Culture of violence

refusal to use corporal punishment does not imply a lack of discipline. But in
a society that tolerates violence, its opponents will be marginalised as soft,
interfering do-gooders, says Bob Holman.

as a child I did receive corporal punishment. No, I don’t think it ruined my
life, but it certainly did not do me any good.

in our school used to chant, "Suck it and see". I had no idea what it
meant but I bawled it out when a teacher was passing by. He caned me for being
filthy. I was the kind of pupil who obeyed if teachers raised their voice so
corporal punishment was quite unnecessary. It did stir up resentment in me
against that teacher.

parents never chastised us children. While evacuated with our mum, the bully
with whom we lodged decided to thrash me after I stole from him. Mum gave him a
mouthful, gathered us together and left for London.

that my childhood was in the 1940s, the refusal of my parents to hit us was
unusual. It bred in me the same attitude. My wife, Annette, and I never smacked
our children, although, at times, I felt like doing so. The refusal to use
corporal punishment does not imply a lack of discipline. Reason, heated
discussions and the application of non-violent sanctions may be harder to
administer than smacking. But the outcome is worthwhile in regard to the
emotional development of children.

the last 25 years, I have lived in areas where violence is not uncommon. One
ghastly occasion started when we were visiting our sick son in hospital. On our
return, we found that the youth club’s money had been stolen from our house.
Suspicion fell on a teenager who was often in our home and who had a record of
thieving. He could not be found and his mum said she would get the truth out of
him. When other kids told me he was back, I found his mum beating him – and
still he would not confess. I stopped it, saying I would rather lose the money.
As a result, I became unpopular with neighbours, calling me a wimp for letting
the boy get away with it. Corporal punishment had achieved nothing except to
alienate the boy from his mum and me from the community. The postscript is that
later he returned the money and 20 years on we are still friends.

my childhood and work experiences make me opposed to the smacking and hitting
of children. Parents, residential staff, foster carers and minders should be
prohibited from inflicting corporal punishment. Children who are severely
beaten have to be taken to a place of safety. However, the prohibition should
not be employed automatically as a means of removing children from their
parents in all cases. Some parents have had personal upbringings and live in
environments that are steeped in smacks. A mother clouted her child and then
came to our local project weeping that he would be "lifted" by the
authorities. Her partner had left her, she was unemployed and in debt, and,
when it all got too much, she lashed out. Having lived close to her for years
and knowing that she really does care for her children, I do not consider that
removing them would benefit anyone. Far better to relieve some of the pressures
on the family and to draw the mother and children into relationships with other
residents who are able to cope without hitting.

against corporal punishment is necessary but not sufficient. As long as Britain
is a society that tolerates certain forms of violence, then the opponents of
corporal punishment will be marginalised as soft, interfering do-gooders. The
cult of violence is evident in computer games in which success means destroying
images of people, in football hooliganism on and off the pitch, in abuse
against women and in fighting outside pubs. Every night so much violence is
spewed out on TV screens that the message is that hitting, injuring and killing
others is not just acceptable but fun. Even worse, it is seen in the bombing of
children in Afghanistan and the sale of arms to aggressive nations. Sadly both
these forms of violence obtain the approval of some MPs who go on about the
dangers of smacking.

hero is George Lansbury, leader of the Labour Party in the 1930s. He was
against corporal punishment when it was virtually taken for granted. Moreover,
he was a pacifist and, when it came to a choice between his principles and his
political career, he chose the former. We need people like him today in order
to build a culture of non-violence.

Holman is author of Champions for Children – the Lives of Modern Child Care
, Policy Press, 2001

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