Another brick in the wall

| December 3, 2018 | 0 Comments

It’s hard to believe but the term ‘PC’ did not exist years ago.

However, what did feature strongly was something very much not PC. It was CP. Corporal Punishment. I am often asked by today’s pupils and parents alike about the bad old days when ‘caning’, ‘jacking’, ‘flaps’, ‘beating’ ‘cuts’ – it earned itself many names, all used with ghoulish relish – was prevalent. What is fascinating is the curious nostalgia which surrounds it. Many South African parents, even today, are all too often in favour! Fathers talk about it like this: “I got caned often. It did me no harm!” or (proudly) “I was bad, and the only way they kept me from delinquency was by beating it out of me!” The sort of question I’m asked is: “Sir, were you taught how to cane when you were a student teacher?” Taught? Via demonstration classes?? The imagination boggles: Discipline 101 – How to Wield a Cane (Presumably, emphasis on the back-swing.) And so, Module 1: Selecting the Appropriate Implement (“You are privileged, boy: this cane is made from the finest Birch tree …”; Module 2: Positioning the Recipient (“Move further away, boy, I’m not slicing ham…”) Etc. And then I was once asked: “Sir, what was the worst experience you ever had caning a boy?” (Like “Tell us a story” – anything to get out of doing grammar.) So, I tell them THE STORY. Which happens to be true. I was acting-principal for the first time. Only headmasters were allowed to cane – a rule, incidentally, largely ignored by gung-ho teachers. A boy was sent down to the office for doing something revolting – spitting over the balcony. “He must be caned” was the message I received. So we went through the procedure – establishing that it was wrong, that he regretted doing it, that he would never do it again. (And, off the record, that I must please, please not tell his parents – his father would kill him, but, worse, his mother would be desperately ashamed. I couldn’t agree to this: a note to the parents with caning was obligatory.) The cane – long and whippy – was taken out from its hallowed place in the cupboard. He assumed the position and braced himself. Now, it so happened that my leg (and complete foot) was at that stage encased in plaster from the knee down – from a badly twisted ankle. And the floor of the office was polished wood, very slippery… Well. My swing began with the transfer of weight onto the back foot on the upswing, followed by the obligatory weight-transfer on the downswing. Onto the plaster-encased foot. On the slippery floor. The foot skidded away out from under me. Gravity took over. I fell, as they say in the classics, flat on my arse. And my swing had what is in golf terms called, ‘a fresh air’. It’s probably the first time in the history of corporal punishment that a teacher has missed what is, after all, a largish target. Picture the scene. The miscreant, braced tautly in bent position, hears this confused noise including a resounding ‘bump!’ behind him. He looks cautiously around. There is the figure of authority flat on his back looking up at him, no doubt with equally startled expression. To his credit, the boy kept any amazement (or joyful satisfaction for that matter) out of his voice as he enquired (most politely): “Are you all right, sir?” It was an awkward moment before I made a dismal attempt at face-saving. From prone position on the floor, I waggled an ineffectual finger up at him and said (with the ill-concealed rising inflexion of failed sternness, over-ridden by total embarrassment): “Don’t you ever do it again… You may go”. He stayed to help me up. Then he looked at me and, with a depth of insight beyond his years, said, “Sir, I won’t say anything. If you don’t. Especially not to my parents.” Ah! My fragile reputation might have a chance. “Let us both put this entire episode behind us,” I said. We shook hands. He understood that we both needed to move forward. It doesn’t do to stumble over what should be left behind you.

Bruce Pinnock enjoyed a long and illustrious teaching career.

Category: Summer 2018

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