by Sir Peter Birkett | August 2021 | Education

Carrots v Canes?

Corporal Punishment has been inflicted on children for thousands of years worldwide and opinion has always been divided as to how effective it is.  To force pain and humiliation on a child in order to punish and deter behaviours is an uncomfortable concept to grasp in 2021.

Although it is no longer legal in Europe, this change in attitude has transformed the way we execute discipline in our schools, but only in relatively recent years.  Whereas Poland banned corporal punishment in schools in 1783, British private schools only banned it in 1999.  Our state schools banned the cane in 1987.  Flogging in England was abolished in 1881 but had been an accepted form of punishment within these shores since ancient times.

Most of our elderly citizens (including me!) can recall various forms of punishment they endured at school, such as birching, being hit with a cane, ruler or a slipper, most of which were permissible up until the late 20th Century. 

In Scotland, the tanse was often employed; a leather strap with two or three tails to hit a child’s hand.

It would appear that hitting, beating, flogging and other distressing means of corporal punishment were considered common practices for children who stepped out of line. Adults considered it a quick and acceptable reprimand for rebellious behaviour which allowed the child to remain in the classroom, rather than be suspended from lessons. For some children, however, it proved an ineffective method of discipline as they became inured to the treatment and were taught by example to carry on inflicting pain on others. As human beings we tend to repeat the behaviours to which we become accustomed.   

Today, accepted methods of discipline range from verbal warnings to exclusions.  It is far harder, however, to execute punishment with the advent of technology and remote learning which have now become fully integrated and accelerated into our lives as a result of the pandemic.

Classroom management has become a term which suggests an open-minded approach to discipline to replace the more rigid and outdated forms of punishment.  In our new world of Education, new thinking has brought about a revolution in classroom management by handing over the responsibility to the child for their own learning, thereby creating an increase in engagement with lessons and allowing the child autonomy over their learning style. 

Praising, Merit Marks and Teamwork are also useful methods of ensuring an attentive classroom.  The humiliation of letting down your pack can act as a strong disincentive to behaving badly.

In addition, pastoral care is important to support a child who is experiencing difficulties at home and feeling emotions of anger, fear and disengagement.  Allowing them to offload in a safe environment is vital if they are to grow as individuals and see the opportunities that exist for them.

All in all, it would appear Carrots are more effective than Canes when it comes to encouraging our children to fully engage with their Education.