I went to secondary school from 1968 until 1975. It was a Grammar School. I did not know that I was about to enter a world of institutionalised violence.
At the pinnacle of our little world, was the Headmaster. In his office he kept the cane. This was reserved for punishing the most recalcitrant boys.
It was, nevertheless, a controlled expression of violence, limited and infrequent in its use. It was the threat which made it effective.
Lower down the school’s hierarchy, however, each teacher was responsible for discipline in his own classroom, and free to exercise it in whatever way he chose.
First, and most famously, there was the games teacher. For his instrument of discipline he used a pump [what today we call a plimsoll, a trainer, a sneaker].
He kept it in his desk drawer, and even gave it a pet name – ‘Percy’. Whenever a boy misbehaved he was called to the front of the class, commanded to bend over, and given six whacks on the behind.
Then there was a music teacher. He liked rulers. First, he used a huge board ruler, used for draw straight lines on the blackboard, to administer ‘six of the best’.
In addition, however, he used a normal twelve inch ruler. He didn’t just use its flat part. Instead, he hit the tips of our fingers with the sharp edge as we held out our hands, trembling, for it to descend.
As I look back, the strange thing is that no one said anything. It was regarded as completely normal. We all obediently queued up to get our beatings.
What surprised me recently was that I found on the internet that some former pupils of the school were holding a reunion.
But this was not solely for themselves. Former teachers were also welcomed along. Among them were these who had perpetrated the worst beatings on boys.
In the UK, such corporal punishment is now illegal. But it begs the question, what will we look back on in forty years’ time and similarly regard with dismay, that we now treat as also ‘normal’?