Memoir Piece - Getting The Cuts In Primary School

Corporal punishment was permitted in schools during my primary school days and as you got older, the likelihood of being a recipient of this terrible action became more concerning. The thought of ‘getting the cuts’ (up to six lashes across an outstretched palm of the hand with a leather strap or cane) was a major concern throughout any school day. Pulling your hand away only spurred your tormentor onto greater effort. Sometimes they added an extra lash. It was all quite brutal. It was only applied to boys however and at my school only designated teachers were able to use the strap or cane to inflict such pain. Usually the headmaster plus designated senior teachers were the selected pain delivery agents. Interestingly, parents never seemed to object to this action. “You probably deserved it!”, “I hope you learned a lesson from that!” or “Serves you right!” were the usual responses.

Corporal punishment was viewed by adults as character building. It was in reality a barbaric control measure invoked for seemingly trivial acts of misconduct. Effective teachers never needed to resort to such measures. It was usually the less competent or sadistic who used it to offset their inability to build trusting, interdependent relationships with students. Some teachers claimed they were forced into the act by the student’s behaviour, as if this somehow justified their action. You tried to show no emotion. You did not want the thrasher to gain any extra pleasure from your pain. Your hand throbbed and feeling often took several minutes to return.-the welt of the strap visible across your palm.

I recall being snared by corporal punishment was when I was in Grade five. I was an ink well monitor for the week. -A task now long consigned to history –thank goodness!. Ink was such a messy and frustrating medium with which to work. You were constantly stressed by ink’s potential to create unwanted smudges and blots on the page of your workbook. Such unwarranted sloppiness often drew the teacher’s ire. Being left handed meant you were in constant peril of dragging your hand across the still moist letters on your page. The invention of the ball point pen by Hungarian, Lazlo Biro and the further development of this by Marcel Bich represented a form of emancipation for the ink challenged.

As monitors, our job was to fill the ink wells and then distribute them to the class. There were three of us charged with this task and we apparently took too long in fulfilling our allotted jobs. Our teacher made an immediate and fateful decision and sent us to the Grade six teacher with the instruction that we were to given the strap three times each for being ‘tardy’ –whatever that meant!

We were taken into the Grade six classroom and ordered to stand in front of the class. From his desk the teacher slowly took out a long leather strap he called ‘the Accelerator” because he believed that when he revealed it, students worked faster. In a magnanimous gesture the teacher holding the strap informed us “You may choose which hand you want strapped”
‘Left hand,’ I replied figuring it would mean I would not be able to write when I got back to class.

And so it happened. We stood before the grade six students and received three of the best. We were each strapped across the palm of the hand. None of us flinched as the strap crashed down on our hand. Some members of the viewing audience smirked, some grimaced, others looked away, or covered their faces. Once the punishment was meted out, we were sent back to class. Nothing more was said. It was only when we stepped outside the room that we began to acknowledge the pain that was throbbing through our battered hands and stinging fingers. I wanted to cry out but knew I couldn’t. All three of us re-entered our own classroom and silently sat down at our respective desks. Our throbbing, glowing hands sticking out like catcher’s mitts. It was some time before my hand could perform any useful function. Our mean lipped teacher said nothing, although we were immediately relieved of our ink well duties.

It is significant that I can recall this mean, miserable event so clearly after all these years. My hand recovered, but the cuts clearly went deeper.

So much has changed since those far off days of my early schooling. Different issues have arisen to replace the spectre of corporal punishment. However, there remain, those classrooms where ‘power over’ rather than ‘power with’ is the prevailing mechanism for control. That continues to concern me greatly.


  1. Alan,

    This event is so deeply troubling to me. I cannot imagine a day when this was not only legal, but considered acceptable.

    Thank you for sharing this private story in such a public forum.



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