the strap!

I was searching my back storeroom at work recently I came across one of the original straps used by Principals and some teachers who were delegated to “dish out” corporal punishment.

Corporal punishment (that is legally striking a student with wooden cane or leather strap for misbehaviour) was banned in 1985 in Victorian public schools. It took until 2006 (that’s 21 years later) before it was banned in all schools (includes religious and independent schools).

I remember as a young teacher in the late 70’s and early 80’s being issued with a strap by the head mistress and being told to strap all the 5-8 years children sent to me. I know this might sound like the dark ages but it did happen.

I recall one day before recess while I was teaching English to my class when a young boy was sent to me by a female teacher for answering back. The punishment was 2 hits across the hands with the strap. At first I was a little shocked that someone had actually sent someone to me – so I dismissed my class early for recess and told the boy that this thing would hurt – but I still couldn’t get myself to hit him. So I thumped the strap loudly on the wooden desk for effect – which it had for the poor little tyke started screaming and wet his pants.

I quickly dismissed him and from that day on given the scream and tears had everyone convinced I had given him the strap. Of course my reputation preceded me every day onwards as all the 5-8 year olds ran from me every time I was in yard duty.

I think it left a mark on me as an educator and human being – let alone the poor boy who was sent to me. I guess it’s why I so strong an advocate for the willing to engage in restorative justice where the theme is restoring broken relationships. I do wonder where corporal punishment or the thought of physical punishment contributes to the wider family violence issues we still face today.

Interested in your thoughts on this one.

PS I never again either used or pretended to use a strap on a young person till it was banned 6 years later.

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8 Responses to the strap!

  1. Ralph Hogan says:

    I am writing a book about child abuse which will include my experiences as a five year old boarder in a brutal Catholic convent in Australia in the 1950’s. A huge, custom-made strap was often applied to our bottoms – and with a great deal of force. If done in public, it was given over the pyjamas or ‘undies’, and if done in private, on the bare bum. I much preferred getting it on the bare bum, even if it hurt a lot more because being alone with Sister in the Dormitory, there was much less chance of humiliation if one day – I didn’t handle it well and went to pieces. (We ‘tough’ Aussie boys could very unforgiving of other boys who gave the nuns the satisfaction of ‘breaking’ them.) The first time I was forced to sit with my mates in the Great Hall and watch a fellow six year old being forced up onto the stage in his pyjamas, held down on all fours sobbing and screaming for his mum as he was viciously beaten into submission, I can remember very clearly feeling something actually ‘shatter’ inside me. Later when I was given the same treatment I didn’t resist or make a sound. I was much too proud to be humiliated and I soon realised that ‘copping it’ oneself was so much easier than watching another child be destroyed before you – and unable to come to their assistance. I could physically and mentally ‘process’ my own experience, but I am now 75 years old and I have never been able to suppress the rage I feel at what happened to that little boy – and not being able to come to his assistance. And I know that it was not just a case of misguided principles, or simply ‘the way things were done back then’. The collective trauma we experienced, plus the subsequent damage to our emotional development, was deliberate and intended to act not just as a deterrent, but also satiate the darker psycho-sexual needs of the many nuns who were unarguably boy-hating sadists. And a society, which especially in Anglo-Saxon countries, generally devalued and disrespected children.

    • mwalker says:

      What can I say. I recall talking about this to new parents as they joined the parent in classroom course – how they as adults react to people, in this case young students, when things don’t go according to plan. In my case in was both the nuns and the Christian Brothers who seemed to deal out the punishments – not the lay teachers – or that changed in my case in teaching in the public sector – so was it psycho-sexual or frustration we all experience or both – I don’t know.

  2. Maggie Kerrigan says:

    I’m reading a book about the Dozier Reform School for boys (in Florida) and the leather strap plays out prominently in the oral history of boys who were sent to that institution. So sad. Lifelong trauma for the survivors. I’m about to create an artwork about it, which is how I found this post. I appreciate your integrity as an educator–although it’s sad that one result was children being afraid of you. That is not how the teacher-student relationship should be.

    • mwalker says:

      Thanks Maggie for your comment. Corporal punishment was a thing back then – I remember some of the nuns used the smack and say strategy for teaching sight vocabulary. The older boys were strapped for fighting sometimes in front of the class – I know I was. A boy (memory has it that he was a “bully”) took my footy in the school yard and wouldn’t give it back. I tried to fight him – he was bigger hence the word tried – to get my footy back – I lost the fight – got strapped but got my footy back.

      • Maggie Kerrigan says:

        I’d like to think we are improving as a human race. And don’t even get me started on parochial school philosophy of classroom management. So sad. When I finally get this artwork done I’ll try to post it.

  3. biketat says:

    I don’t think 4 cuts on the hands with that strap would hurt very much

Interested in your thoughts