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Getting The Strap: 1950s School Punishment in New Zealand

New Zealand school discipline was harsher in the 1950s than it is now. We knew the rules and we knew the consequences. Getting the strap and writing lines were accepted punishments.

School discipline in New Zealand schools was very different from what it is today. I was a good child and a conscientious student, but I still managed to incur the wrath of my teachers. My punishment wasn’t for serious crimes, but for minor misdemeanours.

In today’s world my teachers would lose their jobs for the disciplinary practices they engaged in. But the two punishments most often dished out to me were the norm back then when I was a child.

First of all there was the strap. This was a huge piece of leather and although I wasn’t on the receiving end of it often, I got the strap often enough to still be able to imagine the pain and embarrassment. My agony started when I was called to the front of the room and told to hold out my hand. My face would flood with embarrassment and tears welled in my eyes, but I knew I had to be brave. Holding out my hand I’d look away, anticipating the whack of leather on my upturned palm. If you pulled away on impact the teacher would sometimes insist on a second chance of reminding you that you were less than perfect.

I was lucky. I usually only received one or two whacks at a time. Others, mostly boys, received six of the best. Can you imagine how tender your hand would become after six strokes of a leather strap?

What terrible crime did I commit at the age of ten to make my teacher feel I needed such severe punishment? Well, I was one of the two best spellers in the class. Consequently, if I made a spelling mistake in the weekly class spelling test, I was strapped for each mistake, to ensure I would learn all my words properly next time. It was definitely an incentive to learn my list words. However, I did think it rather unfair that as I was already one of the best spellers and further ahead in my learning than the others, I should be punished in this way.

My other often repeated crime was more disruptive to the class and something I seemed unable to control. My teachers throughout the years felt the need to write on my school reports, ‘Valerie talks too much.’

The punishment for my constant talking was not the strap, but writing out lines. ‘I must not talk so much’ had to be written line after line, fifty times. I actually became quite good at doing this and didn’t mind this anywhere near as much getting the strap.

There were other strange punishments for equally minor misbehaviour. No doubt the teachers of the time felt they had to cruel to be kind. As children we knew the rules and we also knew the consequences for breaking them.

When the teacher took the strap from his drawer we braced ourselves, hoping it wouldn’t be our name he called. If we did happen to be the unlucky victim, we put on a brave face and when talking to our friends later we’d boast that it hadn’t hurt at all. But of course, when someone said this, we all knew better.

Strapping and all forms of corporal punishment became illegal in New Zealand schools in 1990.

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  1. yes me

    On January 30, 2011 at 3:48 pm


    Glasgow Scotland was the first in the uk to ban this form of brutality… Great share Val

  2. Michal Dorcak

    On January 30, 2011 at 4:19 pm


    Great article. I think that this kind of punishment was banned much sooner here in Slovakia. This kind of punishment for such unimportant “crimes” as you mentioned really is pure cruelty.Though, reviving these punishments partially would be helpful here in Slovakia. Students in schools (mainly in elementary schools) are getting more and more violent and teachers have less and less power over the situation. Often, they even get attacked and hurt by youngsters (mostly by gypsies and mostly women get attacked). I doubt any sane person would be able to guess what was the response from those retards in our government. They ordered teachers to attent courses of self-control! What the **** of a solution is that? They want to make sure that teachers will not even attempt to defend themselves when some stupid, spoilt kid jumps them with a knife! Anyway, the strap would teach them to behave, but then stupid parents of stupid kids would complain and scream murder to the world …

  3. Larry Fish

    On January 30, 2011 at 4:38 pm


    I can relate Val, I didn’t get hit with a leather strap in school but a long ruler over the knuckles. We all took it as getting a lesson. Now days in the US kids get a time out. Most of them look forward to that. That isn’t punishment. We took our whacks and we turned out fine. There is no discipline today at home or in the school. I think it should go back like the old days. A friend told me once, “I would rather go to jail for spanking my child, than for him to go to jail because I didn’t.”

  4. Mystical Whitewolf

    On January 30, 2011 at 4:54 pm


    This topic has been a sore issue with many people. So in the position of authority who were cruel by nature used this form of punishment on children while other used it as a last resort. I too would spank my child and happily go to jail if it meant keeping them out of jail. If we do not set guidelines and back up what we tell the child the punishment will be if they chose to cross the line then what message are we sending to our kids?
    I do not believe in abusing a kid but I do not believe in letting them do as they please with no consequences for their action.

  5. Erin Miller

    On January 30, 2011 at 7:22 pm


    I still think the writing out lines punishment should be used. I had that but not for talking too much.

  6. martie

    On January 31, 2011 at 2:32 am


    Like Larry we got a ruler here and of course the writing of lines. When my much younger sister was in school, she once placed an orange under another students chair and when the student sat in the chair the orange burst all over. Instead of lines her instructor ordered her to write an apology. (for disrupting the entire class) she apologized to the orange!

    The instructor loved the paper so much he submitted it to a contest and she won 3rd place. Some punishment!

  7. Christine Ramsay

    On January 31, 2011 at 4:22 am


    Oh Val, this has brought back memories. In our school it was the plimsol (gym shoe). There were two of them known as Big Willie and Little Willie. Big Willie was kept for the more serious misdemeanours. They were used on the backside and they really did hurt. Teachers were so cruel in those days, not like you and me, LOL. A great post.

    Christine

  8. jemialbert

    On January 31, 2011 at 11:46 am


    nice one

  9. Cinders

    On February 1, 2011 at 3:55 am


    It fills me with horror but thank you for sharing your experiences

  10. albert1jemi

    On February 1, 2011 at 11:53 am


    nice one

  11. TealRose

    On March 2, 2011 at 7:10 pm


    I am 56 yrs old. I think spanking aka hitting a child for any reason at school or at home is just plain wrong. I was spanked at home and my parents instantly lost my respect, love and trust for them. All I learned was fear, pain, hate, anger and resentment. My childhood was ruined by it and it wasn’t required.

    Discipline means to teach and one doesn’t have to do that by hitting anyone. If it’s illegal [quite rightly] to hit an adult or animal – how can it possibly be right to hit a child in the name of discipline? Even the hardest of criminals isn’t hit!

    Yes children can be difficult, yes it’s harder to teach rather than to hit – but then that is what parenthood and teaching is about. No one learns in an environment of fear.

    At my junior school there was the slipper. It was hardly ever used, I can remember seeing it used only 5 times in 7 years. But even then it was for what I call trivial stuff. At my High School there was NO corporal punishment – and the pupils were well known for being courteous and polite – whereas the other high school not far along the road, with children from the same catchment area DID us CP – and the pupils were outright hooligans and truants. Why ??

    I was / am a very quiet, obedient sort of person, but it was a good job there was no corporal punishment in my High School as there is NO way I would have submitted to it. If they had ‘forced’ me – I WOULD have fought back – never mind the outcome. NO ONE has the right to hit me. Ever. Period.

  12. jennyreeve

    On April 28, 2012 at 5:27 pm


    I think that children now do not get strong enough punishment sometimes. A very emotive subject.

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