Caning – a deterrent, a source of great resentment and anger, an inhumane punishment??

Here’s a true story:

I was a young teacher in my second year of teaching. The current Headteacher Mr Walton had decided that the field should be out of bounds. The wet weather had created such muddy conditions that the classrooms and corridors were becoming caked with mud. He informed the staff that anyone walking on the grass would be caned. He was hoping this deterrent would solve the problem.

He hadn’t reckoned with Terry. He was a young student from the new comprehensive intake who had been a problem from the start and was no respecter of rules. Indeed it appeared that Terry regarded rules as a challenge. He earned the respect of his fellow students by flouting rules with blatant disdain.

Terry was the perennial thorn in the side of the school. He was loud, aggressive, rude and surly. He disrupted lessons, picked fights and openly defied everyone and everything.

I was walking down the corridor when I was asked by the Head to assist with the apprehension of young Terry. He had been brought to the Head for flagrantly walking on the grass and when he had ascertained his fate he had promptly got up and run away. This was not playing the game. The Head was used to Grammar School boys. They took their punishment like a man. They didn’t run away!

We went hunting for Terry.

Soon Terry was found. But Terry refused to come quietly and what followed is indelibly imprinted in my mind.

Two burly male teachers marched Terry down the corridor to the Head’s study. Terry was screaming and struggling. When he started kicking out at the two staff two other male staff grabbed his ankles and lifted him off the ground. He was carried headfirst, screaming and writhing along the corridor and he was manhandled into the study. I followed in the wake.

By this time the Head had become angry. His authority had been challenged. What originally was one stripe was now six. He intended to make an example of Terry.

The four male staff had to drag Terry to the desk and physically restrain him by all four limbs; each taking an ankle or wrist and tugging so that Terry was pinned across the desk like a frog awaiting dissection. All the while Terry continued to shriek and struggle to his utmost. He certainly had a florid vocabulary for a thirteen year old.

The Head retreated to the other side of the room and then ran, jumped in the air and brought the cane swishing through the air with all the force he could muster.

Terry screamed and went taut in some great spasm. Then he resumed his struggles in a futile desperate attempt to free himself from the four staff.

The Head repeated this five more times.

At the end of it they let Terry loose and he stood in the doorway with knotted fists and purple face swearing at the six of us.

Some say that caning does no harm. That it is a deterrent. The blood running down Terry’s legs from the split skin on his bum was not the harm. In my opinion the hatred and loathing in his mind were the injuries that would leave the everlasting scars. They wouldn’t heal.

As for deterrence – it was the same string of surly, defiant individuals who were paraded for beatings every week.

In the UK:

In the USA:


14 thoughts on “Caning – a deterrent, a source of great resentment and anger, an inhumane punishment??

  1. How disgusting to do that to a child. Grown men acting like savages. I hated some of my school teachers and years after if I saw any of them in town, I’d walk up to them man-to-man, towering over many of these little bastards, telling them exactly what I thought of them as men. Not teachers, but men. I could see them visibly quake and squirming in front of me. My personal satisfaction was still not met and I’d rather have had the opportunity of giving them a bloody good hiding.

    1. What a shame that an education that should have been such a positive enlightening experience should have become such a negative one and what should have been a nurturing, illuminating relationship should have been such a terrible experience. Those teachers were supposed to be helping you learn and grown. So much of education is the opposite. My own experience was very mixed and I too hated some of my teachers – but I loved others!

  2. There seems to be a pervading similarity between your comment above at the end of your book extract with “it was the same string of surly, defiant individuals who were paraded for beatings every week.” and another of your comments made earlier within another post when you said “The prevailing view was that these girls were sluts who were making their own choices. I hardly think the police are left-wing – far from it. They just did not care about a bunch of antisocial, awkward, troublesome girls and they should have done.”

    You seem to be very quick with the formation of assumptions that give credibility to quite horrible punishment treatment of young persons. Perhaps this is evidently the damage that the education system did to your psychology. Let’s be thankful that this sort of thinking is on the wane as the years pass and those that had been active with corporal punishment pass into distant memory.

    1. I think you misunderstand. I neither support corporal punishment nor the view that prevailed at that time that the girls (children who needed protecting) got what they deserved.

  3. I agree, Opher, there is no place for corporal punishment in schools or in the homes. It reminds me of an incident when I was a young teacher. It was Parent/Teacher interviews after a report card had been issued. A Portuguese father came in and all he wanted to know was whether or not his son behaved in class. The truth was that the boy was a regular discipline problem. So I told the father that his boy’s behaviour needed improvement after citing examples. I could see he was very angry when he left. The next day, his son was not in school. When he did return, his face had clearly been beaten. I was sure that it was because of my report. I felt awful and vowed to never put a student in that position again.

    1. John – we had the occasional parent who thought that beatings were the answer to poor behaviour. I think it says loads that it was their sons who were the most violent.
      I’m so glad things have got a lot better. Violence breeds violence in my view.

  4. Caning was used at my Catholic School, I was never caned by the Headmaster. But, I do know what it was like to be caned, to have your hands held behind your back, to be told if your cried “one more time or scream, I’ll give your more”, as I said the caning did not come from School, it came from my Catholic Mother who to her death kept that very cane she used on my lower back, in her bedroom. Does caning stop bad behaviour, the excuse my mother used, NO it does not. What the canings did and still do, the memories of that sound of the cane as it came towards your body, the pain oh yes the terrible pain, but most of all it left me with the memory of “what the hell did I do so wrong as a child and older to be physically assaulted like that and why did my mother not love me. By the way I still have the scars on my lower back.

  5. OMG, the images this conjures up are horrific. Most of my working life was in mental health where restraint was at times essential for safety reasons. We were trained and had mandatory annual updates – and do it with the least force as a last resort. No injury was acceptable. Ever. And yes, I heard many horror stories of the bad old days when the power was horrifically abused. But in a school?!

      1. Raili – some people have this image of schools being battlefields requiring hard discipline and think that caning is synonymous with control. My experience is that the opposite is true. I taught for thirty six years and very few kids caused me trouble. The school was much more violent and lacking in discipline when caning was in use.

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