Tuesday, April 13, 2010


When I started secondary teaching I was asked if I had ever caned. I replied ‘how and why should I have?’ I was given a cane and advice. Apparently a boxer doesn’t aim for the chin. If he does he pulls his punch. The intent is to have momentum. So you aim for the kidneys not the buttocks. It all sounded very sick-making.

But when in Rome? All male teachers in the school caned. – I couldn’t afford to be different. As a process of discipline it was unsuccessful and was not an effective means of changing behaviour. After adding another notch to their belt the naughty and bad boys went on repeating their offences. It was unfair –for a similar offence girls did not have to face corporal punishment.

I observed it worked with the average boy who did something stupid, and knew they shouldn’t have. I learnt a hard lesson with my third form English class. As the first term progressed they got noisier. Just before Easter they got even more raucous, calling out answers across each other. Foolishly I said, "I'll cane the next boy who calls out." They realised I meant it and quietened down. Near the end of the period a very quiet scholarly boy who had never previously opened his mouth unless I asked him a question, called out an answer. "You gotta cane him, sir. You said you would". I knew there was no option. "Outside" I said.

Head down he went out before me. The phrase this hurts me more than it hurts you was never more true. I also knew I could not cane him gently - the class inside waited expectantly. I hit him once. He waited for the second stroke. "That's all. And don't call out again." Back in the classroom someone quietly said, "you only caned him once." "He only called out, once," I replied. The humour eased our mutual unease at the injustice of the situation. Moral - never utter a general threat, it can collide with justice.

When caning was abolished in schools the move had my whole-hearted support. It’s proponents claimed the sky would fall in. It didn’t.

Although the anti-smacking legislation was introduced into Parliament by Sue Bradford of the Green party it became associated with Helen Clark’s government - the albatross around her neck for the 2008 election. Despite John Key’s support to pass the bill he did not gain the same stigma. And he seems to have successfully weathered the recent referendum calling for the removal of the law. Common sense seems to have prevailed.

The reason why I am writing about this is that the latest issue of Time magazine has a heading ‘Study: Spanking Kids Leads To More Aggression.’ Research from Tulane University shows that those youngsters smacked more frequently as 3 year olds were more aggressive as 5 year olds. Earlier research from Duke University revealed that infants ‘who were spanked at twelve months scored lower on cognitive tests at age 3.’

The Tulane researchers suggest that spanking installs fear rather than understanding. ‘Even if a child were to stop his screaming tantrum when spanked, that doesn’t mean he understands why he shouldn’t be playing up in the first place. What’s more, spanking models aggressive behaviour as a solution to problems.’ The major point made it seems to me is that spanking becomes less and less effective the more it is used.

Judging by the furore of comments made about the column the issue is as much a hot potato in the USA as it was here a few years ago. Again, there is a need for common sense.

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