancaster's thoughts on punishment, which were unorthodox, to say the least. From his 1808 book _Improvements in Education_

"OCCASIONALLY boys are put in a sack or in a basket suspended to the roof of the school in sight of all the pupils who frequently smile at the birds in the cage. This punishment is one of the most terrible that can be inflicted on boys of sense and abilities. Above all it is dreaded by the monitors the name of it is sufficient and therefore it is but seldom resorted to on their account."

He also seemed to like the idea of shackles and logs tied to children, but was not a public advocate of whipping.

Donald Clark said...

Thanks Silvia - all I can say is WOW!

jay said...

The Koranic Schools video made me cry.

As I read your post, I was jotting notes of things to bring up in comments. My teacher dragged me, at the age of six, by the hair from my first grade classroom into the hall. Similar, odd stuff but thankfully no priests or Sanduskys. It's all trivia compared to the Somalia report; I encourage everyone to watch it.

I'll engage in trivia none the less.

Donald, I just remembered that you were the first person I ever heard describe what we put our children though as slavery. That was eight years ago, in Edinburgh: Enterprise Scotland.

An pompous professor kicked things off the first morning by informing us his chair in moral philosophy had been endowed for more than half a millenium. He had not been successful making the software accept the course he had developed, so obviously eLearning did not work. You dismembered him by describing how your twins were learning and speculating what universities might look back if we were to rebuild them from scratch.

I have been your raving fan ever since, but I'm off topic.

The most damaging and tortuous punishment meted out in the support of my-way-or-the-highway learning is Psychological. Perception is realty. Entirely. I perceive what I feel, not vice-versa.

You might want to bring the ideas of John Taylor Gatto or Ivan Illich into the teaching-as-torture mental beatings that are thousands of times more prevalent than whippings.

Anonymous said...

Nice one donald. I remember beign flogged and the one that stayed longer was when i was talked to. The cane was for the skin. But those words pierced my spirit.