Thursday, March 25, 2010



By, Roberta C.M. DeCaprio

The other day my friend’s twelve year old son forgot his homework, and so after school his teacher had him sit in detention. Now, the detention room is one of the class rooms, painted in a clean, neutral color, airy and bright with lots of windows. You are forbidden to talk to the student next to you, but you are allowed to do your homework or read a book for the forty-five minutes you’re serving your sentence.
When my friend’s son came home with the note his teacher sent, my friend explained the importance of him being responsible and then told him if it happened again he wouldn’t be able to play games on his computer for a week.
In my day we were either grounded or had phone and television privileges removed.
Let’s look at the pioneer day discipline:


Misbehaved students were flogged in Pioneer times. It was a totally embarrassing episode whether done in school or at home.
In school, if a child misbehaved the teacher would drag the student struggling up to the front of the class, in full view of other snickering students. The chastised child would then be completely horsed over the teacher’s knee – with an elbow hard upon his neck to keep him securely on. Then, with a thick strap the teacher proceeded to punish the child’s backside with several hard whips. In some schools a whipping post was installed, whereby a child was tied to and whipped in front of his classmates.
“When I’m through, you’ll need a warming pan to sit in tonight,” the teacher would threaten. But it did not end with the comforts of a warming pan once the child got home. Usually more flogging followed and more humiliation.
At home, a parent would make the child go out and find a long, willowy switch from a tree, cut it down and wait in the woodshed. While there, the misbehaved child would have time to ponder his actions. Most times, I’m sure, it was more a worry as to what was to come next that filled his thoughts. After enough time had passed and the child was ripe with fear and regret, the parent would enter the wood shed, sit upon a stool, and take the switch into his own hand. The child would then be ordered over the parent’s knee, breeches or bloomers lowered to the ankles, and a very tender, bared behind reddened by repeated blows using the switch.

Elizabeth Montgomery, in her Reminiscence of 1851, recounts practices in the girls’ school of a Mrs. Elizabeth Way. For permitting her head to fall forward, a girl was forced to wear a necklace of sharp Jamestown weed-burrs, strung on tape. If tasks were slighted, a girl was forced to wear leather spectacles.

The old test of good discipline was, if you can hear a pin drop, then the order in the school is perfect. The implication was that the "wheels in the head" make no noise when in action. The teacher was advised never to smile until Christmas. The youngsters were generally marched into the classroom, marched to classes, and then marched out of the building. The old time teacher, by virtue of his position, was a dictator.

The teacher enforced order and quiet among students except for recitation periods. Pupils spoke only when called upon by the teacher or requested periods. Permission to speak was granted by raising their right arm.They were usually required to stand when speaking to the teacher or to the class. Titles of respect (Miss, Mister, Ma'am, and Sir) were always used in addressing the teacher. Students were required to speak correctly.

Punishment took numerous forms. Corporal punishment was not unheard of nor was other extreme penalties such as detention, suspension and even expulsion. Lesser punishments, more common at that time than now, included such things as a rap on the hands or knuckles with a steel edged ruler; standing in a corner with face to the wall; wearing a dunce cap, facing the room, and sitting upon a high stool beside the teacher's desk; standing for long periods with arms held straight out in front; standing with an arm outstretched, palm up, while holding a heavy book on that hand for a long period; or being banished to the girls' cloakroom (if the culprit were a boy).

“Modern Standards" Appearing in the Later 1800s:

In the period between the Civil War and the middle of the twentieth century, there was increased attention to the individual development of school children. The earlier conceptions of strict discipline and even brutal punishment gave way to more sympathetic views of the child as an individual. Authoritarian discipline and corporal punishment were softened, and greater attention was given to the development of habits of self-discipline.

According to V. H. Culp, author of How to Manage a Rural School, "The discipline of the rural school should be more like that of a well ordered family with the teacher as its head. The children should be able to get a drink or a book or even leave the room, without permission except in occasional cases where such privileges are abused. If the older children are encouraged to help the younger ones upon many occasions a feeling of cooperation will always be in evidence."

When a child could not conduct himself in routine affairs without disturbing the school, or wasted his own time, his liberties must be restricted until the rules were learned. Punishment should always be in proportion to the transgression. The certainty of punishment rather than the severity would deter evil doers. Corporal punishment and suspension should be used only as a last resort. It was taken for granted that the Golden Rule, courtesy, fairness, and good manners were the standard of conduct.

I don’t know what sort of Golden Rule is practiced today. I’ve seen children in markets, malls, and theaters acting out to horrible proportions. They overule the parent's authority, having no fear of the consequences. And the parents are between a rock and a hard place because administering a slap or sending a child to bed without supper today is considered child abuse.

I’m glad my children are adults and I don’t have to deal with such things. And when they call me concerned over problems they’re having with their own offspring, I remember something my grandmother once told to my mother. “Grandchildren are a parent’s revenge.”


Tanya Hanson said...

hi Roberta, my grandfather was a headmaster way back when and there's a classic sepia photograph of his classroom: girls on one side, boys on the other! Great post.

Jaclyn Tracey said...

Hi Roberta.
I can remember being in 6th grade and our teacher picked a kid up and slammed him into the wall only to have the plaster break beneath the kid. The man went on to become the Principle of the school.

As a chatty socialite back in the day, I spent my fair share of time in a corner on a stool facing a wall wearing a coned hate. I think that might be where the Cone Heads on SNL originated from. I'm thankful times have changed.
Excellent post.

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