I got the strap only once, but not from the teacher. It happened one morning when I was in about grade four or five. Some of us students arrived at school before the teacher and so we roamed about the schoolroom chatting and talking. While we were clowning around, a mischievous grade eight boy, Raymond Poirier, opened the teacher’s desk drawer, pulled out the strap and asked if anyone wanted to try it. Kids gathered around as I foolishly bragged, “I’ll try it!” Thinking he would only give me a tap, the strongly-built student gave me a powerful smack on the palm of my hand. The stinging pain brought tears to my eyes. Without a word, he returned the strap to its place.
Later that day, someone squealed on him. The teacher was infuriated to think that he would go into her desk. He was ordered to the front of the class where he received several sharp smacks on the upturned hands. Without showing any emotion, Raymond returned to his seat. I felt at the time that the punishment was a little unfair as he had not intended to hurt me. He was just fooling around.
Other actions also guaranteed corporal punishment. Boys who got into fights at recess in the schoolyard were usually summoned to the front of the classroom after recess where they were strapped. It was futile to plead innocent if they had been involved in the fight. Punishment was swift. Strangely, getting “a licking” especially if the victims steeled themselves not to cry, raised their status among their peers. They were often seen as special because of their bravado.
In my farming community child beatings were not on my radar. At my own home, growing up with three other brothers, no strap or belt or paddle was ever used on us, nor do I ever recall any of us being spanked. Certainly, the French farm families who lived among the Scottish and English, were well-known for their child-oriented family relations. They were not in the habit of hitting their children. To be fair, no one really knows what went on behind closed doors, but I cannot recall any of my playmates ever mentioning being beaten by their parents. It was only at elementary school where the strap was used, and feared.
Although corporal punishment was a common practice in our rural elementary school it was never used in my high school. In hindsight it seems rather odd that it was perfectly acceptable for younger kids to get lawfully walloped, yet there was no corporal punishment meted out to teenagers. On the other hand, think what might have happened had a teacher, with a strap in hand, confronted a stocky, belligerent student who decided to resist. Instead, the stern, highly-respected principal, Wellington Barrett, a former army officer, kept tight reins on the 250 students without physical punishment.
No student fancied being reprimanded by him. No student looked forward to standing shame-faced at attention in front of his office at recess while his peers walked by. Being suspended or expelled were other options, but seldom used. Often serious behavior problems solved themselves when problem students, some of whom hated school, quit long before graduation. The dropout rate at my school for that and other for reasons was staggering.