Spare the Rod – Harper’s Bazar (1867)

From the November 23. 1867 edition of Harper’s Bazar, pg. 50:

Spare the Rod

“Spare the rod, and spoil the child,” says Solomon, which the severe interpret to mean literally the laying on of the birch, the rattan, and the cat o’nine tails, but which the amiable explain as having merely a figurative signification. These humanely say that the wise King understood by the rod a symbol of discipline, and in advising that it be not spared in the bringing up of the young meant that they were not to be treated with too much indulgence. We confess ourselves in favor of the less rigid interpretation, and as altogether opposed to the use of physical violence in any form whatsoever.

A resort to the rod, is the most impotent conclusion of discipline. It is a confession of the want of that moral power which the superior in authority should always possess over the subordinate. It is the exercise of a physical might which is sure to leave with those who may feel its weight a sense of wrong and oppression. Neither could be more fatal to the affectionate relations which should always exist between parent and child, pupil and teacher, and which are so necessary to make the one patient and the other docile.

A resort to the rod, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, is merely an excuse for laziness or impatience. Without energy or perseverance to pursue a systematic course of moral training, the parent or teacher avails himself of the ready resource supplied by his superiority of muscle. It is so easy to raise an arm or wield a stick! The mere brutal force of man’s nature gives that power, and to use it does not even require premeditation. It comes with the flash of anger; for the instinct to wound accompanies the irritation of the human as it does that of other brutes. The blow is doubtless the easier process, and not a disagreeable one to the administrator; for it may be made to fall very heavy on the weak without much cost of effort to the strong, and affords a sensible relief to the pressure of passion. If it were only effective in its purpose the use of it might be conceded to the parent and teacher for its evident facility of application and the gratification it seems to give them. But it is not effective. Virtue and learning to be pursued must be loved, and we are yet to learn that the association of the painful and disagreeable – and to the child the rod, the birch, and the cat o’ nine tails are probably both, however enjoyed by those who apply them – is favorable to strength of attachment.

The moral and intellectual discipline of the child is certainly no easy matter, and the sooner the parent or teacher makes up his mind to it the better it will be for all. He should understand that it is not the summary process of a blow given in a spasm of passion, but a serious business, requiring time and patience.

The use of the rod begets an awe of the parent which never leaves the child, so that when he advances in life, if he becomes superior to fear, he yet feels toward father or mother a reserve which prevents that intimate companionship which is the best safeguard of youth against the dangers of the world.

It is not safe to trust the strong with the power of exercising their animal force upon the weak. Parents, though controlled by all the supposed influence of natural affection, have not seldom perverted this claimed privilege to a violence which has even resulted in death. How much greater, then, the risk of trusting the teacher, who has not, and does not profess to have, a love for his pupils! In France there is a law which forbids the application of physical violence to the child under any pretext whatsoever, and the rod is not only thus banished from every school throughout the empire, but from every home but the most brutalized. The use of it is regarded as the practice of any other gross vice. The relations between parent and child, teacher and pupil, are nowhere more tender, and their union more abiding, than in France.

The law should interfere also in our country, and make it a penal offense for any teacher or other than a parent, and perhaps even for him, to raise his hand to a child. With the present license there is what must be considered by those even in favor of the rod excessive abuse. Those who were not supposed to be cruel by nature, and who even have passed in the ordinary relations of life for benevolent men, have as teachers been guilty, unconsciously it may be, of the greatest inhumanity. A late learned professor, whose disposition is said to have been naturally kindly, issues, when master of a school, this edict: “The last five boys of the class at the end of each day’s lesson shall be caned.” The fault, if a fault, was inevitable, and the penalty certain. Could the severe Draco himself ever have conceived so cruel as law as this?

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About barefootbetsy

I'm a musician, a mama, a lifelong lover of learning, a seeker of truth, and an avid barefooter.
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