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Public reaction

A dilemma that continued to confront the Department was the wide range of attitudes and expectations of parents.

One current of opinion in the press supported the efficacy of corporal punishment. For example a 72-year-old in 1929 claimed that the cane used freely did no harm60. Furthermore, as a correspondent pointed out much earlier, in 1876:

Grown men also who had suffered in their youth took a sort of coarse pride in boasting of their ignominious wounds and were only withheld by a very slender restraint of delicacy, we can imagine, from exhibiting their dishonourable scars61.

Another correspondent in 1917, quoting 'spare the rod and spoil the child', pointed out that:

There is no royal road to learning. A knock now and then wakes the learner to see the right finger post on the journey through life… a paternal government… has come to the conclusion that the cane and the policeman are the indispensable forces for keeping irascible and unruly characters in their proper places62.

It was also claimed in 1939 that, without corporal punishment, there would be a breakdown in discipline and an increase in juvenile delinquency63, and that Christ did not hesitate to whip the money lenders out of the temple64.

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In 1975, it was stated that permissiveness had gone too far65 and that there is often no other means of commanding respect from pupils66. The Telegraph called for letters on the subject of corporal punishment in 1975. It claimed, on 15 August 1975, that most letters received called for stricter discipline.

However, the bulk of published correspondence dealing with the topic, while not questioning the status quo, was most concerned with abuses in the administration of corporal punishment.

It was the undue severity of punishment which has caused most concern. In relation to the case Regina v. Scott in 1875, a correspondent expressed the following opinion:

There are families, even schools, where the rod is practically an unknown instrument, and where, notwithstanding, the children are above the general average both as regards docility and attainments. On the other hand, it is quite understandable that in instances greatly more numerous where the rod has been either spared or altogether neglected, children suffer from want of control, and are backward in their preparation for the business of life ... We hold the opinion that the more capable an instructor of youth, the more markedly effective will be his domination over the minds of his pupils by the force of the strength of character derived from maturity of years and of moral sway ... the more a man finds himself compelled to have recourse to torture, the less is his competence for superintendence of the young ... It is well that schoolmasters should be aware that although corporal punishment is still tolerated in moderation, and by some parents even approved, intemperate assaults will surely be visited by legal punishment.

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In the same paper it was reported: 'The case excited a general hubbub, and a large amount of bitter feeling ... The verdict [against the school teacher] was received with applause in a crowded court'67.

It was commonplace in the past for some parents, incensed by severe punishment, to apply physical punishment in turn to the offending flagellator. The cartoonist's stock character, the umbrella-wielding mum, has been a reality. One such woman was tried in 1917 for assault against a school teacher and was convicted. In the evidence, however, it appeared that the punishment inflicted by the school teacher was severe. People sympathising with the parent quickly raised a collection which paid all of her court costs68.

Another form of complaint aired in the press was that teachers did not observe the regulations. Complaints were numerous. Assistant teachers were accused of using the cane without authorisation (1925, 1953)69. Children were caned for such trivial offences as not knowing history dates, or misspelling words (1929)70. The rod was used by ambitious teachers to extract the maximum performance from dull students to gain inspectorial approval for good examination marks (1929)71. Teachers struck children, including girls, on the head, the back, and the knuckles (1929, 1974, 1979)72. Teachers hit children with such instruments as rulers, blackboard rulers, fists and, in one instance, a cane soaked in vinegar (1923, 1974, 1979)73.

Also vocal in the press during the same period, individuals and organisations called for the abolition of corporal punishment in schools. These organisations expressed varying opinions. The sooner corporal punishment was dropped from a child's training the better (1916)74. It was out of date (1921)75. It was wrong for psychological reasons (1929, 1938)76, and encouraged rebelliousness (1929)77. The teachings of the Bible have been invoked - love should replace corporal punishment (1939)78.

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In the late half of the 1970's opposition to any form of corporal punishment increased, possibly as a result of greater sociological interest in the oppression of women, children and minority groups.

In 1974 the Australian Psychological Society, Queensland Branch, stated that it was opposed to violence and, since corporal punishment was institutionalised violence, it should be abolished79.

In 1975 the President of the Queensland Council of State School Organisations (Q.C.S.S.O.) claimed that corporal punishment was not acceptable80. However, later that year at the Q.C.S.S.O. annual conference, a majority of delegates supported the existing regulations. A minority report opposed the use of corporal punishment stating that it bolstered authoritarianism, creating alienation and frustrated the need for wider decision-making81. Then in 1976, Q.C.S.S.O. adopted the policy that the communities around the schools should decide upon their own disciplinary system and it would therefore be up to each community whether or not caning would remain in its school82.

One parent, in 1976, went further to suggest that individual parents should decide on such a policy83. Another parent complained in 1977 that there was no right of appeal against corporal punishment, which was a form of violence no longer used in prisons. Furthermore, it was sexist since only boys could be caned84.

The Honourable Dr D. Everingham M.P. stated in 1979 that corporal punishment led to violence and that there was no fear in walking the streets of cities in countries where it had been abolished in the schools85. Several months later a parent complained that to use corporal punishment was to admit defeat and to support the principle 'might is right'86.

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In 1979 a further development took place in the form of opposition to corporal punishment. Senator M. Colston drew the attention of parents to the New South Wales-based organisation, Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education. This organisation had, as a major objective, the abolition of corporal punishment in schools. Colston urged Queensland parents to support this organisation87. Then several weeks later he gave instances of violence that teachers had imposed on children in Queensland schools88. At the prompting of the Sunday Sun, many parents forwarded letters to that paper complaining of similar treatment handed out to their children89. All of the instances given, however, were actually examples of discontent with the violation of the regulations relating to corporal punishment and no real case was put forward to support the abolition of all corporal punishment in schools. Possibly this was a result of an editorial policy to dwell on the more sensational aspects of the matter.

At the same time, efforts were made to reduce the incidence of parents severely beating their children. In 1979 the Lady Gowrie Child Centre introduced courses for parents on child discipline. These courses did not recommend hitting since it was believed that adult disapproval was enough for a young child90.

At the end of 1979 the executive of the Queensland Council of Parents and Citizens Associations (formerly Q.C.S.S.O.) reconsidered its attitude to corporal punishment and issued the following policy statement:

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The practice of corporal punishment should be abolished throughout the education system. Strategies for maintaining discipline must be understood and implemented so that children learn appropriate behaviour and acquire self discipline.

This strategy should include reduced class sizes, leading to greater personal interaction, support services for teachers, pupils and parents to prevent violent action and reactions, and more relevant pre- and in-service training to insure the best possible understanding of behavioural patterns and classroom management91.

Also late in 1979, the International Year of the Child (IYC) National Committee of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) conducted a survey of the corporal punishment regulations of State departments of education92.

An analysis of these regulations showed that those in Queensland are very restrictive. In most other States, the power to inflict corporal punishment was not limited to the principal and deputy principal. Furthermore, Queensland was the only State that specifically excluded the first two years of schooling, and in some States corporal punishment was inflicted on girls under certain conditions. New South Wales regulations, however, included a provision which stated that parents may make a special request that corporal punishment not be inflicted on their children.

In December 1979, the IYC National Committee of NGOs resolved that the practice of corporal punishment should be phased out of Australian schools and ultimately abolished. The Committee requested the State Ministers for Education, Parent organisations and teacher training institutions to support this policy.

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Last reviewed
10 January 2013
Last updated
10 January 2013