Library Collections: Document: Full Text


Creator: E.R. Johnstone (author)
Date: December 1902
Publication: Journal of Psycho-Asthenics
Source: Available at selected libraries

Next Page   All Pages 

Page 1:


WHEN we remember the number of things parents fear when they bring children to our institutions the wonder is that so many are brought. Only the strong pressure of circumstances, the inability to care for them in the home, etc., forces many reluctantly to the point of bringing the child. The fear is great that this little child who has probably had the greater share of the mother's tenderest love and for whom every member of the family has sacrificed will now be among a lot of young ruffians who will abuse him and otherwise mistreat him, or that he will he placed with a lot of children of much lower grade. Almost without exception parents are sure that their child is brighter than any they see in its group. But the thing that is most feared is the methods of discipline that will be used. It is surprising how many intelligent people there are who associate tortures, dungeons and brutal restraints and punishments with the word institution, even at this late day, and the sensational press tends to foster this idea. "How do you punish your children?" is one of the first questions not only by the parent but by the visitor. Even on the application blanks in reply to the question, -- What methods of discipline have been used? the few who say "whipping" are sure to add, "with poor results" or "it always makes him worse," so great is the fear of bodily harm to the child.


Even we, who see so much of it, can hardly appreciate how solicitous the parents of these stricken children are regarding this question of discipline, but the loving devotion which has kept the child at home altho the burden is almost impossible to bear, excites our deepest sympathy and because our discipline is founded on the most humane principles we welcome the question, knowing that a thorough explanation of our methods will relieve many anxious hearts.


The State of New Jersey in framing the new School Law this year has inserted a clause prohibiting corporal punishment and extending the powers of the law so as to include also all State and Private educational and charitable institutions. While I believe that there are certain rare cases when such punishment administered coolly and without anger is as efficacious as a dose of medicine given by the physician for certain forms of disease, still I think the law good, for in most institutions the power of corporal punishment is restricted to the Superintendent; in his absence he must delegate it to some assistant upon whose judgment, perhaps, he cannot always rely as upon his own. In institutions for the feeble-minded there are but few vicious children. It has been said with much wisdom, "If we knew all we would forgive all."


In considering the question it is well for us to glance for a moment at the way our employes view the matter of punishment.


(a) Some are not beyond the ancient idea that punishment is for revenge, getting even. The person injured is to be satisfied without regard to the one who has done the wrong. He must be paid back in full.


(b)A second class of employes hold the idea that a child is to be punished so that he shall not repeat the offence and that others will also be driven to good behavior by fear of like punishment if they do wrong. Many of our present laws are based on this idea. "We shall make this a lesson to him and to others," they say. I am reminded of Mark Twain's story of the boy who climbed on a high roof and fell and so injured himself that he was a helpless cripple the balance of his life, and people said, "That will be a lesson to him." The deterrent effect on others might be some good but the value to the individual is nil and after all it is the wrong-doer himself whom we must reach. In the minds of this second class then the one who does the wrong and the person wronged are secondary to the desire to protect others. The doctrine of eternal punishment is based upon this idea, also the idea of capital punishment.


(c)There is still another class of our employes, however, who realize that wrong doing is the result of disease or ignorance. The wrong doer himself is the one to be primarily considered and he is to be trained or cured. Herbert Spencer says that, "Punishment can be justified only in so far as it is educative, and to be educative it must never be arbitrary, but must be a natural reaction growing out of the wrong that has been committed." The indeterminate sentence laws which with the growing intelligence of the world are becoming more common, are based upon this idea that disease or ignorance are the causes of violation of law. The chief aim in all discipline should be to correct harm. Unfortunately this is too often not considered at all.


So much for the employe, let us look for a moment at the child's attitude toward punishments. Most of our children assume the same attitude as the first class of employes mentioned. "He hit me. I want to hit him back." "An eye for an eye." In nearly every case the aggrieved one must be satisfied not by having the wrong righted but by causing a like wrong to the guilty party. Studies upon a large number of children, conducted by Earl Barnes and Estella Darrah give the following conclusion.* "Young children under twelve ignore law, therefore rules should not exist in the discipline of the school. Each infraction of the law of right and each act of disobedience should be treated on its individual merits."

Next Page

Pages:  1  2  3  4  5    All Pages