Corporal Punishment - History of Corporal Punishment

History of Corporal Punishment

Corporal punishment was recorded as early as c. 10th Century BC in Book of Proverbs attributed to Solomon:

He that spareth the rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him correcteth him betimes.
Withhold not correction from a child: for if thou strike him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and deliver his soul from hell.

It was certainly present in classical civilisations, being used in Greece, Rome, and Egypt for both judicial and educational discipline. Some states gained a reputation for using such punishments cruelly; Sparta, in particular, used them as part of a disciplinary regime designed to build willpower and physical strength. Although the Spartan example was extreme, corporal punishment was possibly the most frequent type of punishment. In the Roman Empire, the maximum penalty that a Roman citizen could receive under the law was 40 "lashes" or "strokes" with a whip applied to the back and shoulders, or with the "fasces" (similar to a birch rod, but consisting of 8–10 lengths of willow rather than birch) applied to the buttocks. Such punishments could draw blood, and were frequently inflicted in public.

Quintilian's (c. 35 – c. 100) early and complete opposition to corporal punishment is notable. According to McCole Wilson, probably no more lucid indictment of it has been made in the succeeding two thousand years.

By that boys should suffer corporal punishment, though it is received by custom, and Chrysippus makes no objection to it, I by no means approve; first, because it is a disgrace, and a punishment fit for slaves, and in reality (as will be evident if you imagine the age change) an affront; secondly, because, if a boy's disposition be so abject as not to be amended by reproof, he will be hardened, like the worst of slaves, even to stripes; and lastly, because, if one who regularly exacts his tasks be with him, there will not be the need of any chastisement...
Besides, after you have coerced a boy with stripes, how will you treat him when he becomes a young man, to whom such terror cannot be held out, and by whom more difficult studies must be pursued? Add to these considerations, that many things unpleasant to be mentioned, and likely afterwards to cause shame, often happen to boys while being whipped, under the influence of pain or fear; and such shame enervates and depresses the mind, and makes them shun people's sight and feel constant uneasiness ... scandalously unworthy men may abuse the privilege of punishing, and what opportunity also the terror of the unhappy children may sometimes afford others. (Quintilian, Institutes of Oratory, 1856 edition, I, III)

Plutarch, also in the first century, says something similar:

This also I assert, that children ought to be led to honourable practices by means of encouragement and reasoning, and most certainly not by blows or ill-treatment, for it surely is agreed that these are fitting rather for slaves than for the free-born; for so they grow numb and shudder at their tasks, partly from the pain of the blows, partly from the degradation. Praise and reproof are more helpful for the free-born than any sort of ill-usage, since the praise incites them toward what is honourable, and reproof keeps them from what is disgraceful.

In Medieval Europe, corporal punishment was encouraged by the attitudes of the medieval church towards the human body, flagellation being a common means of self-discipline. This had an influence on the use of corporal punishment in schools, as educational establishments were closely attached to the church during this period. Nevertheless, corporal punishment was not used uncritically; as early as the eleventh century Saint Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury was speaking out against what he saw as the excessive use of corporal punishment in the treatment of children.

From the 16th century onwards, new trends were seen in corporal punishment. Judicial punishments were increasingly turned into public spectacles, with public beatings of criminals intended as a deterrent to other would-be offenders. Meanwhile, early writers on education, such as Roger Ascham, complained of the arbitrary manner in which children were punished.

Peter Newell assumes that perhaps the most influential writer on the subject was the English philosopher John Locke, whose Some Thoughts Concerning Education explicitly criticised the central role of corporal punishment in education. Locke's work was highly influential, and may have helped influence Polish legislators to ban corporal punishment from Poland's schools in 1783, the first country in the world to do so.

During the 18th century, the concept of corporal punishment was attacked by some philosophers and legal reformers. Merely inflicting pain on miscreants was seen as inefficient, influencing the subject only for a short period of time and effecting no permanent change in their behaviour. Some believed that the purpose of punishment should be reformation, not retribution. This is perhaps best expressed in Jeremy Bentham's idea of a panoptic prison, in which prisoners were controlled and surveyed at all times, perceived to be advantageous in that this system supposedly reduced the need of measures such as corporal punishment.

A consequence of this mode of thinking was a reduction in the use of corporal punishment in the 19th century in Europe and North America. In some countries this was encouraged by scandals involving individuals seriously hurt during acts of corporal punishment. For instance, in Britain, popular opposition to punishment was encouraged by two significant cases, the death of Private Frederick John White, who died after a military flogging in 1846, and the death of Reginald Cancellor, who was killed by his schoolmaster in 1860. Events such as these mobilised public opinion and, by the late nineteenth century, the extent of corporal punishment's use in state schools was unpopular with many parents in England. Authorities in Britain and some other countries introduced more detailed rules for the infliction of corporal punishment in government institutions such as schools, prisons and reformatories. By the First World War, parents' complaints about disciplinary excesses in England had died down, and corporal punishment was established as an expected form of school discipline.

In the 1870s, courts in the United States overruled the common-law principle that a husband had the right to "physically chastise an errant wife". In the UK the traditional right of a husband to inflict moderate corporal punishment on his wife in order to keep her "within the bounds of duty" was similarly removed in 1891. See Domestic violence for more information.

In the United Kingdom, the use of judicial corporal punishment declined during the first half of the 20th century and it was abolished altogether in 1948, while most other European countries had abolished it earlier. Meanwhile in many schools, the use of the cane, paddle or tawse remained commonplace in the UK and the United States until the 1980s. In several other countries, it still is: see School corporal punishment.

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