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.