Corporal Punishment for Badwork and Failing Tests

I have alluded to the fact that this was common in the Christian Brother’s school I sttended during the sixties. I was wondering what other members experininces were.

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At my all boys grammar there was a fine distinction between bad work which was the result of inability and bad work which was due to poor effort. The former was generally accepted; the latter was met with a peremptory strapping.  We did have one young science master who set the “whack mark” as he called it – anyone equaling or falling below the whack mark got whacked.

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I remember short oral  history tests with written answers. when I was  a first and second former. The  mantra was “last in the test gets six of the best” although to be honest this was relatively lighthearted.  Itwas frequently waived if the lowest  mark was high e’g’above 75% or several boys got equal bottom. .  Suspect it was just the teachers attempt at incentive combined with a bit of classroom entertainment.

It was with a slipper and definitely not has hard as it could have been.

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I cannot recall this at any time in my schooling. Although the cane was used frequently at my high school in the 1960s, it was always for misbehaviour, either actual or perceived.

It may well have been different at private and Catholic schools. I quote from a girl who recalled being caned nearly every day in 1962/63 by her teacher (Sister Brendan aka Smoky Cane) in her primary school in Bangor, Northern Ireland:
“There was nothing either glorious or Christ-like about her each Friday morning, when she’d line us up against the wall like a firing squad, and whack everyone who didn’t respond instantly to her mental arithmetic questions directed at warp-speed.”

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When I was in the first-year group  I had a history teacher who thought it was a good idea to give regular tests.  To me then and now it demonstrated what a rubbish teacher he was because it was all just a memory test for dates, names and places. It was an easy way for him to fill in some time without really needing to prepare any teaching. I consistently failed these but his response was to set the failures can essay on some aspect of the area being covered.  I remember one time I just copied something out of a book and, not paying much attention, missed chunks out and put some bits in from another page altogether.  Some of it was just gobbledygook.  He wasn’t happy and stood alongside my desk going on about all the errors.  I completely ignored him and carried on with what I was doing.  He might have got my attention more if he’d been one of the teachers who used a slipper but he wasn’t and in the end he stomped off and threw my essay in the bin.

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I hated physics at school and was no good at it. However, in my 3rd form, our physics master set us a test on what had been taught the previous week. I had been away that week with flu, so knew nothing about the subject matter. We were told that any boy getting less than 50% would be slippered. He marked the papers, and 6 of us got below the mark and were asked to stay behind after the lesson, the last of the day. One other boy was in the same position as me, so we were told to stand to one side while he dealt with the other 4, 2 healthy whacks each, if memory serves.

He then sat the two of us down and spent a good quarter hour going through the whole thing. I never liked him but thought he wasn’t such a bad fellow after all. In the end, he told us to stand and said to me “ok, bend over.” I asked him why and he replied “because you got less than 50% in the test!” My original opinion of him was restored. s it happens, they weren’t that bad, and I remember the warm glow in my bum walking to the bus stop after!

To show that people are never all bad, there is one other unconnected incident regarding this master. He also taught chemistry and in one lesson during an experiment some nitric acid blew up in a boy’s face. I’ve never seen anyone move so fast. Probably within 2 seconds, he had grabbed the boy and literally thrown his face under the cold tap at the sink. We all reckon he probably saved that boy’s eyesight by his quick reaction.

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All 1960s prep schools had at least one eccentric schoolmaster, and mine had at least two. Our French teachers were Mr Bennett and Monsieur Poulet. The latter was actually French and, as members of this learned forum will instantly know, his name means Mr Chicken – and was naturally a source of endless mirth to the pupils. Mr Bennett was English but we had to call him – in the French lessons at least – Monsieur Bené (as in molto bene, which is actually Italian, but I digress).

M Poulet, who didn’t have a beret but did have that classic Gallic clipped moustache, had various eccentricities. They included, in a school where the slipper was woven into the fabric of the place and should really have featured on the school blazer badge, a penchant (that’s French) for giving the slipper across the hands. I think he’s the only schoolmaster I have heard of who used that technique, but members are welcome to correct me. He kept his slipper in a little leather briefcase, more like a music case, which I think contained nothing else.

But enough of Mr Chicken. His counterpart Mr Bennett aka Bene was not moustachioed, and less clipped. He was genial, quite popular, a sort of slimmer Brian Blessed. And yes, we had a weekly vocab test and yes, there was a pass mark. Only it varied week to week, and he didn’t tell us until we had done the test, had it marked (sometimes by each other in the lesson) and the results announced. It was always out of 20 and always high – commonly 18. But we were pretty clear that he adjusted the pass line to ensure that at least two or three pupils fell below it…. Several decades on, I honestly cannot remember the tariff: it may have been one whack per mark below the line. They were delivered with panache (that’s aussi francais), but really only a bit of theatre. I guess he regarded it as just a device to – deep breath and groan – encourager les autres.