Library Collections: Document: Full Text


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


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."


*Studies in Education, Earl Barnes, -- Stanford University, 1897.


Our discipline must be based upon the law of loving kindness. Perhaps the most effective way to keep good discipline is to provide occupation. A busy child interested in his work needs no punishment.


The institution life should be full of special privileges. If this idea can be firmly grasped by the employes to the extent that everything that a child is ever called upon to do is a privilege, means of discipline are always at hand. It is only a matter of depriving the child of one of these privileges. The child who doesn't make a bed nicely is not permitted to make another. Tommy gets that privilege now and if Willie "doesn't care" he is not permitted to make any to-morrow, but sits idle while the other boys do his work. It is this idleness that hurts. I have yet to find the child who has sense enough to make a bed who doesn't want to do it, if he finds all of the others doing it and he is constantly reminded that he cannot do it. Nothing so rouses the desire to do as to be told that we cannot do. With new attendants it is often hard to make them appreciate this fact but it simply becomes a question of who will hold out the longest, the child or the employe, and I have never yet known it to fail when the attendant persists. As this idea gradually worked out I often thought I had reached its limitations, but it still expands. It is no longer a mere theory, but the most practical method of discipline I have found.


The merry-go-round, the trip to the Zoo, the ride in the donkey wagon, entertainments, parties, club meetings, skating, etc. all form excellent means of discipline.


The Superintendent who makes it a point to speak to every child who addresses him can help the discipline a great deal by saying, "I cannot say good-morning to you to-day because you have done (or neglected to do) certain things," etc. We have several groups in which children of a certain grade may live only so long as they live up to a standard of behavior. Attendance at band or various of the shops or classes is only permitted while behavior is especially good and work in other departments well done.


Sometime ago there was presented to the Iowa Board of Control a paper on paying inmates of institutions and many plans were given. At that time our system was in its infancy. Since then, however, we have found it admirable and it may be of interest to outline it here. It is not meant to be payment for services rendered, but rather as a method of discipline and we find that not only are children working cheerfully, well behaved, but also that well behaved children usually do good work. We pay a number of our children each week, amounts varying from one to five cents. Each child brings from every department in which he lives or works, a credit slip which signifies that he has worked well or behaved well for the week. No slips of discredit are given -- the lack of a slip signifies that the child has not been good, etc. He is not told that he gets no slip because he was bad, but because he was not good. There is a vast difference in the two ways of putting it.


If A. works in the Laundry and Shoe-Shop and also milks, he must bring four slips, one from each of the above, and one from his attendant. If his allowance is three cents per week and he comes with only three slips, then he gets three-fourths of three cents (two and one-fourth cents). We can use fractions of a cent because candies, nuts, etc., are sold so many for a cent.


Each Saturday night in one of the rooms a table is tastefully arranged with candies, nuts, ribbons, etc., etc., and the children come in groups to buy. This, coming as it does once each week, keeps the training idea constantly before them. The children's interest does not seem to lag. The whole thing is an excellent means of breaking up small habits and helps general discipline wonderfully.


Encouragement must he at the bottom of all lessons. Our employes must learn not to say 'don't' if they will succeed in their discipline. Down through the years, mankind lived under the rule, "Thou shalt not" until Christ preached the Gospel of encouragement when he said, "Thou shalt." The successes of a child must he noted rather than the failures. Let the blue pencil and the colored chalk mark in all lessons the Correct thing and then instead of finding their pages marked with failures, each mark dragging the discouraged little soul deeper in the mire of dissatisfaction, they will bristle with approbation and encouragement and brighter faces and happier dispositions will result. It is scarcely realized how much wrong doing on the part of the child is really caused by a headache or an attack of indigestion on the part of an employe. A quiet voice, an even temper, pretty and clean surroundings, good ventilation, encouragement, employment, everything a special privilege, these are the requisites for good discipline.


I am sorry I cannot recall the name of the author of the following lines, but if the spirit contained therein is kept in the hearts of those who have to do with feeble-minded children, they will not go astray.


"My little son who looks from thoughtful eves,
And moves and speaks in serious, grown up wise
Having my law the seventh time disobeyed,
I struck him and dismissed
With harsh words and unkissed;
(His mother, who was patient, being dead. --)
Then fearing lest his grief should hinder sleep
I visited his bed
And found his lashes yet
With his late sobbing, wet.
Then I, with moan,
Kissing away his tears, left others of my own,
For on a table, drawn
Beside his bed, he had placed within his reach
A box of counters and a red-veined Stone,
A piece of glass abraided by the beach
And six or seven shells,
A bottle of blue bells
And four French coins, ranged there with careful art
To comfort his sad heart.
So when that night I prayed
To God, I wept, and said,
Ah, when we lie at last with trance'd breath,
Not vexing thee in death
And Thou rememberest
The toys
That made our joys,'
Then, fatherly not less than I
Who am moulded out of clay,
Thou'lt leave Thy wrath and say,
'I will be sorry for their childishness.'"




Dr. Rogers: I think this is a valuable paper and the spirit is excellent. It is always a delicate matter to discuss this subject of corporal punishment, we are so liable to be misunderstood. That corporal punishment is sometimes necessary is a point upon which we will all agree, yet, as a general statement, I do not believe in corporal punishment. I have found cases in my experience where I believed it was absolutely necessary. I do not allow any person to strike a child. If I know that it is done I discharge the employe unless it is done in self-defense. I do not recall more than two cases of the latter kind, both being cases of attack upon the attendant by boys with articles of furniture. I believe there should be rigid rules for the protection of the management and they should be understood. The first is that if there is to be any punishment it should he given by the superintendent and by no one else. I carry that out rigidly. I know there has been much trouble in some institutions that has resulted from delegating that power to others. Another point is that if a case is reported where severe discipline is needed it is important that it shall not be administered at once. It can always be postponed twenty-four hours. It is an interesting fact that we may view the situation very differently after a few hours reflection. In that time the child may be honestly repentant and need no punishment. I think the public should understand these rules. The only real trouble I ever had over severe discipline was when I whipped a boy and neglected to inform his parents. The boy informed the parents himself. I believe I did the proper thing for the boy, but I should have told them. He was a great strong boy physically, and had simply domineered over his associates -- farm boys -- and his attendants, who were forbidden by me to punish him, until the limit of forbearance was reached. His mother insisted upon taking him home. I said that I would like to have the boy taken before the board of trustees and let them see what had been done and hear the reason and then if she cared to take him home it was all right. This was done and the boy went home. A week later I had a letter in which she said she would like to return him under certain conditions. I replied that he could not be returned under any conditions except to be treated as I thought best. Within a month she sent him back under my conditions and he has been a splendid boy ever since. That is a typical case where I believe punishment was required. He came from a home where there was no control. In fact, I understand, he pounded his mother during the time she had him home after my punishment and I presume this treatment was a powerful argument with her in my favor. It is an extremely rare case where corporal punishment is required. Mr. Johnstone expresses the proper spirit in relation to our children.


Mr. Johnstone: The general public would not approve of whipping a feeble-minded child.


Dr. Wilmarth: We should never whip a boy unless we are sure it will be for the child's good. It is not a question of defying public opinion. I do not think we should ever whip a child.


Question: Do you think you should always notify the parents in advance?


Dr. Rogers: If I could not do it before I would do it at once. I should notify any parent who took any interest in his child. I believe frankness is due to the public and to the friends. It may make resentment for a while, but the community will see the justice of it and that establishes confidence in the institution.


Mr. Johnson: I think as a matter of policy it is a great mistake for a superintendent to do it himself.


Dr. Rogers: I believe it is a responsibility the superintendent should take. I believe no one else should do it. It is the most disagreeable thing and the very fact that he takes the responsibility will make it a thing of seldom occurrence. It is the most disagreeable thing I ever did in my life.


Mr. Johnson: I think he should delegate it.


Mr. Johnstone: I ordered it done once by a person in whom I had confidence and I found afterwards two other punishments by the same employe under circumstances he thought justifiable.


Dr. Rogers: I had the same experience where I deputed minor punishment.


Mr. Johnson: One has to be careful in delegating punishment of course. I once had occasion to tell an attendant to punish a boy who had strayed away by giving him a bath and putting him to bed. It was Thursday. On Sunday he asked if the boy were to go to Sunday school. Inquiry showed that the boy was still in bed. His only excuse was that I had told him to put the boy to bed and had not told him to take him out.


Dr. Keating: When a child is brought to me for admission I make it understood that I am to have authority over the child. If I see fit to give corporal punishment I must give it, and I have yet to find the slightest opposition on the part of the parent. I am opposed to corporal punishment, but I reserve the right to administer it. I do not recall but one case where I ever resorted to it. That was a runaway. He told the neighbors that if he were caught I would give him a thrashing, and I told him that if he ran away again I would. The boy did not go for six months. I thought he had for gotten what I said, but when he was brought back I asked if he recollected. He replied, "Yes, you said you would whip me." I said "I am very sorry to do it, but I am a man of my word," and I got a switch and whipped the boy and he has never run away since. While I am opposed to it, if it must be given it should be given only by the head of the institution. If an employe or any subordinate officer administered punishment without my permission his resignation would be immediately asked.


Dr. Rogers: I do not believe that a person can administer corporal punishment without injury to himself. It is a matter of history that one who is placed where he is obliged to administer corporal punishment feels that it has a thoroughly demoralizing effect upon himself. Prison managers admit this.


Dr. Polglase: I never thought of it in that way.


Dr. Rogers: He can not do it without injuring his moral nature. I think this consciousness would deter a man many times.


Mr. Johnstone: My first experience in corporal punishment was in a reform school where we all used a strip of rubber about the size of my thumb. The first time it shocked me. I was pretty young at that time. At the end of two months I woke to the fact that it did not mean anything to me to whip those boys. I was no longer shocked. I feel pretty strongly now and I would not like ever to get into that condition again. The demoralizing effect on myself was something awful.


Dr. Polglase: I think the times for corporal punishment are very few. The longer we live with these children the more we distinguish certain types. There are the children who are cruel and bloodthirsty and when a boy attempts to burn up a building or do some cruel thing I think a dose of his own medicine is all right for him. Dr. Keating has spoken of runaways. I do not think whipping is a deterrent for them. If a boy has assumed a false dignity among his fellows and falls from his high estate and does something deserving of punishment I should put him at some manual labor that he dislikes. Every boy should feel that you are sorry to administer punishment. I have one boy who runs away and no punishment would have any effect upon him. It is an impulse that he can not control. I think nothing would stop him unless he were tied. So I keep him constantly in dresses. He will not run away with a girl's dress on.


Dr. Rogers: Another point to be considered in handling young people is that there is a period in the boy's life when he assumes a spirit of bravado. That is as true among feeble-minded boys as among strong-minded. It is an age habit. The boy if wisely treated will outgrow that.


Mr. Johnstone: I do not think our discipline should consider the idea of punishing for the offence committed but to prevent its being done the next time. Do not let there be a next time. Whatever is done should be with the idea of making the boy better, so that there will be no repetition of the of. fence. Whipping for the offence lasts only as long as the smarting lasts.


Dr. Polglase: We had a boy whom we trusted to do many things and he ran away. We gave him some slight discipline, deprived him of dessert or something of that kind. He ran away a second time. He had a great aversion to working inside the low grade buildings and had a contempt for that class of children. He was told that if he would do such things he must mingle with them and I put him there to work. I do not think there was ever a more humble individual. He begged time and again to be taken out and after I thought the dose was heavy enough I let him out and put him to work. He may run away again; I cannot tell anything about it, but in the meantime I trust him. When I trust I trust fully.


Dr. Keating: If you punish a child by giving him a disagreeable task and he refuses to do it what punishment would you give for that?


Dr. Polglase: I do not know that I have ever had such a case. I should not force him to do it at once.


Mr. Johnstone: Hasn't it a had effect on the boys who do that work regularly to have their employment looked upon as a punishment? Why should not they say, 'Why must I do this every day when I am good, if it is a punishment for a had boy?"


Dr. Polglase: It would have a bad effect unless you made an explanation.


Mr. Johnson: We say to a boy that he has proved by his conduct that he is not in the right place for him; that he belongs in division "Six" and so in he goes. If I want to be very forcible I have his clothes marked "6."


Dr. Fernald: Is not that the best way, simply to transfer them to a low grade department without any words? Let them draw their own inference. That takes the bravado out quicker than anything else. In regard to punishing feeble-minded boys I never could see why we had any moral right to administer punishment to a feeble-minded boy more than to an insane person. In no country in the world would corporal punishment be tolerated for the insane. Presumably the mistakes of the feeble-minded are due to mental irresponsibility and is it not unfair to punish them for that? It is a short cut, there is no question about that, but I never have been able to see the difference between them and the insane in that respect.


Dr. Wilmarth: If punishment is to improve the child why should you not punish him as you would your own children?


Dr. Fernald: That would apply to adults.


Dr. Wilmarth: It is to strengthen the child's will. When it is done in a kindly spirit, a just spirit, a spirit of love toward the child and solely for its good and the child so recognizes it then it strikes me that punishment is justifiable.


Dr. Rogers: There is all the difference in the world between the adult and the adolescent. Penologists have agreed that with very rare exceptions it never pays to whip an adult, while it might be beneficial to whip a child. When we speak of an insane person we refer to an adult.


Dr. Fernald: Nothing hurts an institution more than to whip an inmate.


Dr. Keating: The errors committed by the insane are from delusions. I do not think the infraction of rules by boys is from delusion; it is usually from cussedness. Why should you not punish a boy who knows that he is doing wrong? In the case of the boy I whipped it hurt me more than the boy and I think that impressed him. I did it only as a last resort.


Dr. Simcoe: My observation has been that there is as much whipping in insane asylums as in feeble-minded institutions. The employes do it. I have had four years' experience in a State asylum for the insane and I dare say that there is more punishment going on in insane asylums that the superintendent knows nothing about than ever was in a feeble-minded institution.


Mr. Johnstone: You may not know how much is going on in the institution of which you are superintendent.


Dr. Simcoe: I am a firm believer in not letting institutions get too big, for a superintendent cannot know what is going on in a big institution. I was raised in an insane asylum town and I knew what was going on when I was growing up.


Dr. Rogers: After all I think we agree on the essential points. An irresponsible person, be it child or adults should certainly never be whipped. It is only in those rare cases in our work where we recognize responsibility, and then only as a last resort, that it should ever be employed. In the case I mentioned there had been months of patient effort, and a variety of minor methods of discipline employed without avail before the dose was administered.