Yesterday at lunchtime I loitered by the canteen - my yard duty beat - watching kids go about their business.
A group of girls played downball, while others studied for an end-of-term test at some tables in the winter sunshine. I got a chorus of 'Hi, Stuchy!' from a group of Year 9s wandering through my patch.
There was an air of joviality, a relaxed calm and respectfulness throughout. It was evident that everybody - myself included - was very happy and thankful to be there. For a moment, I entered into a little, quiet state of teacherly Nirvana. Somewhere, a spectral Mr Chips gave me the thumbs up.
You can imagine, then, how I felt when I came back to my desk to read the news that private Christian schools in Queensland, the Northern Territory and South Australia are still caning students.
How is it, that in the 21st century, the physical beating of children is still permitted in any school in Australia? Why do we allow teachers to bend a child over and strike them hard with a wooden or bamboo implement?
These punishments, the schools involved say, are part of a disciplinary policy that revolves around 'care', not intimidation. In some schools, these punishments are followed by prayer sessions. The schools also claim that they are widely supported by parents and the broader community.
Regardless of the justifications given, physically beating a child, for any transgression, is unacceptable. The use of a cane or a paddle takes the practice into barbarism. Creating wounds on the backside of a young person who has broken the rules isn't a deterrent, or a means of reinforcing standards, it is simple torture. If a child was to come to school with these wounds, a teacher would have to report it to Child Services.
Some may suggest that these punishments are only for the most severe infractions, that only those continually pushing the boundaries will receive them. It's my experience, however, that any punishment will be overused in the fullness of time. It's also my experience that those kids earmarked for severe punishments are exactly the kind of kids that require a guiding hand and careful mentoring. Not 10 strikes across the buttocks with a piece of cane.
The suggestions that these punishments are in any way 'Christian' are astonishing. Yes, I'm well aware of 'spare the rod, spoil the child' and such, but I also remember from Sunday School that some bloke called Jesus came along and established a new covenant, that was all about loving your neighbour and not raising your hands in anger. To suggest that beating a child is the Christian way of instilling respect and civility is complete nonsense.
I am staggered that state and federal governments can be a party to this kind of cruelty towards children. I consider it a stain upon the work educators do in this country to raise a generation of considerate, civil souls. I would urge parents and teachers across the nation to demand that their governments withdraw funding to these schools until the practices are banned and shelved forever.
We may fret about child asylum seekers being sent to Malaysia to be caned, but we should equally be aware of the despicable punishments being inflicted on children within our own borders.
Mike Stuchbery is a high school teacher, writer and occasional broadcaster living in Melbourne's western suburbs.