Friday, September 2, 2016

Forget ‘The Strap’

Memories & Nostalgia

The Strap: This is a photo of a typical strap used in Canadian schools, black in colour and made from three-ply industrial transmission belting. Thankfully and mercifully, it is no longer used as a means of corporal punishment and discipline in Canadian schools, but it has a long history, writes the Canadian Education Association (CEA) on its website: “The long historical debate over the physical discipline and punishment of children arose from different perspectives on appropriate forms of child rearing and pedagogy. At one end of the spectrum were adults and educators who believed that social order, good behaviour, and moral development required the regular use of disciplinary instruments such as the rod and the strap. At the other end were those who felt that physical discipline constituted, or would lead to, the abuse of children. The Toronto Board of Education pioneered the abolition of corporal punishment in 1971. In most other Canadian jurisdictions, the strap continued to be an important instrument in the teacher’s disciplinary arsenal until the 1990s. It was not until 2004 that the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that corporal punishment was an unreasonable application of force in the maintenance of classroom discipline.”
Photo Credit & Source: CBC News


Not all my memories can be classified as good or pleasant; some are downright unpleasant. Now that school is about to begin for my two boys, I would like to share a story. When I was in elementary school in Montreal (1963–70), corporal punishment was allowed, which included the use of the strap for some infractions. This was usually given by the principal, and sometimes by the vice-principal. It was humiliating, similar to being placed in the corner, which was also done, as was being smacked on the hands by a teacher’s ruler. Ouch!

I remember an incident in Grade 6 when three of us were throwing snowballs in the schoolyard during lunch-time; only one person was caught and he was summarily given the strap. Of course, if he was guilty of this infraction of school rules, so was I. How humiliating it was to get called in to the principals’s office and to receive a few (3–5) whacks on each hand, palms out; and then to return to your class with all your class-mates knowing what had happened. The mental and emotional anguish matches the physical pain. Truly, I felt horrible and guilty for quite a while.

But the guilt of punishment, as powerful as it was or might be, is based on an archaic rule that had nothing to do with learning and education or, even, making compliant and good citizens. It was about not breaking any school rules. (It seemed that there were many such possible infractions in addition to throwing snowballs, including talking in line, running in the hallways, and chewing gum, etc.) Some people today say that such “discipline” ought to be brought back and normalized.

I disagree. We now know better on the cruelty of corporal punishment and how the use of fear, in all of its forms, is not the best motivation for learning or, for that matter, teaching. The use of the strap was eventually banned in Canada (2004) and in most industrialized nations, seeing it as cruel and unusual punishment. I agree, even though it should have come sooner. (It was abolished in Toronto's school much earlier: in 1971. Here is a link to the history of corporal punishment in Canadian schools, the use of “the strap” and the progressive conditions—including the mental thought processes—that led to its outright ban.)

The use of corporal punishment in schools, however, is still allowed in 19 U.S. states.