Monday, 30 January 2012

Spare the rod?

Experience had taught me that it was no use 'sparing the rod'. If you did, word would soon get about the school that you were 'soft'. Since the object of a caning was both to punish and to deter a boy from reoffending, it needed to be made as unpleasant as possible. The object was to instil a fear of the cane into offenders and amongst potential offenders. (A Headmaster's Recollections)

Though I was small my devotion was great when I begged you not to let me be beaten at school . our parents scoffed at the torments which we boys suffered at the hands of our masters. For we feared the whip as much as others fear the rack, and we no less than they, begged you to preserve us from it.

Smacking children is back in the news once more, and is being cited as one panacea for poor discipline in homes:

Boris Johnson has backed calls for parents to be allowed to smack their children to instil discipline. The Mayor of London spoke after a senior Labour MP blamed his party's partial ban on smacking children for last August's riots. Former education minister David Lammy called for a return to Victorian laws on discipline, saying working-class parents needed to be able to use corporal punishment to deter unruly children from joining gangs and wielding knives. He claimed parents were 'no longer sovereign in their own homes' and feared that social workers would take their children away if they chastised them. Labour's 2004 law did not completely ban smacking, but said a smack should cause no more than a reddening of the skin. (1)

This reminds me of the Duchess in Alice in Wonderland:

"Speak roughly to your little boy,
And beat him when he sneezes:
He only does it to annoy,
Because he knows it teases."

Sweden has a "no smack" policy and has had one for some time, longer than Britain.

Adrienne A. Haeuser made a study about Sweden and how they broke the generational transmission of physical punishment as a childrearing method:

Can you bring up children successfully without smacking and spanking? Sweden appears to be doing just this only a decade after passing a law which stipulates that a child may not be subjected to physical punishment or other humiliating treatment. Initially somewhat skeptical, Swedes now take the law for granted and Swedish children are thriving.

The reasons for the ban were because allowing "discipline" in the home meant in practice that there was widespread child abuse going on there. The problem with trying to limit it was that any form of physical discipline was on a continuous spectrum, and it was almost impossible to fix limits. A smack could be a light tap on the hand, or it could be a heavy wallop. The Swedish authorities decided that the only way to stop the latter was to ban all use of force.

Despite seemingly idyllic conditions for childrearing, Sweden moved into the 1970's with widespread child abuse. Corporal punishment in the schools had been banned in 1958; however, the harsh beatings of the previous era - as well as less severe forms of physical punishment - persisted in the privacy of home life. A major Swedish research project concluded that child abuse constituted one end of a large continuum beginning with physical punishment, and that stopping all physical punishment was the "gateway" to preventing most child abuse

The government's stated intent in passing the 1979 law was twofold: primarily to stop "beatings," and secondly "to create a basis for general information and education for parents as to the importance of giving children good care and as to one of the prime requirements of their care"

This law does not carry penalties - a point that no doubt speeded its passage. When reports of physical punishment are substantiated by social services staff or the police as assault (that is, child abuse) according to Sweden's Criminal Code, the code sanctions apply. Even so, few minor infractions have been reported by spiteful neighbors or children, putting to rest the speculation that such a law would create chaos by turning minor parental infractions into government cases.

We can see how matters have changed even in Jersey. Part of the problem with taking to court those accused - and later found guilty - of child abuse in Haut de La Garenne was the problem of differentiating between what would have been a commonplace in any home as well as a State run institution. It was not uncommon, for instance, in the 1960s for a father to beat his son with a slipper for minor misdemeanors. For example, I know personally of a case where a young boy was beaten with a slipper for reading in bed with a torch after "lights out". Boys at Victoria College were caned for bad behaviour as the ultimate sanction even in the 1970s. This was not seen as abusive or wrong.

So "common assault", for which Morag and Anthony Jordan were convicted of at haut de La Garenne was more difficult to determine because the degree of discipline had to be placed into the context of a background acceptable culture of violence. Nevertheless, they were deemed to have crossed the line on at least 8 occasions:

Morag and Anthony Jordan, both 62, from Kirriemuir, Angus, Scotland, were both found guilty on eight separate counts relating to abuse at the Haut de la Garenne home in Jersey. But after deliberating for more than eight hours, the jury at the royal court of Jersey acquitted Morag Jordan on a further 28 counts and Anthony Jordan on four. (3)

If it is thought that a prohibition on smacking is a causal factor in riots, then the question should be asked: why have there been no similar riots in Sweden.

So why have there been no summer riots in Sweden? I think it's more a culture thing than a parental one - England has soccer violence (and did have even in Victorian times), other countries do not.

The game of football has been associated with violence since its beginnings in 13th century England. Medieval football matches involved hundreds of players, and were essentially pitched battles between the young men of rival villages and towns - often used as opportunities to settle old feuds, personal arguments and land disputes.

Forms of 'folk-football' existed in other European countries (such as the German Knappen and Florentine calcio in costume), but the roots of modern football are in these violent English rituals. The much more disciplined game introduced to continental Europe in 1900s was the reformed pastime of the British aristocracy. Other European countries adopted this form of the game, associated with Victorian values of fair-play and retrained enthusiasm. Only two periods in British history have been relatively free of football-related violence: the inter-war years and the decade following the Second World War. (4)

The cycle of generational abuse can be broken, but the case of Sweden saw a mass effort by the entire population, rather than a top-down imposition of particular rules, which is why it worked, because it operated by consent. But some aspects of physical violence can certainly be curtailed, and the current law in operation, whereby "a smack should cause no more than a reddening of the skin" would seem to be a pragmatic compromise until such time as our society has changed enough for a complete ban.

In the meantime, we should be aware that the lessons learned by smacking are not necessarily the ones that are indented. It is no coincidence that one of the cases of of Haut de La Garenne - Michael Aubin - found guilty of indecent assault - was himself the subject of abuse. Violence begets violence, and the unintended consequence of heavy smacking are to convey the notion that might is right:

Smacking (perceived by children as one person hitting another) not only gives children the message that it is OK to hit others but also that violence is an acceptable way to solve problems and get what you want. Bullying behaviour may also develop as children perceive such violence as a means of control. (5)

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