One-room School House #6

Letters and Blogs about Disciple in the Old West

By Julie A Hanks, Ph.D  aka Jesse J Elliot

At the end of the article, please sign in and give your opinion on corporal punishment in the classroom!

As a recently retired educator, I can assure you that corporal punishment was never my way of disciplining, but it was a regular method in the Old West and, unfortunately in some schools today.  I’ve gathered a collection of anecdotes, blogs, and letters about school discipline in the Old West. This collection is interesting on its own, but add in the actual photographs, and well, let’s say, a picture’s worth a thousand words.

According to the Pioneer Sholes school blog: Punishment took numerous forms.  Corporal punishment was not unheard of nor was detention, suspension and even expulsion.  Lesser punishments “included such things as a rap on the hands or knuckles with a steel edged ruler; standing in a corner with face to the wall; wearing a dunce cap, facing the room, and sitting upon a high stool beside the teacher’s desk; standing for long periods with arms held straight out in front; standing with an arm outstretched, palm up, while holding a heavy book on that hand for a long period; or being banished to the girls’ cloakroom (if the culprit were a boy).” Some of these punishments were obviously painful while others, like wearing the dunce cap, were humiliating.

Some teachers were actually provided with a prescribed number of lashes for each offense.  Common schoolhouse crimes and punishments

  • 3 lashes – for disrupting the class
  • 4 lashes – for being late
  • 4 lashes – for boys & girls playing together
  • 6 lashes – for “sassing the teacher”
  • 7 lashes – for telling lies
  • 8 lashes – for swearing
  • 10 lashes – for “misbehaving to girls”
  • 10 lashes – for playing cards during recess

Kids-n-Cowboys blog

The lashes were hard and cruel, strong enough to tear skin and clothing. The punishment of students in public schools didn’t end with the frontier. In 1983 in North Carolina, an honor student decided to skip school for the first time in her educational career. She was caught and had a choice of in-school (away from her classes) suspension or lashes.  She was afraid of missing her calculus class and chose the lashes.  She was beaten so badly that she required medical attention and visits to a psychologist.  When the parents took this to court, they lost.Was the administration of the lash ever justified?  Who can answer, but in 1955, Capper’s Farmer sent out a request for letters and information about the topic of discipline in the classroom. One former teacher’s letter was very interesting, though the level of compassion and the degree of pain were obviously different from the 1983 experience the girl suffered.

Fifty years ago I taught in a one-room country schoolhouse called Diamond. With twenty-four pupils and all eight grades, a teacher needed to be in control. One particular day two of my older boys, Luther and Kermit, tried my patience to the limit. I am not even sure now what the incident was, but I judged I needed respect as well as obedience.

The boys were instructed to stoop down, put hands on ankles and lean forward. I proceeded to paddle them and when I was through, I sat down and cried with them.

Several years later Kermit enlisted in the Army and wrote me a letter thanking me for my influence on his life. Later he was killed and I felt sad of his death but glad he served his country and I’d been a part of his life.

When women entered the field of teaching en masse during and after the Civil War, many felt that women were incapable of discipline in their classrooms. Some probably used it as a last resort while others, less competent, may have relied on it—although as a retired teacher, discipline is an art, and many male teachers lack the skills to control their classes as well.

When I think about the variety of learning styles, parental support, and learning disabilities that we have finally identified and recognized, my heart goes out to those children who had to endure some of these horrific experiences.

So, who is to say?  What do you think?