Why physical punishment in schools is a bad idea
By Justin Wyllie, October 2002

I can't believe that I am writing a letter on this subject in 2002. It seems that in every other field people can contemplate progress but not in this one. The UK, where I live, banned corporal punishment in state schools in 1986 and in private schools in, I think, 1999 (shockingly late), In the UK it is now not allowed at all outside of the home or family, a good state of affairs.

I went to a boys boarding prep-school in the UK between 1975 and 1979 when I was aged 9 to 13. This was a place of abuse. Reading some of the accounts of abuse in schools in the US, in states which still permit it, it all sounds eerily familiar. At the prep school I attended (and words like 'teacher' and 'school' seem not quite right given how they carried on) abuse was the norm. There was a culture of spanking known as 'whacking'. This was done with the abuser's hand, slippers and gymshoes (possibly other implements too). A few points to note:

1. The culture was such that it was frequently made a joke of.
A good example of this was during a Son et Lumière entertainment created by the staff and attended by many parents and boys a sketch specifically represented a teacher 'whacking' boys in a dormitory and had them coming back for more. Complete with sound effects. I felt extremely uncomfortable and wondered why no one seemed to be bothered. My parents didn't do anything. I couldn't understand how apparently civilised people could sit there while teachers made fun of 'whacking' their kids and just take it. I still can't.

2. It was part of a culture where the teachers barely needed an excuse.
Boys were hit for trivial and non offences - talking after lights out was a favourite. On one occasion I was part of a group of boys punished on these grounds. The teacher made a huge play out of choosing a slipper. He was half-joking so I thought/hoped he really was just kidding & we wouldn't be hit hard. In fact he picked the hardest slipper he could and hit quite hard. When I, in my place in line, had to 'bend over' I did not bend over very far as this is humiliating. He said 'touch your toes'. When I tried the effect was to stretch my pyjamas tight across my buttocks exposing the form of my buttocks. I already felt embarrassed by this. He said "I like a nice juicy target". This is the sort of thing I had to put up with.

3. Each teacher colluded with the others
Some liked feeling up the children, e.g., one used to pick on one boy, an American who presumably was totally unprotected several thousand miles from home, and make him bend over in front of the class and then rub his bottom while talking to him and then spanking him. Ugh! Some just played cruel emotional games, e.g., go and get your plymsoll (cheap, black, light-weight gymshoe, standard issue in institutions) from the changing room and come back here with it for a beating - this lad ran away and had to be brought back by the police. Of course nothing happened to the teacher who said it was meant as a joke. Same teacher had children cleaning the floor of the woodwork room with a toothbrush.. You can get the flavour.

There was one full-on card-carrying paedophile who was always trying to get boys into the sack. The furthest he got with me was putting his hand down my pyjama bottoms while sitting on the edge of my bed in the dormitory when I was aged 10. This teacher ran the school photography club - the dark-room giving him lots of opportunities no doubt. He also ran the school tuck-shop and assaulted me here too.

Another, a Canadian with a reputation for giving beatings, once beat me when I was 12 for a humorous piece of cheek - which any normal man would have laughed off or at most given me a cuff. He took me into a room, left the door ajar, presumably to show that there was nothing untoward about what he was doing, but also so that anyone passing a window would have been able to see me in this situation - but not so much him as he had so arranged things in advance as to be sitting in the dark - and beat me, about 12 x, with his hand. I felt awkward as I had to bend over this strange man's knee - I hardly knew him. Only with hindsight can I partially understand that his pea-sized little brain was trying to humiliate me and this was something he would have found humiliating.

Others pulled boys ears, hair, made them write pointless essays, made them get changed into their gym kit and out again - note the sexual nature of this power play.

Another made me and two friends lie over his BED and hit us with a gymshoe. Talking after lights out again. Same one hit 10 boys with a gymshoe, shorts down - very embarrassing on underpants as I'm aware of the sexual atmosphere as my buttocks are visible through the stretched pants material - talking after lights out. His wife had recently left him and he abused alcohol. And so it goes on.

The chief spanker was a man called Barrowclough. He was in charge of the swimming pool and changing rooms. He organised nude swims before breakfast in the summer months. I remember feeling his horrible look on me and trying get away from it by diving under water. One time I put my bathing trunks on but another boy said something like 'why are you wearing them?' so I took them off and went nude like all the other suckers. It is amazing how so many kids seem to collude with the abusive teachers. (Some of the other contributors to your web site also report this phenomenon.)

But the main memory of this one was the French lessons. These were a class in spanking. About 2 or 3 boys got spanked every single lesson as far as I can remember. The incantation was that you had made a 'lazy' or 'careless' mistake. Then - over his knee. This is for me aged 10 and 11. The smacks weren't usually all that hard - it was the abusive nature of the 'game'. I say game because he so obviously thrived on it and didn't mind us knowing. The fact that we did know was, for him, part of the satisfaction I think. Of course it wasn't a game as it was non-consensual. It was in fact sick abuse. Sometimes he would grip your shorts/trousers and sometimes your underpants, by putting his thumb or hand inside your trousers, stretching them tight or pulling the pants up between your buttocks. A friend of mine commented that the effect of this is to make it like we are wearing a g-string. This presumably increased his sexual excitement and made me, and no doubt all his other many victims, feel even more used. One time he made me bend over a corner of his desk - note the corner so my genitals were at risk, stretched my shorts tight and then just waited for some considerable time before hitting me. More 'looking'. It was both the pain and the overall way we were used that disturbed me. On other occasions this man launched very violent attacks on children, beating them about the face and head with his hands - appearing to lose control. One of my friends who was viciously attacked aged 10 or 11 in this manner - after getting up to open a window in a class - told me recently he cried for 4 hours afterwards. I also received one of these beatings - but not so severe. This man filled me with terror. When the headmaster was away the deputy headmaster announced one day that this man had been appointed 'Master in charge of discipline'. Funny if it wasn't so serious.

When I was 12 some other boy in class called out "It's Justin's birthday." This tradition was known as 'Birthday Whacks' and was taken for granted. So distorted had reality become. So I had to go over to him and he put me over his knee. "How old are you?" "12 Sir!" Then the smacks - with "one for luck" and then " we can't leave him on 13". This all done as a form of public entertainment. It reminds me of Roman amphitheatres. No credit to the horrible little creep who fed me to the beasts.

This last one was blatantly a sexual thrill for him. I felt the sexual tug in his loins when there was a little burst of spanks somewhere between 5 and 10. Afterwards he sort of pushed me away - I felt like a wank aid.

Another form of public entertainment he indulged in was grabbing a little boy, for this one he always chose the most vulnerable, and laying him across his desk full-length as if he were an object, in front of the class. Then he would tell us he was 'playing the drums' as he spanked the boy before turning him over and tickling him in his groin area; 'playing the banjo'. My parents were paying quite large annual fees to send me to this institution.

The place really was, to borrow a phrase from the British poet Stephen Spender, a "brothel for flagellants".

So each teacher had their thing and each one turned a blind eye to the others. I recall one decent teacher. He had obviously prepared his lessons, was normal and reasonably caring towards the children and never hit them or as far as I can recall punished them at all. At the time I wondered what he was doing there. He seemed so out of place.

4. My parents did nothing
I once wrote, aged 10, - after one of the gymshoing episodes - to my mother in righteous indignation to complain. I had had to remove my clothing and he hit us bloody hard. I wasn't used to this sort of thing. My mother wrote back "but you didn't tell us what for, darling" as if I had just been recounting a chatty little story and had forgotten the punchline. I guess I knew then not to complain about this. I wasn't going to be listened to. (No doubt this was how my mother was brought up - not listened to).

Another time, when the violent chief spanker had promised me a beating if I got less than a certain benchmark on a test on the Monday, I was with my parents on the Sunday. (I note this trick which again at least one of your other contributors mentions of leaving it hanging over you). I cried as I was full of fear and didn't want to go back and face this. I wanted to ask them to intervene. I can't remember how much I told them. I suppose the worst bit was I wanted to ask for their protection but dreaded doing so because I already knew it wouldn't be forthcoming.

Later when the headmaster of my famous English public school (again I use the word "school" advisedly) thrashed me with a stick when I was 13 - 4 welts which lasted for days my father communicated via my mother a remark "Fancy a son of mine being beaten by the headmaster of Winchester College" - which remark your readers may note conveys no sympathy yet does speak of a sexual interest in the beating. Thanks Dad, nice to know I can count on you when I'm under attack. He went to the same schools. Then sent me to them. What can you say?

My father never hit me at home - but he has this huge suppressed anger which I always was half-conscious of. My mother did when I was an infant. I have a memory of one hard smack which filled me with intense rage towards her. Another time she made me take my shorts down and she hit me on my bottom with a slipper. I was aged about 5. It all seemed cruelly impersonal - as if she didn't really like me. (These last words just came out as I am writing quite fast).

I can't believe that schools in the US still permit this kind of thing. The stories and reports on your Web site make the point very well that allowing corporal punishment of children in schools is a license for abuse. I felt quite early on that this was sufficient reason not to allow corporal punishment in schools, namely that teachers will use it as a cover for abuse & cannot be trusted to do otherwise. One image on your site shows this quite well. The photograph depicts a teacher in Tennessee hitting a small child, a black boy, with what looks like a strap or piece of wood. The teacher has grasped the child's belt with his hand and has hoicked his jeans up. But any child can tell you that after the age of about 5 you are responsible for arranging your own clothing and no one else has a right to interfere. This alone is a violation of his privacy & again with a sexual connotation since adjusting another's clothing is usually something done either by parents to their tots, and this is not that, or lovers to each other.

I have taught kids myself & run youth work projects though I am not a full-time teacher or youth worker. Without going into details of any one specific case I have found that while I may think I want to hit a child in fact I don't. That a reasonable approach involving explaining my limits and a temporary ban if they are exceeded works very well. The point is that if you want to work with kids you have to be their friend, and this means treating them nicely. That's kind of obvious, perhaps. I recall the headmaster I mentioned above who beat me with a stick. After that, of course, I never trusted him or liked him. He used to come and give me special 'talks' in the boarding house as I was a 'naughty' boy and while I softened very slightly under the persistence of these visits, I never accepted him. Of course if he'd had the guts to apologise it could have been different. The housemaster in this boarding house was a useless alcoholic, totally unfit to be near kids. The beating I mentioned happened after a schoolboy escapade of mine involving alcohol. Strange set of standards - violently beat a child for this but leave him in the care of a known alcoholic... Could I respect anyone like that?

What was the effect of all this on me? It's difficult to say. During my adolescence my sexual phantasies frequently involved beating. I think that what sets people up for this disorder usually occurs in very early childhood and that school-age beatings can exacerbate it rather than be the prime causes. With me I guess it has to do with my mother's anger towards me - my response uncontainable as an infant but also inexpressible for fear of revenge. However the effect on me of the school assaults I think contributed to my becoming more withdrawn, more mistrustful, more angry and above all having lowered self-esteem. This latter I think arose especially from the explicitly sexually abusive spankings from the French teacher which I have described above but also from being in the whole culture where children were treated with no respect and had no rights. Treated like shit really.

Recently, finding myself still haunted by the beating phantasy, I decided that if that was what I really wanted I could have it. I joined a web site which enables people with fetishes to meet each other. I looked around for some suitable partners and engaged in a little correspondence with the one who seemed the nicest who turned out to be a homosexual who used spanking games as part of his sex play rather than an out-and-out pervert. (I didn't meet him, as his proposal wasn't quite my cup of tea (-:). When I confronted myself with the true perverts -- the ones who advertise beatings for young lads, etc. -- -- and said to myself "ok, you say you want this, now there he is, just email him" - - I found that I really didn't want to. I discovered that my feeling that I'd like to be spanked or beaten is not an authentic feeling but a conditioned one. I think I want to be hit but really I don't. This takes us back to the narrative above when I said that as a teacher I have on occasion felt that I wanted to give a beating to one of my students. (But to do so would be against the UK law apart from anything else). But now I understand that I didn't really want to do this; my feeling that I ever did was a conditioned feeling. An illusion.

Underlying all this, what is the attitude? It does seem to have resemblances to slavery as your Web site suggests from time to time - e.g you have an article linking the American 'paddle' to slavery. One thought that I have had when working in a college is that here we are training people for the workplace - but we don't thrash people in the workplace so how could it make sense to do it here? The point is that beating children in school is NOT part of their education or training. It is about something else. I looked at a site run by some 'Christian' (nothing could of course be further from any kind of Christian teaching) spankers. One obvious point - they were promoting spanking of children but nowhere did it say "If your child does wrong..." The idea was that children should be spanked per se. Somehow, for just being children, is the clear implication. The teachers at my prep-school beat me for various reasons which I think included the following: to comfort themselves for disappointment in their lives by humiliating other people, for sexual satisfaction and stimulation, to fuck people up for life, to make themselves feel powerful, and as a prelude to paedophile attacks. I don't know, but I think the headmaster of the public school beat me because it somehow boosted his ego - he was the big headmaster and this was a symbol of his power. I saw him on a UK TV chat-show some time later nonchalantly saying "he beat two or three a year." Again, note there is no link between students' behaviour and the punishment meted out -- he just beat "two or three a year," as if this were a reasonable quota and no one should suspect him of over-indulging.

One fact which you can't help but notice is that it is easy to hit children. They are smaller than adults and can't fight back. I think that has a lot to do with it. I think that some adults, perhaps especially in school and other disciplinary systems, find that beating children weakens them and therefore makes them less challenging & resistant. Beating children makes them malleable for whatever you want to do with them next - you just want an easy life and couldn't be bothered to bring them up, you want to sexually abuse them or whatever. I read a news report recently of children being beaten etc. by the Burmese army which is said to forcibly recruit young child soldiers and then needs to get them compliant for military training.

I guess the point is that children should be treated with dignity and respect. What a beautiful world we could create if we did that. Lets do it.


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