by Jim Nelson on July 26, 2022
The strap was a two-inch wide, two feet long piece of cross-hatched fabric, covered in rubber.
In the sixties, it wasn’t legal to whack kids with anything else…. at least in the sixties. If you wanted to whack kids, scare them, hurt them, have them hate you and forfeit any chance to have them own their education, only the strap could be used, only by the Principal or designate, and then only according to the strictest of procedures, laid out in the School Act.
In years past, too many Principals and teachers had been freelancing with their own weapons of discipline. They would whack kids with pointers, yardsticks, specially made canes, and pieces of wood with “Board of Education” written on them. That was supposed to be funny –to take the edge off the fact that if you didn’t follow instructions just so, you might be whacked.
P. E. teachers were famous for the “Board of Education”. “Bend over Fred”, the teacher would say if Fred was late or didn’t have his gym strip or if he was the last to come in when summoned.
Sometimes it would be a whack in earnest, sometimes a big windup and just a gentle hit, as a “joke”. Inflicting physical pain was not as important as was establishing dominance and the fear of ridicule and humiliation. One never knew if one would be whacked in earnest or in jest, and a really good PE teacher could parlay this uncertainty into total control and run a very tight ship without ever really having to strike in anger.
As bad as this seems, P.E. teachers weren’t the worst in terms of corporal punishment. They were usually younger and a bit more “happening” than their classroom counterparts. They at least wanted kids to participate fully and get something out of their subject. They were on the far end of the “compliance is everything “scale, but generally their goal was just that – to get kids to comply without question. The threat of getting whacked with the “Board of Education” was always there but was more often used with faux anger and ridicule than in earnest.
In most regular classrooms, the threat of being whacked was less overt, so when the teacher lost his or her temper and really hit someone, it was a big, scary deal. No one said anything for a long time.
During the sixties, it became clear to the Ministry of Education that informal corporal punishment wasn’t always used prudently and that in a civilized society, one needs to explore different ways of achieving discipline. After some high-profile whining by some parents, the Ministry’s answer was to regulate the beatings, so they would be appropriately carried out and fair ; not inflicted by any Tom, Dick, or Harriet, but by the Principal of the school or his or her designate.
Each strapping was to be witnessed by a teacher. Strappings had to be recorded in a government issued logbook for the purpose and both strapper and witness had to sign in the appropriate place before the beating could begin.
This was seen by the Ministry as an assurance that the beatings were consistent and fair.
From here on, the information is second hand and of questionable veracity. The stories told about strapping are legion, and I’m sure that some strap lore needs to be taken with a grain of salt.
Part of Inman Avenue strap lore was the proclivity of the Principal to “take a run at it” and actually leave his feet to increase strap speed, like a golfer trying to lag the club for more power.
Some claimed to have moved their hand just before impact, making the Principal whiff completely and injure himself.
Some said they would lay an open Bible on your wrist so the strap would only hit the hand and not the wrist, where welting and other damage could occur.
Some claimed to have put a hair on their hand during the wind up, causing the strap to drive the hair into the palm and break the skin, causing bleeding, thus, by statute, ending the beating.
There was lots of discussion about whether crying helped shorten the beating or not, though most claimed to have borne their beating stoically. No one was going to “break” them, they said or implied.
A common thread when discussing strap experiences was the exaggeration of the number of blows received. If one had to be beaten, it seemed only fair that one could represent two whacks as five on each hand, allowing the number of blows to increase depending on the numbers of blows cited by others. It was also important to treat the punishment as cavalierly as possible, as if it was water off a duck’s back.
“Huh? What did you say? Oh, the strap? Yeah, I got five on each hand, no big deal…”
There were discussions about how much the strapper loved administering the punishment and how abusive one had heard he was to his spouse at home…
“If you think the strap is bad, you should see how badly he beats his wife….”
Most straps had seen enough action that the rubber had started to wear off and the fabric underneath could be seen, especially on the edges, where the strap saw the most trauma. On one end was cut a handle, – two scalloped cuts, which allowed for a firm grip, even at maximum wielding speed.
In addition to the the strap lore of the students, was the strap lore some teachers shared over bad coffee from the Bunn coffee serving system.
“ You remember that jerk, Joe Switz? Yeah, well Mr. McGillicuddy strapped him to within an inch of his life – you won’t hear him mouthing off any more…”
“In those days we had some discipline – not like today. I got strapped three times and it never hurt me…. “
“ Nowadays we don’t have any way to discipline a student. They’ve taken away everything we used to have to maintain a little control around here….”
Sadly, for the unskilled educator, the strap was outlawed in B.C. schools in 1972, having fallen into disuse as modern educators explored other ways of commanding the unquestioning compliance of students.
When I was first appointed Vice Principal of a large high school, I found, in the bottom desk drawer of the veteran, V.P. I was replacing, a government issued strap, which I have to this day.
I often showed it to students, explaining to their horror and incredulity,
that this was what we used to beat kids with in the old days.
If there was any better way of making school ridiculous than with the wielding of a government issued strap, I can’t think of it.
If there is any better way of cementing an adversarial relationship between student and educator than the threat of a ritual beating, I can’t think of it.
There is nothing about which I am less proud as an educator, than the fact that there was a time when educators were incompetent enough to think that beating children was a reasonable thing to do.
Jim Nelson, July 26, 2022