One of the things that fascinates modern children who visit our Victorian School is the discipline. It seems to me that modern pupils have little or no concept of the ways in which children were disciplined in years gone by.
The first thing to say is that discipline was very strict. In some ways it had to be, because school classes were often large, and were led by one teacher with assistance from monitors or pupil teachers. But also there was a belief that children had to be trained to do good.
Some of these beliefs came from religious views. Christian teaching said that people were born with a tendency to do wrong and therefore needed training to do right. We are all familiar with proverbs such as “spare the rod or spoil the child”, and “train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” The Victorians fully embraced this thinking and believed that it was essential that children be taught to keep to the rules.
This is quite different from modern thinking, where children are taught to question everything they are taught, and quickly learn how to push at the limits. In addition, parental discipline has declined, and schools have had to follow the pattern.
In modern schools a cane is considered almost barbaric and any form of physical punishment is termed abuse. The Victorians had no such scruples and used canes, the slipper, the ruler and even the belt, to discipline wayward children. Undoubtedly there was some abuse, those who used the punishment excessively, but there were also many who exercised their authority fairly and with restraint.
Interestingly enough, many modern children seem to think they might prefer some form of mild corporal punishment to the sloppy and ineffective punishments meted out in schools today. I have heard of school classes that have descended into chaos because teachers have been unable to maintain control, with their only weapon being the detention. I have wondered, for many years, whether a detention has done any good. I have never spoken to anyone who has said to me, I really appreciated those detentions, they got me back on the right path, but I have had several who have said to me that corporal punishment kept them on the straight and narrow.
You may have gathered by now that I am in favour of corporal punishment, as long as it is carried out fairly. My belief is that a short sharp shock is often sufficient correction to point a child in the right direction, and it is quickly over. Often the possibility of punishment is sufficient deterrent in itself. In my view, the detention is a feeble punishment that achieves very little and results in a fair number of naughty children growing up into uncontrollable teenagers and anti-social adults.
I’ll come back to the subject later.