Handwriting by unextraordinarybint Samantha Harris

Arbitrary Punishments Given at School

Remember school days? Those days our elders told us we’d miss? I don’t but I have started thinking more about education as I get older. It is no easy task to manipulate children into good behaviour.

A popular punishment at school, after corporal punishment was made illegal, were English writing chores. The irony of this is not lost on me.

I was a smart arse in the 1970s and 1980s. Accepting ‘smart arse status’ in adulthood helps me to understand why I was punished. How many children were forced to read the British encyclopedias their parents were conned into buying?

Starting school late resulted in my adoption of terrible social skills. My short sightedness wasn’t discovered until half way through my middle school which led to unintentional trouble. Labelled a cheat, I’d copy other student’s work when teachers chalked information up on the blackboard.

The first punishment I remember was the unforgiving wooden ruler across my outstretched hand. Anyone going through this punishment will know it ‘builds character’ – a strange British term – conjuring up the courage to hold out your palm for the second and third will help harden one’s soul. I’m glad it’s illegal now.

The bad deed which warranted the violence against me? I was mixing paints. Unfortunately making a brown mess when I was trying to make white paint. At six years old I’d read about light spectrums but hadn’t realised how bad paints were as a medium for experimenting with light.

By the time in was secondary school my smart questions were annoying, and the punishments too. My least favorite was being given thousand word essays on arbitrary things like The Life of a Penny in Teacher’s Pocket or similar themed story, such as The Life of a Cocktail Stick in a Kitchen Cupboard.

As a child, with little experience of life, trying to fill pages with fiction outside of lesson time was punishing. I’d yearn for the simple ‘five hundred line’ tasks heaped on my fellow students. I was so proud of achieving the essay word counts and so devastated by the teacher’s criticisms or lack of feedback.

Towards the last term of school I found the courage to ask for lines instead of essays. I remember the joy of carbon paper (this copied what was written on the top sheet) and sticking pens together so each line was repeated enabling faster completion.

When my children attended school, in the 1990s/2000s, isolation was the school’s line of punishment. Forcing the ‘disruptive’ children to stay in a room in isolation from their friends is punishment but with other disruptive children it is cruel.

For myself, I think the inconvenience and pain of writing lines was a good punishment. Being smacked across the palm with a wooden ruler was sadistic, unnecessarily cruel and ineffective. I suspect the written essays were to entertain the teachers and to stop my questions, which is why I eventually disappointed them.

What punishments were popular at your school and do you remember why?

7 thoughts on “Arbitrary Punishments Given at School”

  1. I had a teacher who would do random desk inspections back in elementary school. If your desk was dirty, or unorganized, she’d flip it over and made us pick up the contents and organize them while our classmates looked on. Humiliating!

    Liked by 2 people

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