Acquired Skill in Using the Cane

I remembered an occasion when a classmate used the expression “He can’t aim”. I imagine he was talking about a visit to the Headmaster, though I don’t recall him being in distress, so the visit might have been some days earlier (the incident took place in 1964, I think).

It’s strange, because our Head had plenty of experience, though I don’t think he used the cane particularly frequently. But compare this with an incident mentioned in the autobiography of the actor David Niven, “The Moon’s a Balloon”, when Niven recalled getting twelve strokes of the cane at Stowe School for cheating in a public examination (this was in the 1920s). I no longer have the book to give exact quotes, but I recall phrases like “his beatings were rare but legendary”, and — when the damage was inspected that night — “good shooting” and “a two-inch group”.

Well, given that there was a period in history when the use of a cane by teachers and head teachers was both permitted and expected, how did they acquire the skill?

It certainly is a skill. The length of a cane, possibly up to three feet long, makes it difficult to control; and the more flexible it is, the more risk of additional lateral movement of the tip. And yet accuracy is important to ensure that the strokes land on the fleshy part of the buttocks, rather than on the backs of the thighs, or — even worse — on the base of the spine.

(Of course, a similar comment would apply when using a cane on the hand. I’ll take advantage of these parentheses to recall an occasion, I think in the mid-eighties when I was with a crowd of people late one night and we decided to have an impromptu discussion about school CP. This was one of the three occasions when I’d heard a woman say that she had been caned at school. But more relevant to the present topic is that we were in Scotland at the time, and a young Scottish teacher told us that the first time that she’d tried to belt someone, on the hand of course, she missed completely!)

So: how was the skill acquired? And: did teachers even realize that there was a skill involved?

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Interesting topic!  My guess would be that those required to administer the cane professionally acquired any skill they eventually attained by diligent practice and self-criticism (possibly supplemented by external criticism from recipients and observers) after a brief ‘sitting with Nellie’ type introduction to the subject.

Those who had themselves been caned would probably have a flying start.  There are various posts here decrying female teachers who, probably not having been caned themselves, had no idea how much it hurt and thus caned far too hard.

At least one former contributor claimed that in the US a university department training teachers that he was familiar with prepared a training film showing students how to administer the paddle.  Alas, initial hopes of a screening in a thread here were soon dashed and eventually not even so much as a screen grab came to pass.  I cannot recall any claims of similar methods of training teachers on this side of the Atlantic.  Certainly, I encountered no tuition on administering SCP during my brief spell at a Teachers’ Training College in the early 1960s.

It will surely be the case that even more than teachers they will have striven to perfect their skill to exactly match the degree of punishment expected and appropriate, otherwise they would be likely to find difficulty in exercising it, lacking as they do the authority vested in a real school teacher.

I am sure those involved will be queuing up to describe their training techniques and progression to competence.  No names, no pack drill – at the moment.  But that might change if the posts don’t come flooding in!

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I recall an antique roadshow episode when a Scottish teacher brought in her belt. She described how she purchased it from John Dick and how she had to give her height when ordering it. That, she said, determined the length of the belt she was given. I was willing Fiona Bruce to ask how she learned to use it but she never did. I think it was common to practice giving the belt using a piece of chalk on a table. Several teachers in my school demonstrated their precision.

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There is a reference in a book about public schools in the 60s — possibly The Hothouse Society — to prefects caning each other; partly to prove their toughness and partly to perfect their technique. One boy claims to be prepared to take 100 strokes

And I think I have mentioned before the story told by an MP during a debate on caning, that when he went for his first teaching job, he had to cane the headmaster (on the hand) to demonstrate that he was prepared to do it.

I bet that the infamous Bognor Cane Company products came with detailed instruction manuals!

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An interesting detail about the belting practice via the termination with extreme prejudice of a piece of chalk, thank you.  You really did have a robust SCP environment in Scotland!

Recently while looking for something else I encountered the post here which details the results of an official survey into the belting experience of boys and girls in a large segment of the state schools in Scotland during a specific period.  Few girls and even fewer boys had escaped being belted at some point during their school careers so teachers certainly must have practiced hard.  Alas, I can’t find the post again, but each time I encounter it I am reminded that much as I love Scotland I’m darned glad I wasn’t educated there!

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I bet that the infamous Bognor Cane Company products came with detailed instruction manuals!

I don’t know if he sent them out as instruction manuals with canes, most probably not!  However, some of the pamphlets produced by Eric Wildman of the Bognor Cane Company, such as ‘Punishment Posture for Girls’ and ‘Modern Miss Delinquent’ were allegedly impounded and destroyed by the authorities, and outwith a few in private hands survived only as official record copies held in the ‘Suppressed Safe’ of the British Library where nobody was allowed to read them.

Again allegedly, about 10 years ago they were eventually transferred to the ‘Private Case’ with some other Wildman material, where bona fide academics are allowed to view them if they can prove a genuine research need.  Some discussion on the subject in this Forum, but we’ve had enough links to old posts for today!

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What fearful punitive implements those tawses were, especially as full bore strokes with the tawse starting back over the teacher’s shoulder were often used.  Three on each hand must have brought tears to the eyes quite literally.  And as for the Scottish local jurisdictions where the tawse was used as an alternative to the birch for JCP, of which there were a few, being stretched out on the birching table for 12 strokes from a burly policeman must have been a strong disincentive to future misbehavior!

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People vary greatly in their ability to perform physical actions. I am poorly coordinated and slow to master new activities but have on several occasions impressed with my boulder hopping and potato peeling skills attained by after very extensive practice. I have noticed babies learn to walk, child neighbors spend many hours over many weeks practicing tennis, skateboarding and other activities.  Then there was “A”, an extremely athletic young man who specialized in the decathlon who was and is immediately universally good at everything. I expect the same applies to CP. Some will be natural, some will become competent with practice and some will be and will remain inept. Too much focus on hitting hard does affect accuracy.