Monday, 1 July 2013

The Cane

My oral history group has made a film with talented young film-maker Phil Walker, and over two weeks, we’re showing it to 260 local primary school children.
Our senior citizens’ schooldays occurred seventy or eighty years ago.  Their young audience is fascinated by the fact that they carried gas-masks and had to take cover from bombing in the school air-raid shelter.  I am more preoccupied with the idea that by the time they reached the same age as my twins (18) they had already been at work for four years.
One thing that astounds us all, however, is the level of corporal punishment. 
Jeff describes his school where, each morning, eight boys were lined up at random at the front of the class.   If they spotted another pupil talking they were required to inform on them and that individual would exchange places with them at the front.  At the end of the session, whichever eight children were standing at the front would have their hands caned whether or not they had actually committed an offence.
A visiting teacher says, “You must have hated your secondary school, Jeff.”
“That wasn’t my secondary school – that was my junior school.”
So whenever we mourn falling standards and the good old days of rigorous education, let us remember that some things have changed enormously for the better.

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