Why caning cannot make a comeback

22nd November 1996 at 00:00
Caning will clearly be back on the political agenda over the next few months and arguments and counter-arguments will be proposed in terms of pedagogy, ethics and efficacy. In all this, the practical aspects of the administration of corporal punishment are oddly neglected.

The core argument of the pro-caning lobby appears to be that in the past, caning instilled respect for teachers and institutions and on the basis of this respect sound education could flourish. An alternative belief is, however, at least as likely: that respect for teachers and institutions and shared moral values made caning possible and acceptable.

In the old grammar schools neither pupils nor parents complained about physical punishment unless it went beyond the bounds of what was considered fair and normal. No such consensus exists today. Put bluntly, many modern children would not tolerate being caned. They would simply run away and, if caught, the spectacle of a struggling, protesting child being dragged by burly games teachers to the head's office for six of the best would scarcely be edifying, especially if seized upon by the media. Moreover, these days bad feelings do not evaporate with the home-time bell, and out-of-school revenge on the caner might prove a real threat.

In addition, caning might lead to very real antagonisms and division within the staffroom. In fact, the only pupils who would stoically submit to physical punishment would be those who did not really need it and overall the practice would exacerbate rather than dissipate school conflict and aggression.

The reason is simple: you simply cannot extricate an apparently efficacious practice from a particular period of time (or geographical area) and expect it to work in a quite different cultural and temporal setting. If the caning debate is to be taken seriously, real research must replace cliche, anecdote and political points-scoring.

F D O'REILLY 72 Hainault Court Forest Rise Whipps Cross, London E17

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