Discipline in the Classroom: Past and Present


Throughout the history of classroom education, many different types of
disciplinary systems have been applied by teachers and other authority figures
in schools for the sole purpose of controlling student behaviour. These systems
include corporal punishment, psychological abuse or neglect, and assertive
discipline. Although two of these three topics are illegal at this time, they
were all widely used in schools across the country a short time ago.

Corporal punishment in general can be defined as the infliction of pain or
confinement as a penalty for an offense committed by a student. During the time
that corporal punishment was used by schools all over the United States and
Canada, parents did not have any say in school discipline. It was completely up
to the school authority figures on the type of punishment and the severity of
the punishment given to the student. The classroom teacher had the most say in
the matter since it was the teacher who usually administered the punishment to
the students. Because of this, some teachers (who especially liked the idea of
physical punishment) took advantage of the minor guidelines set by the principal
to protect students from excessive physical beatings. These guidelines varied
from school to school, but often included length, width and thickness of the
paddle or any other weapon used, the amount of times the student may be struck
by the weapon, and other minor details about other types of physical punishment.
The list of weapons that were acceptable for teachers to use include long:
rubber hoses, leather straps and belts, sticks, rods, straight pins, hard
plastic baseball bats, and arrows. If at the time a teacher did not have
his/her weapon, they would often resort to punching, kicking, slapping and
shaking as ways to "get children\'s attention". Besides these common manoeuvres
of punishment, other and often more painful techniques were used by teachers.
Children in a class for the learning disabled claimed that their teacher, and
her aide banged their heads into their desks until some students were
unconscious, twisted their arms, and even tried strangulation. Another teacher
shook hot tabasco sauce in the mouths of the troublesome student and smeared it
in their faces. When parents found out about this specific act of cruelty, they
were outraged and took their case to state officials. The final verdict on this
case was that they saw nothing wrong with forcing kids to eat something they did
not like (Butterfield 1983). In the Christian schools, this kind of punishment
was related to the concept of original sin and the need to combat Satan by
beating the devil out of children. This same idea was used in other religions as
well, and children were beaten because of mental illness, or disease. One of the
most common arguments for corporal punishment is that its abolition would leave
teachers powerless to control students, especially those who might be a threat
to the teacher. Despite this, it has been proven that most corporal punishment
is inflicted against relatively defenceless students who are to small or weak to
strike back. Now that corporal punishment is illegal in almost all areas
including the Unites States and Canada, the only physical force that can be used
by teachers is in specific situations (with the unintention of inflicting pain)
such as to quell a disturbance, to protect oneself, property, or another person.


When a child is physically abused, absence from the abuser results in a
relatively quick healing of the physical wounds, but the emotional scars left by
the abuse last a lifetime. For this reason, many psychologists believe that
when a child is psychologically abused in schools, it will have a far worse
effect on children all throughout their lifetime, and quite often lead to stress
related diseases (ulcer, depression etc.) and may even lead to suicide. It is a
common mistake that a child can not be psychologically abused unless they are
physically beaten, or abused. This could not be farther from the truth.
Physical abuse accounts for only 20% of the total psychological damage left on
abused children. There were many things that were done to children by their
classroom teachers that had a far worse result on the student than any physical
abuse would ever have. The most common of these is constant humiliation. It
was not uncommon for teachers in the past to repeatedly criticize and laugh at a
particular students disability, or even creativity for the main reason of
punishing the student for a minor offense. Teacher\'s did this by often reading
a student\'s personal journal to the