Monday, November 14, 2005

Slapping in junior school 1960...The Switch!

At school for junior and senior infants (teacher called it low babies and high babies!) in Clontarf there were about sixty of us in each classroom from 1960-62. We ranged in age from four to seven years old.

The teacher would routinely slap us for disciplinary offences. She had a black leather strap. It was usually three slaps on each hand but could be more depending on the offence. If a child was really bad then he was sent to the principal's office for a punishment which the teacher referred to as The Switch.

Now I didn't know exactly what The Switch was, but the few small children who came back into the classroom after being administered The Switch were a terrifying sight. They were bawling crying and in absolute agony. It made the hairs stand on my head to witness this spectacle of trauma. In a class of sixty children you tended to play in many separated groups and I never got to hear exactly what The Switch was. However, my imagination started to work it out from my various limited experiences....

I was familiar with electric light switches at home and my parents told me that electricity was very dangerous and could kill you. I knew my granny didn't have electricity in her house in the country and many older country folk didn't want it because it was so dangerous. Rural electrification was not yet completed in Ireland. Our house would not have had today's modern safe electric wiring with earthing everywhere and proper circuit breaker protection. So electricity was still a respected, misunderstood and feared energy even by adults.

Also at the time, there was a much older boy called Ian up our road at home who had an electricity experiment set. Ian once used this to electrocute me just for his evil fun! He asked me to hold a few electrodes and he then flicked a large switch. A piercing and frightening pain from a powerful invisible energy bolted though my entire body. I roared out loud. Ian gave a fiendish cackling giggle as he all too slowly flicked back the switch - causing the pain to gratefully and mysteriously vanish instantly.

That must be it, I was sure of it. The Switch in school is controling some kind of electrocution! My mind visualized the bold child being brought into a room where they were connected up to electrodes and wires and then the principal flicked The Switch. A more sinister thought also crept into my mind from the parental warnings on electricity. The Switch in the principal's office might even be powerful enough to kill you. Wow, really scary! I was determined to be as quiet as a mouse in class, it was not worth risking my life.

The image of The Switch suppressed all natural creativity, I was even afraid to ask simple questions in class. I explained my hypothesis of The Switch to some of my close classmates - so I inadvertently scared the hell out of them also! Funny how an incorrect image lingers for a long was only years later when I was told that The Switch was simply the name given to a thin wooden cane for slapping children.

Today even the cane would rightly be unacceptable trauma for children. I went to early school not too concerned about being slapped - but vividly concerned of being executed by electrocution!

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