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DISCIPLINE IN SCHOOL AND
A PAPER WRITTEN FOR THE CONTEM
PORARY CLUB OF ST. LOUIS
NOTHING makes me feel older than the recollection that I was brought up in the days of corporal punishment at New England public schools. Even now, there are, no doubt, district schools wherein questions of discipline must be settled by a fight in which the best man wins. Sometimes the best man is the teacher, sometimes a pupil ; and, if the pupil wins, the teacher goes. Recently a young woman from Radcliffe College taught a school in which she was obliged to flog boys so large that nothing but gallantry on their part enabled her to do it. Such cases, however, are remote and rural. They belong to peaceful country life, and are not deliberately contemplated as part of a school system in thickly settled and civilized regions. Yet I have seen in a New England grammar school the master struggling with a boy, a settee broken in the struggle, master and boy, pursuer and pursued, dashing wildly through the school room, a scene of wrath and danger; and I remember when thirty or forty years ago the people of Cambridge were so excited by a severe case of corporal punishment that they hastened the end of all corporal punishment in the public schools. Nor must these specific cases be regarded as evidence that the masters were brutal : in the second case, the master was acknowledged as one of the best in the city; in the first, he was a man whom, after all these years, I still regard as one of the best teachers I have ever known and one of the kindest. These men were part of a system which we have happily outgrown, and in at
least one of them was an unusual share of that very relation towards pupils which has helped us outgrow it. His predecessor, a wonderfully popular and kind-hearted teacher, had a favorite punishment which he called “driving the nail.” When a number of boys were troublesome in any way, — when, for instance, they failed badly in their lessons, - he stood them on a platform and made them bend over in a row, each touching the floor with one finger. He then walked the rounds behind them, applying the ruler. In the same city, a good Harvard man who kept a private school used to flog with the ruler the hands of the boys whose fathers paid him. Some of these boys were the most aristocratic in a fine old New England city. One, whom I have seen writhing under the ruler, has since sent his own boy to Groton, where the whole theory of discipline is intensely modern.
Now, just as in outgrowing the old
harshness of compulsory education we have sometimes made school work too easy, so in outgrowing corporal punishment we have sometimes made school discipline too slack. Mr. Dooley, you remember, describes a scene at a Kindergarten in which one child is pulling another's hair, while the teacher observes that the child whose hair is pulled is learning patience, and the child who is pulling the hair is discovering the futility of human endeavor. There is, however, a reasonable theory somewhere ; and, at the risk of being commonplace, I am going to say what seems reasonable to me, and what, so far as my experience goes, has brought the best result. No school or college discipline can be perfect; but school and college discipline become more nearly perfect according as the teachers possess, beside strong character, unquestioned sympathy with young people and unquestioned integrity. When I say “unquestioned," I imply tact, cour