SIR,-The Rev. Gerald Flanagan broaches the question of corporal punishment in schools and asks what St. John Baptist de La Salle's opinion was on the subject.
"The correction of pupils," wrote the Saint, "is one of the most important things to be done in school, and one which requires the greatest care in order that it may be timely and beneficial." So important and necessary did he consider it, that he devoted a chapter of 40 pages to the subject in his Conduct of Schools (a book of 217 pages), and a chapter of 13 paragraphs in the Rule of the Order. Having thus laid down the conditions to be observed, and having hedged the subject round with every possible precaution, the Saint was prepared to admit corporal punishment. When reprimands and mild penances proved ineffective, the ferule and even the rod might be brought into play.
This is the direct answer to the question asked, but it is entirely misleading as it stands. It must be viewed in its historical perspective if we are to obtain an insight into the mind of the Saint, and to know what he would advocate today.
When De La Salle wrote, in the 1680's. corporal punishment was the normal thing. Even the Kings of France, in their boyhood days, were given copious doses of it by their tutors. The most casual acquaintance with the customs of the time make it clear that what De La Salle prescribed was extremely mild in comparison with what was actually practised. We should remember also that the rules he laid down were for the schools of the poorer classes, wherein boys were of the toughest type, with little or no family upbringing.
There can be no doubt that the directions of De La Salle in this matter are no guide whatsoever for us today. What we have to consider is the spirit in which he wrote, and this makes it obvious than were he living today, he would not tolerate corporal punishment. The religious of his order, in fact, have interpreted him in this sense, and have abolished such measures from all their schools.
As for corporal punishment in the case of adult criminals, which seems to be the question of the moment, the problem is one for the magistrates rather than the teachers. The teacher has to deal with the question from the other end, that is to say, with the training of the young in order to prevent them from becoming criminals, and not with the punishment of those who have already become such. In this matter De La Salle is an excellent model. He organised the first reformatory school (St. Yon, 1710) wherein youths were brought back to the straight way after a bad start. There was no question of corporal punishment, but educative methods of a different sort were used, and most effectively.
W. J. Baftershy.
Casa Generalizia dei Fratelli, Via Aurelia 476, Rome.