Strapping Youth – A Regrettable Practice

Fast forward about 20 years. Many one-room Ontario schools were being closed and children transferred to consolidated, multi-class schools. The strap was taken from the classroom teachers’ desks and placed in the principal’s office.

During this time, I was a vice-principal in a large urban Ontario elementary school for children of army personnel in Kingston, Ontario. It was the 1960s, some years before the strap was banned from Ontario’s schools. Whenever a classroom teacher became fed up with the behavior of one of her students, she would send him to the office where the principal took charge. As the vice-principal it was one of my duties to be a witness when corporal punishment was administered by the principal.

One day a grade six boy was sent to the office for repeatedly swearing at other students in class. He had previously been alerted by the teacher that the student would be sent to him if his cursing happened again. The principal called me out of class. When the boy was asked why he kept swearing, the student blurted out that other students were making him angry. After stating that he was not to swear in class again, the principal barked, “Hold out your hand” Slap! Slap! Pause. Slap! Slap! The door opened and a sobbing grade six boy hurried out of the principal’s office to return to his classroom. The principal returned the regulation strap to his desk drawer as I, the official, reluctant witness to the deed, also departed for my classroom.

Witnessing was a gruesome responsibility that I abhorred. Worst still, neither the principal nor I had any animosity against this sobbing boy. It was his teacher who had reached the end of her patience and declared he should receive the strap.

This official disciplinary weapon was a tough piece of leather 14 ¾ inches long, 1 ½ inches wide and 3/8 inches thick. It was made of the same leather as the belts connected to monster threshing machines and circular wood-cutting saws, and propelled by powerful tractors. Wielded by a strong person it could leave a painful, stinging welt on the upturned hand.

Fortunately, the strap was used sparingly by this principal, who was a quiet, serious man, but a product of his time. It was usually administered as a result of the insistence of the teacher after some student’s serious, repetitive classroom misbehavior after the teacher had run out of disciplinary options. Not surprisingly, it was always an older boy, and never a girl, or young pupil who was the recipient of the two wallops on the palm of each hand with the leather strap.

Eventually I became a principal of four different schools during my career. In each school office there was a regulation strap stored in the principal’s desk, but I never used it. Instead I practised what is now known as “progressive discipline”, which basically entails a series of steps including talking to the student, reviewing the kind of behavior expected, and finding ways to assist the student in controlling his behavior.

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author
Dr. James F. McDonald is a retired elementary school principal who lives in Dundas, ON.
One Response
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    Wilma C. Guzman2 years ago

    I heard this comment from a minister who was a sheep farmer’s daughter: a rod was used to guide the sheep on the right path, not hit and punish them.

    Reply

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