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Monday, July 8, 2013

Spanking Bottoms at School: Kiss the Rod or Spare the Birch?

Origin of "Spare the Rod and Spoil the Child"

The debate over spanking as discipline or punishment has never died. Proponents of spanking quote the adage, "Spare the rod and spoil the child," as though it were actually scripture from the Bible. In truth, it is not.

The adage is an adaptation from six verses from King Solomon's  book of Proverbs:

"He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes." 

(Proverbs 13:24)

The actual phrase "spare the rod and spoil the child" is believed to be first written in a long poem titled "Hudibras" (1663) by Samuel Butler, a cheeky British poet who enjoyed mocking religious
extremists and hypocrites. Butler published "Hudibras" in three parts, in 1663, 1664 and 1678.

Butler’s epic satire follows the trials and tribulations of a Sir Hudibras. Initially, the poem describes Hudibras as a noble and pious knight. But during the course of the story he is shown to be a nitwit.
The famous “spare the rod” quote comes in Part II, which was entered into the Stationer’s Registry (Britain’s early version of a copyright office) on November 5, 1663.

At the end of Part I, Sir Hudibras is put in prison after getting into a fracas with a group of locals who were watching a bear baiting “entertainment.” Bear-baiting was popular in England until the nineteenth century.

In its best-known form, arenas for this purpose were called bear-gardens, consisting of a circular high fenced area, the "pit," and raised seating for spectators. A post would be set in the ground towards the edge of the pit and the bear chained to it, either by the leg or neck. A number of well-trained hunting dogs, usually Old English Bulldogs, would then be set on it, being replaced as they got tired or were wounded or killed. In some cases the bear was let loose, allowing it to chase after animals or people.

A variation involved other animals being baited, especially bulls, but also, on one curious occasion, a pony with an aoe tied to its back was baited: a spectator described that "...with the screaming of the ape, beholding the curs hanging from the ears and neck of the pony, is very laughable."

("Bear Baiting." Encyclopaedia Britannica 3)

Attempts to end the entertainment were first made in England by the Puritans, with little effect. The deaths of a number of spectators, when a stand collapsed at the Paris Gardens on January 12, 1583 was viewed by early Puritans as a sign of God's anger, though not primarily because of the cruelty but because the bear-baiting was taking place on a Sunday.

 Bear Baiting

Getting back to "Hudibras" -- In Part II, a widow Hudibras had been wooing comes to visit him in jail and says she’ll get him out if he’ll prove he truly loves her. When he tries to profess his love, she quickly rejects flowery words as the kind of proof she wants:

“Hold, hold, quoth she; no more of this,
Sir Knight; you take your aim amiss:
For you will find it a hard chapter
To catch me with poetic rapture.”

The widow then suggests that Hudibras could prove his love by attempting suicide. For example, she says, if he tried to hang himself she would believe him and cut him down before he died.

Hudibras thinks that option sounds a bit “too harsh.” So, the widow suggests that Hudibras could prove his love by whipping himself or by letting her whip him.

She then explains the benefits of the “virtuous school of lashing.”

Near the end of her spiel on the joys of the whip, the widow utters the famous “spare the rod” quotation:

“If matrimony and hanging go
By dest’ny, why not whipping too?
What med’cine else can cure the fits
Of lovers when they lose their wits?
Love is a boy by poets stil’d;
Then spare the rod and spoil the child.”

Biblical Reference to Corporal Punishment of Children

It is true that corporal punishment is strongly recommended in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament). Most of the biblical quotations advocating corporal punishment of children appear in the book of Proverbs. The most famous is Proverbs 13:24:

“He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.”

Proverbs 26:13-14 offers this bit of Old Testament parenting advice:

“Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. / Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell.”

However, although “spare the rod and spoil the child” was probably inspired by these Biblical verses, it does not come from Proverbs or any other part of the Bible.

Christians seem to interpret these passages in different ways:

* "Religious conservatives generally believe that the book of Proverbs was assembled by King Solomon, circa 1000 BCE. He brought together a group of sayings which were already current in his time; some may have been his own thoughts; others may have been first written down centuries earlier. The passages which deal with spanking presumably reflect his parenting beliefs with respect to his son, Rehoboam."

* "Religious liberals generally believe that Solomon first introduced ancient oriental 'wisdom' to Israel and it later became customary to attribute all books belonging to this particular literary genre to him. The actual authors of Proverbs were the successive generations of wisdom teachers (or 'wise men') who had charge of the moral and practical training of young men of the court and upper classes...."

(B.A. Robinson, "Biblical Passages Concerning Spanking,"

Corporal Punishment At Home and School: "Kiss the Rod"

The phrase "kiss the rod" referred to "submitting to punishment or misfortune meekly and without murmuring." It is a phrase best remembered for its uses in Shakespeare’s The Two Gentlemen of Verona and Richard the Second. Act 5, Scene 1, the Queen addresses Richard II:


"What, is my Richard both in shape and mind
Transform'd and weaken'd? hath Bolingbroke deposed
Thine intellect? hath he been in thy heart?
The lion dying thrusteth forth his paw,
And wounds the earth, if nothing else, with rage
To be o'erpower'd; and wilt thou, pupil-like,
Take thy correction mildly, kiss the rod,
And fawn on rage with base humility,
Which art a lion and a king of beasts?"

The basic, corporal idea was susceptible to refinement: apparently, a father might make his child go out and select a rod to be beaten with, and restrain the child with ties so frail and easily broken that that preservation was a sign that the child had been patient throughout his chastisement.

Here is a reference to "kissing the rod" from 1581:“You have heard sometimes of schoolmasters which make their boys kiss the rod, wherewith they were beaten…” observes Robert Parsons, in his work A Discoverie of I. Nicols Minister:

“I have sometimes seen an indulgent father
Make his dear child, rods for himself to gather,
And then his wanton liberty restrain,
Nay make him fetters of a slender twine,
Sharply correct him, make him kiss the rod,
Tries his obedience: And just thus does God
With his dear children, (if well understood)
Wise parents know 'tis for their children’s good.”

(Francis Wortley, "Upon a True Contented Prisoner," 
Characters and Elegies. By Francis Wortley, 1646).

It was common for children in Victorian times and earlier to be required to "kiss the rod" (i.e. the birch rod) after receiving corporal punishment. Sometimes the child also had to kiss the rod before the punishment (after fetching the birch, and before handing it to their punisher).

This was a practice of "domestic discipline" (i.e. corporal punishment in the home by parents and/or governesses) and in the school setting. However, it may well have been practiced in some girls schools, which in the Georgian/Regency period and the very early Victorian period, used to birch girls.

There is a hymn (Christian) which actually uses the practice as a metaphor. The hymn "Zion's King Shall Reign Victorious" contains the line "Own and kiss the chastening rod" in the context of a "chastened" Israel for rejecting their Messiah. This metaphor was likely taken from child discipline practices at the time the hymn was written.

Of course, the actual act of kissing the rod was a demonstration by the child of submission to the authority of its parent/governess/teacher etc., and of submission to the birch and the corporal punishment. Some believe, however, the "kiss" also has highly charged sexual overtones.

Domestic and school birchings of the period were generally administered in a highly ritualised manner. After being admonished for his (or her) fault, the child would have to go to the "rod closet" and fetch the birch, kiss it, and hand it to their parent/governess/schoolmaster or mistress.

The child would then have to adjust his or her clothing to expose their bare bottom, and present it for punishment. As observed by Ian Gibson in "The English Vice," to receive corporal punishment was the only context in which children were permitted (and indeed required) to expose their bare bottom.

Such exhibitionism in any other context was strictly disallowed, and no doubt punished. After punishment, with a bottom flayed raw and bloody, the child would have to then gently kiss the instrument that had done that to him or her.

A kiss is intrinsically an act of the utmost tenderness and affection. How kissing the birch rod (an instrument of cruel and sexually violating corporal punishment) was introduced, is a fascinating psychological and psychosexual study.

The German psychologist Richard von Krafft-Ebing suggested that a tendency to sadism and masochism may develop out of the experience of children receiving corporal punishment at school. But this was disputed by Sigmund Freud, who found that, where there was a sexual interest in beating or being beaten, it developed in early childhood, and rarely related to actual experiences of punishment.

Still, Some American Schools "Spank" Clothed Bottoms

Although in most of continental Europe, school corporal punishment has been banned for several decades, it seems to have been more common in northern/Protestant countries of Germanic culture than in southern/Catholic countries of Latin culture. Caning was not completely abolished until 1967 in Denmark and 1983 in Germany.

Some might find it interesting to know that from the 1917 revolution onwards, corporal punishment
was outlawed in Russia and the Soviet Union because it was deemed contrary to Soviet ideology. Soviet visitors to western schools would express shock at its use.Other communist regimes followed suit: for instance, corporal punishment remains outlawed in present-day North Korea and in mainland China.

Meanwhile, communists in other countries such as Britain took the lead in campaigning against school corporal punishment, which they claimed was a symptom of the decadence of capitalist education systems.

(Teitelbaum, Salomon M. "Parental Authority in the Soviet Union," American Slavic and East European Review, 1945),

("Caning?"It's not Cricket, Say the Russians at Rugby,"  
London Daily Mail, November 22 1960)
("North Korean Defectors Face Huge Challenges," Radio Free Asia, March 21 2007)
(China State Report, GITEACPOC, February 2009)

In the United States, the Supreme Court ruling in Ingraham v. Wright (1977) held that school corporal punishment does not violate the "Cruel and Unusual Punishment" clause of the federal Constitution because that clause applies only to the prison system. The Supreme Court of the United States has not yet judged the practice under other federal law or other Constitutional clauses.

Now, corporal punishment in American schools is administered to the seat of the student's trousers or skirt with a specially made wooden paddle. This often used to take place in the classroom or hallway, but nowadays the punishment is usually given privately in the principal's office.

Most urban public school systems, even in states where it is permitted, have abolished corporal punishment. Statistics collected by the federal government show that the use of the paddle has been declining consistently, in all states where it is used, over at least the past 20 years.

Still, individual US states have the power to ban corporal punishment in their schools. Currently, it is banned in public schools in 31 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. In two of these states, New Jersey and Iowa, it is illegal in private schools as well. The 19 states that have not banned it are mostly in the South. It is still used to a significant degree (though declining over the past 20 years) in some public schools in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas.

(Rick Lyman, "In Many Public Schools, the Paddle Is No Relic," 
The New York Times, September 30 2006)

In most places where it is still allowed in the United States, corporal punishment in public schools  is governed by official regulations laid down by governments or local education authorities, defining such things as the implement to be used, the number of strokes that may be administered, which members of staff may carry it out, and whether parents must be informed or consulted.

Depending on how narrowly the regulations are drawn and how rigorously enforced, this has the effect of making the punishment a structured ceremony that is legally defensible in a given jurisdiction and of inhibiting staff from lashing out on the spur of the moment.

In addition, in the states still practicing corporal punishment, increasingly, it is either explicitly or de facto, a matter of choice for the student. Many school handbooks provide that where a student refuses to submit to a paddling, he or she will receive some other punishment instead, such as suspension. Students are unlikely nowadays to be forcibly restrained while being paddled

Many school districts also offer parents an opportunity to state whether or not they wish corporal punishment to be used on their sons and daughters. Typically, the parents fill out a form which is filed in the school office. In many districts this is an "opt-out" system. In others an "opt-in" system applies, whereby no student is so punished without explicit parental consent.

Today's American advocates of school corporal punishment argue that it provides an immediate response to indiscipline and that the student is quickly back in the classroom learning, rather than being suspended from school. Parents, too, often complain about the inconvenience occasioned by penalties such as detention or Saturday school.

For example, principal of John C. Calhoun Elementary in Calhoun Hills, South Carolina, David Nixon, a supporter of corporal punishment in schools, says that as soon as the student has been punished he can go back to his class and continue learning in contrast to out-of-school suspension, which removes him from the educational process and gives him a free "holiday."

Before Nixon took over "John C," student behavior had gotten so bad that one teacher described it as "chaos." Nixon has managed to turn John C around. It recently earned three statewide Palmetto awards, one for academic performance and two for overall improvement—the school's first such honors in its 35-year history. Not everyone agrees with his methods, but most parents and teachers there will tell you he couldn't have pulled off such a turnaround without his wooden paddle.

(Eric Adelson, "The Principal and the Paddle," Newsweek, May 4 2009)

Philip Berrigan, a Catholic priest, who taught at St. Augustine High School in New Orleans, was another supporter of corporal punishment. Berrigan said that corporal punishment saved much staff time that would otherwise have been devoted to supervising detention classes or in-school suspension, and managing the bureaucracy that goes with these punishments.

Carol Chmelynski, "Is Paddling On Its Way Back?"
National School Boards Association, December 5 1995)

Opponents believe that other disciplinary methods are equally or more effective. Some regard spanking students as tantamount to violence or abuse.

One argument made against corporal punishments is that some research has shown it to be not as effective as positive means for managing student behavior. These studies have linked corporal punishment to adverse physical, psychological and educational outcomes including, "increased aggressive and destructive behaviour, increased disruptive classroom behaviour, vandalism, poor school achievement, poor attention span, increased drop-out rate, school avoidance and school phobia, low self-esteem, anxiety, somatic complaints, depression, suicide and retaliation against teachers."

(S.R. Poole and M.C. Ushkow, P.R. , et al. "The Role of the Pediatrician in Abolishing Corporal Punishment in Schools." Pediatrics 88. July 1991)

In addition, for obvious health reasons, many medical, pediatric or psychological societies oppose school corporal punishment. These groups include: the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association, and the Society for Adolescent Medicine.

A bill to end the use of corporal punishment in schools was introduced into the United States House of Representatives in June 2010 during the 111th Congress.The bill, H.R. 5628, was referred to the United States House Committee on Education and Labor where it was not brought up for a vote. A similar bill was introduced in September 2011 by. U.S. Rep. Carolyn McCarthy of New York that would ban corporal punishment in the United States.

My Take

Forming one opinion about this subject is very difficult for me? Why? I went to school (elementary through high school) when corporal punishment was frequently used. I have been on the receiving end of the rod, by force and by choice, and I never considered getting a few "licks" to be "cruel and unusual punishment." In fact, I much preferred the corporal punishment over a phone call to Mom and Dad and suffering the results of double punishment -- groundings, lectures, lost privileges, etc.

Also, I have used corporal punishment while teaching my own male high school students. I cannot say it always worked effectively to deter future misbehavior; however, in many cases it did solve immediate problems. I have a few regrets about swinging a paddle a little too strongly -- it shouldn't be done in anger. And, I confess to doing that a few times. Without a doubt, it bruised students' egos and flesh. And, it gave me great pause afterwards.

No one should beat a child. That goes without saying. I do not care for Biblical references that seem to encourage doing that. Administering proper discipline at school is frustrating, to say the least. Beginning teachers and substitutes are "targets" for abuse from rascals and scoundrels.

A teacher in a public school deals with every imaginable personality from every conceivable background. Teachers must cultivate their own effective discipline. Believe me, college classes and their brief instruction in dealing with student behaviors that interrupt lessons do not fully prepare a teacher for the front lines of the classroom.

Nothing that continually interferes with the necessary educational process in the classroom should be allowed to continue.In my mind, alternative methods to corporal punishment or suspension are better, but no one method works in every case. When both suspension and corporal punishment were permissible in Ohio, I found a necessary use for both of the measures, and I frequently experienced relief I needed to control and to instruct the class by judiciously using both.

 Florida Statistics

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