Bullying in Catholic Schools - The Holy Inquisition of Corporal Punishment
Corporal Punishment - the Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Helpless young children being bullied and beaten while their parents standby as willing participants in their suffering and torment. This horror story sounds like some type of satanic ritual or perhaps a terrible tragedy from some far off country at the hands of a ruthless dictator. Unfortunately these bullies were teachers and these events happened throughout the United States during the 1970’s in broad day light and occurred with the full knowledge and support of parents, educators and even law enforcement. The beatings and bullying were simply referred to as corporal punishment.
As a young Irish Catholic I was indoctrinated to believe that anything bad that happened to me was somehow my fault and that I should even feel guilty about it. While attending a parochial school in the late sixties and early seventies, I quickly learned that there was absolutely no tolerance for any type of disobedience or deviant behavior. Any and all infractions were met with swift and severe physical discipline. A teacher once hit me on the head with a ruler simply because I dropped my pencil. For decades I believed that I deserved it since the teacher probably assumed I was nodding off in class.
As the years went on and we progressed through our grades, the discipline and beatings increased exponentially. It became quite apparent that the church felt the need to beat us into submission. There were different discipline styles for different types of teachers. In my school we had various types of teachers including Franciscan Brothers, Nuns, Priests and Lay Teachers. Their discipline consisted of everything from an open-hand slap, to a ruler spanking, to hair-pulling and in some cases even punching! We even had a teacher that would routinely throw chalk at us and once hit a student in the eye. The student, who was in excruciating pain, was immediately whisked off to the nurse’s office where he subsequently got slapped by the Principle for misbehaving and then again by his parents for getting in trouble in school!
There was always some kid getting slapped or hit for something every single day. Sometimes I believe it was just to set the tone for the day. As children we did not realize there was anything wrong with this system. Besides being brainwashed into Catholic guilt, the underlying lesson we were being taught was that life was not fair. You took your beating and then tried to laugh about it later in the school yard. It was the norm. Everyone was hit eventually, some more than others.
Many students were not only repeatedly slapped and punched; many were mentally abused in the most creative ways. Not only was there the wearing of the traditional dunce cap or class clown hat, but there were instances of making people stand in front of the class and perform the most embarrassing activities, anything from singing, making a public apology and sometimes even having to confess to things that we did not do! It was similar to a holy inquisition- confess your sins to receive a lesser punishment - even if you were not guilty!
I too took my fair share of beatings. Some of these fondest memories include being slapped in the face for talking in class, or not knowing an answer. Getting hit on the knuckles with a ruler for poor penmanship and getting hit by a textbook thrown at me for day-dreaming. The amazing thing was that I was one of the better students serving as both an Altar Boy and a student Crossing Guard!
Thinking back after all of these years it is sad to realize that that we were taught to believe it was our fault for being hit. I liken these events to the battered wife syndrome where the victim actually believes that the violence was his or her own fault. I do not know if this corporal punishment successfully molded us into good Christians for which it was intended. However, I do know that our cries were ignored and unheard by many.