1The practice of corporal punishment is as old as mankind; in contrast with this lengthy tradition, the criminalization of physical discipline is extremely recent. Although there have been controversies about such practices in schools, the United Kingdom is renowned for continuing with corporal punishment even after the 1970s. Caning had been particularly prevalent in all-boys schools, whereas girls were caned (or tawsed, in Scotland) in exceptional circumstances and only on the hands; the people who were authorized to apply it, whether publicly or in the headmaster's office, varied widely from one school to another.
2The justifications were partly related to religion; the Bible states through Solomon: “He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes” (Prov. 13: 24) and: “Thou shalt beat [your son] with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell,” which takes us back to the ancient axiom, prevalent until the Enlightenment, that children were intrinsically evil, and that sin should be extracted from their body and soul by such means. Christian history recounts numerous examples of expiatory rituals based on flagellation. Yet, the main goal was doubtless to inscribe the law right onto the flesh of the subject and thus restore hierarchy, which connects corporal punishment in schools and in the navy (until 1881), while it was even ordered by the courts for minor criminal offences until 1948. Pain appeared to be an efficient way of obtaining compliance, and the scars left by twelve cuts served as reminders of the offence and the punishment. In addition, public ceremonies aimed at edifying both the victim and those attending the sanction through a visual manifestation of power and hierarchy. This does not account however for the constancy with which, in spite of a global fall in violence within liberal democracies, British teachers continued to flog their pupils until 1999 in certain independent institutions (Farrell, 2008). Another reason may have been at work in elite schools, one which has been less often pointed to by historians of corporal punishment. According to Agnès Millot, corporal punishment may have tacitly symbolised a kind of rite of passage restricted to boys, designed to toughen their body and build their characters cultivating the "stiff upper lip" which would eventually produce a new member of the ruling class (Millot 2013).
3Voices hostile to these practices had however been raised for a long time. As early as the 1st Century, Quintilian and Plutarch emphasised that corporal punishment infringed on a free being's dignity: “children ought to be led to honourable practices by means of encouragement and reasoning, and most certainly not by blows or ill-treatment for it surely is agreed that these are fitting rather for slaves than for the free-born” (Plutarch 40-41).
4Later on, the Enlightenment championed the notion of natural right and found such a manner of discipline to be incompatible with the development of a free citizen. John Locke bluntly criticised it in his treatise Some Thoughts Concerning Education (1693), which became a milestone of the philosophy of education; this influenced Rousseau's Emile (1762), while theories of what began to be called “progressive education” began to appear at the turn of the 20th century, from pedagogues like John Dewey, Rudolf Steiner, Maria Montessori, Beatrice Ensor and all those who militated under the banner of the International League for New Education (1921). Such associations, along with UNESCO and various UN-related organisations and STOPP (Society of Teachers Opposed to Physical Punishment) in Britain, worked hand in hand to obtain the abolition of physical sanctions both in schools and also within families. This did not however put an end to controversies. According to a recent survey, 49% of British parents wish to see corporal punishment brought back in schools for the worst offenders (Graeme 2011).
5As a teacher, Lawrence surely had the opportunity to attend, if not to be involved in such customs. Depicting Ursula's experience as a teaching assistant, the narrator of The Rainbow makes no bones about his rejection of corporal punishment, which is presented as a means for bullying, undermining both the pupil and the teacher's dignity. However, Lawrence sketches a theory in “Education of the People” (1918) that he fully unfolds in Fantasia of the Unconscious (1922), according to which spanking children appears as a far more wholesome way of bringing up children than benevolence, rational discussion, and gentle persuasion. In other terms, he argues that progressive education is just as pernicious as plain bullying. Our aim is therefore to present the reasons given by Lawrence for his condemnation of both traditional and progressive education.
6On reading the chapter “The World of Man” in The Rainbow, where Ursula’s experience as a teaching assistant is depicted, Lawrence appears as a staunch opponent of corporal punishment. St Philips School is described as a penitentiary, separated by its walls and darkened windows from the rest of the world, to such a point that at playtime, seeing the blue sky above the walls seems "just a fantasy, a piece of painted scenery” (R 356-57). In such an institution, a teacher's primary task is less that of a pedagogue than that of a jail warden. Mr Harby, the head-teacher, is shown using a whistle, shouting orders in a martial tone to make children line up and enter the main room in the order of their grade’s number, as perfectly ordered “columns” or “squadron[s]” (R 348), walking to the rhythm of a “march tune” (R 3349).In the memory of readers today, this description may immediately conjure up what Michel Foucault called “disciplinary society,” in Discipline and Punish, an order that confines people in narrowly enclosed institutions and in strictly ordered spaces, in order to turn human beings into bodies that will function in factories, ordered military regiments, and school classrooms. The glass partitions separating each class, which every teacher must keep controlled, are spread out under the watchful panopticon-like attention of Mr Harby, who sits on an overhanging platform in the main room, coming in and out of classrooms whenever he wants.
7Acknowledging the fundamental disparity between an abstract set of rules and knowledge and the vivacious diversity of living beings, traditional pedagogy focuses much more on discipline than on the task of cultivating young people. Since the process is unnatural, it cannot be anything but forceful and brutal: “Children will never naturally acquiesce to sitting in a class and submitting to knowledge” (R 356). Ursula is blamed for not keeping a “tighter hand” over her class, and her pupils’ progress is assessed less in terms of their knowledge and fluency, than for their willingness to respect the rules: “since she had come, the composition books had grown more and more untidy, disorderly, filthy” (R 364). Harby thus sets himself the task of expelling her from the institution, in so far as he perceives her as a grain of sand in the gears of his system.
8The primary task of the teacher is to bring all scholars into subjection, who must be moulded to fit an unnatural order, that of an “abstract angularity” (R 347). Time is completely rationalised: a “toneless bell tang-tanged drearily” (R 348), “a clock ticked re-echoing” (R 346); space is strictly partitioned, for even in the teachers' room, the newcomer is told shortly after her arrival that she must put her coat on the right peg of the row, even if, to her, they are all strictly identical: “Standard Five Teacher always has this” (R 344). Ursula will soon have to understand that her mission is to force an external, idealistic order onto the children, no more no less. “Children [...] must be compelled by a stronger, wiser will. Against which will they must always strain to revolt. So that the first great effort of every teacher of a large class must be to bring the will of the children into accordance with his own will” (R 356). This involves a constant antagonism between wills, and interpersonal transactions are exclusively based on power and domination.
9Consequently, a process of dis-individualization and massification of the children becomes the primary aim of teachers. Most of the time, the anonymous scholars are referred to through metonymies, “There was a smell of wet clothing, a tossing out of wet, dragged hair, a noise of voices and feet” (R 348), “fifty pale, still faces watching her, a hundred round eyes fixed on her in an attentive, expressionless stare [...] their hands working in unison” (R 371). This mass is totally depersonalised, in so far as diversity and singularity are erased, the goal being to “reduce sixty children to one state of mind, or being” (R 355), and fuse them into “an automatic state of obedience and attention” (ibid.). Further on in the text, they are described as “a certain material” that she needs to model (R 356).
10In such a mechanistic system, any manifestation of something like individuality is harshly chastised. The straight-looking, geometrical cane is the tool by means of which order is conscientiously maintained. A child who will give a correct answer without having been permitted to speak will be beaten. If some pupils are singled out by their name, it is merely because they were noticed as unruly, the cane is therefore a way of erasing difference. During the striking scene in which Ursula thrashes Williams, the narrator provides numerous terms through which the boy is likened to a subhuman creature: “He had a kind of leech-like power [...] rat-like boy [...] eyes like the eyes of a fish [...] the hideous writhing thing [...] making inarticulate noises [...] a mad thing [...] he rushed at her, his teeth and eyes glinting [...] he was a beast thing [...] a beaten beast lay there yelling [...] like a beaten rat” (R 368-72). As soon as she has demonstrated that she could, through a spectacular display of authority, break the will of the most headstrong individuals, the children are reduced to “unison” (ibid.) and order. Since she was seen brandishing the phallic symbol of masterhood, Harby, who used to despise her for her inefficiency, now begins to hate her, “almost as if she were a man” (R 376).
11In the disciplinary society, the cornerstone of which is corporal punishment, not only are the children dehumanized, the process is also undergone by the teachers. In spite of herself, Ursula is cornered into partaking of this vicious order of things, because power in the school is organised as a pyramid of authority where nobody can escape from bullying those placed lower in the hierarchy. For structural reasons, a teacher is pressured in such a manner that (s)he has no other option than to live “in the ignominious position of an upper servant hated by the master above and the class beneath” (R 354). Hating their master, hating their subordinates, getting no help either from above or below, it is said that teachers “fanned their hatred among themselves” (351), making any hope for solidarity just inconceivable, as “in school, it was power and power alone that mattered” (ibid.). The perversion is such that Harby will challenge the young inexperienced teacher's authority in front of the children, in order to support the claim that he is the one and only master in the school. He will therefore do his best to expose her inefficiency and incompetence by denying her any means of successfully completing her task. He will furthermore set the formidable mass of children against her, not only refusing her any help or support but thrashing them under pretexts that will make them feel that they are beaten for her own lack of control over them. As a result, the pupils will turn against her as “a weaker representative of authority” (R 355) and blame her for the agony exerted upon them by the headmaster. Ursula eventually experiences a boy's whacking as if she were submitted to it herself. She is brought to realize that she has no other choice than to be “the same – put away her personal self, become an instrument, an abstraction” (R 356). While using the cane on Williams, Ursula appears mechanistic, blind, cold and pale, almost unconscious, as if she had been turned into a robot, executing orders given by an impersonal hellish imperative. Utterly violated, broken into a state where she collaborates with this system of submission, she must sacrifice the warm, living, independent part of herself and exert power in order to survive: “She was like a young filly that has been broken in to the shafts, and has lost its freedom” (R 377), “Something had broken in her; she had passed a crisis. Williams was beaten, but at a cost” (R 372).
12The irony is that even Harby, who is placed at the top of this hierarchy and could thus have appeared the only free being in the power structure, is also depicted as being a cog in the machine. Although he could have let unfold within himself a beautiful and “decent” soul, cultivating a sensual “strength and male power” that could have allowed him to be an attractive man, “he was imprisoned in a task too small and petty for him [...] in servile acquiescence” (R 360). Put in other terms, the reduction of a variety of human beings to a single material destined to be shaped according to a mental scheme appears as a deadly endeavour that can only drive one to madness. The purely mental, abstract system he has to enforce on pupils and teachers alike, lacking of any meaningful value, has turned Harby sour and brutal, like a machine which has gone out of control. Because he could not believe in the goal he was aiming at or assign any importance to the function he was to dedicate his entire life to, he confused the end with the means, and became an inhuman executioner devoted to the preservation of a destructive, repetitive process. His mighty strength, “tethered” and misused, leads only to the outcome represented by the suppression of his self and the suppression of any other living soul which would try to escape the system of which he is the custodian.
13Ursula finally realises that it is the pupils themselves who demand punishment, which is the last straw. She notices in a boy who has just been thrashed that “his eyes had a curious washed look, like the sky after rain, a sort of wanness” (361). To him, it seems that to be singled out from the mass was more painful than the punishment itself since at the end of the repulsive scene, he is finally shown “waiting to be restored to the normal position,” (ibid.) illustrating with an appalling perfection Etienne de La Boëtie's theory in his Discourse on Voluntary Servitude (1576), according to which tyranny cannot happen without the consent of those subjugated to it.
14Now despite Lawrence's unmitigated denunciation of corporal punishment in schools as a means of repressing freedom and imposing an abstract model on the living, the alternative kind of education, based on negotiation and discussion, as part of an upbringing which addresses the soul rather than the body of the child, does not meet with the writer's approval either. Despite its apparent respect of the child's dignity, Lawrence exposes the operation of the very same type of idealism. The first hint at this is the way Ursula imagines St Philips School before she is actually confronted with the reality of it:
“She dreamed how she would make the little, ugly children love her. She would be so personal. Teachers were always so hard and impersonal. There was no vivid relationship. She would make everything personal and vivid, she would give herself, she would give, give, give all her great stores of wealth to her children, she would make them so happy [...].” (R 341)
15A ridiculously idealized postcard-like image follows, in which she pictures herself at Christmas, surrounded with gleaming light and blossoming children. The sarcastic ironic viewpoint of the narrator strikes us even more, as we read further and discover the contradiction that is brought out by her actual experience. What is most interesting, however, is the manner in which it is implied that the liberal kind of education is no more suitable or realistic than Harby's strategy. Ursula's primary failure results precisely from the approach she has adopted. An education based on “love” cannot succeed in making children study for two reasons. Firstly, her gentleness is lost on them and is only met with their contempt, since they view it as weakness and naivety rather than benevolence. Secondly, the “love” she wanted to give was not an organic connection but some idealistic preconceived fabrication, an a priori fiction without any relation to the reality of the children. This, in the long term, in so far as it is universal and is not adapted to the specificity of each living relationship, also amounts to bullying individuals into a preconceived mould. With a rare subtlety, Lawrence points out the hypocrisy of this apparently benign urge: “the peculiar will of the upper centre—the sort of nervous, critical objectivity, the deliberate forcing of sympathy, the play upon pity and tenderness, the plaintive bullying of love, or the benevolent bullying of love—these we don't care to recognize” (FU 41).
16Lawrence also develops this in “Education of the people” and Fantasia, where he fiercely battles “the idealism of yearning, outgoing love, of pure sympathetic communion and 'understanding'” (FU 117). In his opinion they stimulate in an all too premature way psychological functions in the infant: “the parent, hopelessly involved in the sympathetic mode of selfless love, and spiritual love-will, stimulates the child into a consciousness which does not belong to [the child], on the one plane, and robs it of its own spontaneous consciousness and freedom on the other plane [...] This is a holy obscenity” (FU 118-19), and the “bullying of the refined, benevolent spiritual will is simply vitriol to the soul” (FU 51). Whether at school or in the family, he takes a firm stand on the necessity of not teaching anything intellectual, cerebral, or emotionally spiritual in children before puberty, that is, before the responding bodily faculties of the subject have reached maturity. He is unstinting in his denunciation of the damage resulting from the precocious soliciting of the young mind, something he considers to be the source of all present evils in our modern civilisation, because the mind thus achieves its mechanical rule over the entire body, preventing the subject from responding appropriately to novel stimulus, condemning it to a deadening repetition of the same. The subject thus becomes prey to counterfeit emotions, atrophied instincts, displaying a lack of connection with oneself, to empirical reality, and to other people for that matter. In view of his complete rejection of any sort of idealistically-led motive in human life – ideas defined as abstract categories, unchangeable and imposed from the outside – it is no wonder that Lawrence comes to oppose a form of education that is based on cooperative thinking and rationalised discussion with a child.
17Fantasia of the Unconscious thus sheds valuable light on the depiction of Mrs Williams, the beaten boy's mother, in The Rainbow. She is described as “refined" with a sense of “cleanliness” about her (FU 373). Her thinness, delicate pale complexion and elegant outfit suggest something almost ethereal about her, and points toward habits privileging the spiritual, disembodied side of life. Further corroboration comes when she mentions her son's “weak heart” and “delicate” constitution. This, coupled with the remark that Williams “was always clean, and well dressed, in a sailor suit,” (ibid.) allows us to infer that William was brought up as a “mummy's boy,” raised with excessive care, cajoling prayers and constant worry about his comfort. However, this spiritually-educated boy, looked after by a woman who appears to be a single mother (“her character's not good enough for her to make any trouble” (R 376), Miss Harby says) seems utterly sickly. Ursula notes the boy's “peculiar, half transparent unwholesomeness, rather like a corpse” and reflects that Mrs Williams gives the impression of “being unpleasant to touch, like something going bad inside,” (R 373) as if the over-development of the nervous, emotional plane, that is, "the upper plane of consciousness," to use Lawrence's terminology, had subsequently atrophied the lower, vital planes, a plight reflected by the physical disablement of the two sons, who would appear to suffer from rickets: the older, fifteen-year-old brother is “tall and thin and pale [with] something subdued, insidious about him too” (R 375). In accordance with Lawrence's anthropology, we can deduce that an excess of caring, gentle, sympathetic love has impeded the healthy growth of the children. This would also account for the young Williams's recklessness in class, due to a starvation of his lower-body faculties: “Then we have an exaggerated sensitiveness alternating with a sort of helpless fury: and we have delicate frail children with nerves or with strange whims” (FU 118).
18This insinuating way of exercising power is reminiscent of what Foucault describes in The Will to Truth, the first volume of his History of Sexuality. The 18th Century witnessed precisely such a shift in the practise of power. Previously, external agencies (the king, the police, the Church…) used to exercise power visibly over "subjects" (both in the political and the philosophical senses). However in a control society, there is a convergence of medical and psychiatric discourses that attach to unruly behaviours the names of various pathologies, such as hysteria, to give one of the most famous examples. Instead of punishing unruly behaviours, they became labelled as pathologies, and this is precisely what Mrs Williams does with her sons. While it is implied that if the boy is so hard to discipline, it is because of the detrimental environment he lives in at home, his mother plays down the trouble he represents and attributes it to both a congenital weakness and the bad treatment inflicted by Ursula (R 374).
19However dreadful this is, there is another reason leading Lawrence to condemn over-protective child-rearing methods. The writer's thinking relies on the assumption that sympathy is one of the primary instincts, stimulated the mother's love for her baby. From this perspective, Lawrence's hypothesis does not in fact contradict the findings of modern psychological research. The author is however very keen to emphasize the necessity not to maintain this symbiotic bond for too long. Such a spontaneous attachment is so powerful that, were it to be the only mode of educating a child, the latter would become incapable of parting from the mother, rendering him subsequently unable to build a separate, free self, thus confining the future adult to an insidiously suffocating, “sticky web of permanent forbearance, gentleness, hushedness around [the mother's] naturally passionate and hasty child” (FU 52). Addressing the child's soul with tender words such as “You love mother, don't you dear?” is exposed as “a piece of indecent trickery of the spiritual will,” (FU 54), a kind of emotional blackmail. Parents should not establish an adult to adult relationship with their children because, when puberty comes, the lower drives will have no option other than to spiritualise and deny themselves, opening the door to all sorts of mental illnesses. If parents present themselves as providers of kinds of love for the child, they encourage the belief that no one else will be able to provide that kind of encompassing love:
“You have got your child as sure as if you had woven its flesh again with your own. You have done what it is vicious for any parent to do: you have established between your child and yourself the bond of adult love: the love of man for man, woman for woman, or man for woman. All your tenderness, your cherishing will not excuse you. It only deepens your guilt. And this is fatal. It is a sort of incest. It is a dynamic spiritual incest, more dangerous than sensual incest, because it is more intangible and less instinctively repugnant.” (FU 120)
20It is henceforth essential to develop the body first, as the body is always wiser than consciousness, which in turn is the resulting product of the greater primary unconscious. The mind organises knowledge, it divides the perceived sensations into constituent pieces and thus creates abstract ideas. But the vital impetus can only stem from the lower body, and this is why the mind should never be allowed to rule the entire body, otherwise it would have a deadening effect. The alternative offered by Lawrence is to restrict education – especially for the youngest ones – and thus to address, only and directly directly the instincts of the children. While Lawrence states in a provocative manner that babies should be entrusted only to stupid women in “Education of the People,” he explains in Fantasia of the Unconscious that when a mother coaxes her baby into walking,
“she is not making a theoretic exposition of the science of equilibration. She crouches before the child, at a little distance, and spreads her hands. "Come, baby—come to mother. Come! Baby, walk! Yes, walk! [...]
Now who will tell me that this talk has any rhyme or reason? Not a spark of reason. Yet a real rhyme: or rhythm, much more important. The song and the urge of the mother's voice plays direct on the affective centres of the child, a wonderful stimulus and tuition.” (FU 78)
21The affective centres of the mother must speak to their counterparts in the child, motion to motion, rhythm to rhythm, it is a pure communication of vibration from one living body to another, pure without the mediation of the mind, it remains absolutely unconscious.
22He insists that a child must develop what would today be called its sensorimotor functions, first in order to get a sense of its position in space and selfhood. This is the only foundation whereupon an infant can hope to grow into a well-balanced individual. The child needs to build up a backbone in order eventually to find its integrity and independence from the mother’s womb, from the sympathetic, attractive poles that are located in the front side of the body – the solar plexus.
23In order to counterbalance the love urge coming from the mother, the father must exert his own influence onto the child, which acts according to Lawrence’s theory, from the volitional centres, located at the back of the body. The father’s part consists in ensuring that the infant’s bond with its mother will be severed, because otherwise it will not be able to develop as a self-determined individual.
24This is where spanking intervenes: “The question of corporal punishment is important. It is no use roughly smacking a shrinking, sensitive child. And yet, if a child is too shrinking, too sensitive, it may do it a world of good cheerfully to spank its posterior. Not brutally, not cruelly, but with real sound, good-natured exasperation.” (FU 50) One should not be misled. Lawrence is not advocating our contemporary view that the discriminating criterion between legitimate disciplining and sheer physical abuse can only be based on the degree of strength involved in the process. He is not drawing the line between light and heavy beating, but rather in terms of the impulse that has compelled the parent to spank the child, the question being whether it came from the mind or the instincts. In opposition to a position which worries about adults who are more likely to use aversive techniques of discipline when they are angry or irritable, fatigued, or stressed, Lawrence speaks against calmly planned punishment, carried out in cold blood: “Let us avoid self-justification at all costs. Real corporal punishments apply to the sensual plane. The refined punishments of the spiritual mode are usually much more indecent and dangerous than a good smack” (FU 50).
25This seems to mean that a premeditated punishment springs from a calculating mind, given full licence to express its sadistic intentions. Such a mode of child-rearing involves submitting children to a preconceived abstract scheme. It thus amounts to what is mere brutality or, to use Lawrence's word, “bullying [...] a desire to superimpose my own will upon another person” (FU 52). On the contrary, when a father spanks his child out of anger, he is transported, hence the child will feel directly the vibration coming from the bare hand right through its skin, which will stimulate the buttocks and the loins, in the same manner as a newborn baby will be spanked into taking its first cry, its first vital breath of air. It will revive and stimulate “the great lumbar ganglion, which is the clue to our sensual passionate pride and independence, [...] which holds the spine erect” (FU 53).
26If the mother is imparted the role of caring and comforting, the father will have to stand aside and act as a counterbalance (Lawrence considers that men are dominated by their volitional centres), his task is thus to teach the child not to be too clingy and whiny. In other words, the father will enforce a rite of passage in order to toughen up, if not to man-up his children, to build their character and get them used to being isolated beings.
“Now the father's instinct is to be rough and crude, good-naturedly brutal with the child, calling the deeper centres, the sensual centres, into play. "What do you want? My watch? Well, you can't have it, do you see, because it's mine." Not a lot of explanations of the "You see, darling." No such nonsense.—Or if a child wails unnecessarily for its mother, the father must be the check. "Stop your noise, you little brat! What ails you, you whiner?" And if children be too sensitive, too sympathetic, then it will do the child no harm if the father occasionally throws the cat out of the window, or kicks the dog, or raises a storm in the house. Storms there must be.” (FU 54) To Lawrence, what makes it acceptable and not traumatic for the child is that it is not intentional, it is not meant to deny its dignity, it is a spontaneous expression of the very individual impetus of the adult who cares enough for the child as to be in a passionate contact with it. “They know we aren't perfect. What they don't forgive us is if we pretend we are: or if we bully.” (FU 54)
27Interestingly, the goal of such treatment is not to enforce an abstract set of knowledge nor to make the child subjugate its own will to an external, stronger one. It is rather about contact, however frictional that contact may be. From sensing the father’s vibration of anger and self-assertion (“you can’t have it because it’s mine”), the child learns its limit, through the consequences of its infringing on other individuals’ limits. In the writer’s view, the priority is to urge in every child the necessity of remaining apart, of departing from the maternal bosom and spreading its wings toward other connections with the unknown.
28Since Sweden's 1979 ban on all corporal punishment of children, an increasing number of countries have enacted similar bans, particularly following international adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Recently, a country like France has been publicly criticised in the name of European regulations on corporal punishment for its reluctance to promote judicial penalties for parents who physically punish their children (Dupont 2015). Yet, polls demonstrate that in a country such as the United Kingdom, social acceptance for the practice of spanking children maintains a majority position, ranging from approximately 61% to 80% popular support (Bennett 2006). Regarding this issue, Lawrence offers a viewpoint which does not lack originality and which certainly opposes any strong argument against increasing legislation over individual behaviour, depriving parents of both their responsibility and capacity to judge what is appropriate.