It Does Happen Here
The custom of caning schoolboys was memorialized throughout the English- speaking world in the literature of the nineteenth century with its bitter vignettes of unjust and pointless cruelty that left psychic and physical scars on the whole society. Dickens, Thackeray, Lamb, John Stuart Mill, Auden, D. H. Lawrence, Kipling, and more recently Freud, Adler, and Einstein, and from earlier times Plato, Plutarch, and Montaigne -- the whole starstudded pantheon of intellectual leadership of our civilization -- all have written eloquently of the folly of beating children and of the advantages of enlightened persuasion in educating youth. Orwell modeled his chilling prophecy of a robot-watched world in 1984 on his perception of the British schoolroom of his childhood. The authority of the schoolmaster was absolute and each child was terror-marked. Out of this school tradition had come the colonizers who enslaved with whips. They were adept because they had been taught physically that power brooks no back talk and that democracy is a dream available only to those who wield the weapons. The Prussian version of the same system kept the continent in turmoil. Our century has seen the result in wars, genocidal exterminations, and cruelties beyond counting.
Now that our technology has made possible the destruction of the whole planet by the pushing of a few buttons, the realization is beginning to dawn that a peaceable world has advantages that savagery cannot match. And one of the essentials in building a nonviolent world is the nonviolent education of the children who will administer that world. But not all are aware. Cultural lag or inadequate education, or psychic scars from the battlefields on which they fought, or some vestigial remnants of primitive reflexes have far too many school administrators clinging to the anachronism of corporal punishment in American schools in the space age. True, it has softened a bit. They have almost abandonned the pants-down public thrashings and not all boast publicly of their severity. The most common
Parts of this essay appeared previously in Proceedings: Conference on Corporal Punishment in the Schools: A National Debate. National Institute of Education, 1977.