Popular Science Monthly/Volume 14/December 1878/Education as a Science VII

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THE considerations stated in the previous article (see November Monthly) lead up to the final subject—Punishment; in administering which the practice of education, as well as of other kinds of government, has greatly improved. The general principles of punishment have been already renounced. We have to consider their application to the school. But first a few words on the employment of reward.

Emulation—Prizes—Place-taking.—All these names point to the same fact and the same motive—the desire of surpassing others, of gaining distinction; a motive that has already been weighed. It is the most powerful known stimulant to intellectual application; and, where it is in full operation, nothing else is needed. Its defects are (1) it is an anti-social principle, (2) it is apt to be too energetic, (3) it is limited to a small number, (4) it makes a merit of superior natural gifts.

It is a fact that the human intellect has at all times been spurred to its highest exertions by rivalry, contest, and the ambition of being first. The question is, whether a more moderate pitch of excellence, such as befits average faculties, could not be attained without that stimulant. If so, there would be a clear moral gain. Be this as it may, there is no need to bring it forward prematurely, or to press its application at the beginning. In the infant stage, where the endeavor is to draw out the amicable sentiments, it is better kept back. For tasks that are easy and interesting, it is unnecessary. The pupils that possess unusual aptitude should be incited to modesty rather than to assumption.

The greater prizes and distinctions affect only a very small number. Place-capturing, as Bentham phrases it, affects all more or less, although in the lower end of a class position is of small consequence. Too often the attainments near the bottom are nil. A few contesting eagerly for being first, and the mass phlegmatic, is not a healthy class.

Prizes may be valuable in themselves, and also a token of superiority. Small gifts by parents are useful incitements to lessons; the school contains prizes for distinction that only a small number can reach. The schoolmaster's means of reward is chiefly confined to approbation, or praise, a great and flexible instrument, yet needing delicate manipulation. Some kinds of merit are so palpable as to be described by numerical marks. Next, in point of distinctness, is the fact that a thing is right or wrong, in part or in whole; it is sufficient approbation to pronounce that a question is correctly answered, a passage properly explained. This is the praise that envy cannot assail. Most unsafe are phrases of commendation; much pains is needed to make them both discriminating and just. They need to have a palpable basis in facts. Distinguished merit should not always be attended with pæans; silent recognition is the rule, the exceptions must be such as to extort admiration from the most jealous. The controlling circumstance is the presence of the collective body; the teacher is not speaking for himself alone, but directing the sentiments of a multitude, with which he should never be at variance; his strictly private judgments should be privately conveyed. Bentham's "scholar-jury principle," although not formally recognized in modern methods, is always tacitly at work. The opinion of the school, when at its utmost efficiency, is the united judgment of the head and the members, the master and the mass. Any other state of things is war: although this, too, may be unavoidable.

Punishment.—The first and readiest, and ever the best, form of punishment, is censure, reprobation, dispraise, to which are applicable all the maxims above laid down for praise. Definite descriptions of definite failures, without note or comment, are a power to punish. When there are aggravations, such as downright carelessness, a damaging commentary may be added; but, in using terms of reprobation, still more strict regard has to be paid to discrimination and justice. The degrees of badness are sometimes numerical, as by the quantity of lesson missed, and the repetition of inattention; this very definiteness literally stated is more cutting than epithets.

Strong terms of reproof should be sparing, in order to be more effective. Still more sparing ought to be tones of anger. Loss of temper, however excusable, is really a victory to wrong-doers; although for the moment it may strike terror. Unless a man is of fiendish nature throughout, he cannot maintain a consistent course, if he gives way to temper. Indignation under control is a mighty weapon. Yet it is mere impotence to utter threats when the power of execution is known to be wanting. There is nothing worse for authority than to over vaunt itself; this is the fatal step to the ridiculous.

Whoever occupies a position of authority ought to be familiar with the general principles and conditions of punishment, as they may be found set forth in the penal code of Bentham. The broad, exhaustive view there given will coöperate beneficially with each one's actual experience. I make no apology for presenting a short summary of his principles.

After precisely defining the proper ends of punishment, Bentham marks the cases unmeet for punishment: 1. Where it is groundless: that is, where there never has been any real mischief (the other party consenting to what has been done), or where the mischief is over-weighed by a benefit of greater value. 2. Where it is inefficacious: including cases where the penal provision has not come before the offender's notice, where he is unaware of the consequences of his act, or where he is not a free agent. 3. Cases where it is unprofitable: that is, when the evil of the punishment exceeds the evil of the offense. (The evils of punishment, which have to be summed up and set against the good, are (1) coercion or restraint, (2) the uneasiness of apprehension, (3) the actual suffering, (4) the suffering caused to all those that are in sympathy with the person punished.) 4. Cases where punishment is needless: as when the end can be attained in some cheaper way, as by instruction and persuasion. In this class Bentham specially includes the offenses that consist in disseminating pernicious principles in politics, morality, or religion. These should be met by instruction and argument, and not by the penalties of the law.

Under what he calls the expense or frugality of punishment, Bentham urges the necessity of presenting to the mind an adequate notion of what a punishment really is. Hence the advantage of punishments that are easily learned and remembered, and that appear greater and not less than they really are.

Next as to the main point, the measure of punishment: 1. It should be such as clearly to outweigh the profit of the offense: including not simply the immediate profit, but every advantage, real or apparent, that has weighed as an inducement to commit it. 2. The greater the mischief of the offense, the greater is the expense that it is worth while to be at, in the way of punishment. 3. When two offenses come into competition, the punishment for the greater should be such as to make the less preferred; thus robbery with violence to the person is always punished more severely than simple robbery. 4. The punishment to be so adjusted that, for every part of the resulting mischief, a motive may be provided to restrain from causing it. 5. The punishment should not be greater than is needed for these ends. 6. There should be taken into account the circumstances affecting the sensibility of the offenders, so that the same punishment may not operate unequally; as age, sex, wealth, position. 7. The punishment needs to be increased in magnitude as it falls short of certainty. 8. It must be further increased in magnitude as it falls short in point of proximity. Penalties that are uncertain and those that are remote correspondingly fail to influence the mind. 9. When the act indicates a habit, the punishment must be increased so as to outweigh the profit of the other offenses that the offender may commit with impunity: this is severe, but necessary, as in putting down the coiners of base money. 10. When a punishment well fitted in its quality cannot exist in less than a certain quantity, it may be of use to employ it, although a little beyond the measure of the offense: such are the punishments of exile, expulsion from a society, dismissal from office. 11. This may be the case more particularly when the punishment is a moral lesson. 12. In adjusting the quantum, account is to be taken of the circumstances that render all punishment unprofitable. 13. If, in carrying out these provisions, anything occurs tending to do more harm than the good arising from the punishment, that thing should be omitted.

In regard to the selection of punishments, Bentham lays down a number of tests or conditions whereby they are fitted to comply with the foregoing requirements: 1. The quality of variability: a punishment should have degrees of intensity and duration; this applies to fines, corporal punishment, and imprisonment, also to censure or ill name. 2. Equability, or equal application under all circumstances: this is not easy to secure; a fixed fine is an unequable punishment. 3. Commensurability: that is, punishments should be so adapted to offenses that the offender may clearly conceive the inequality of the suffering attached to crimes of different degrees of heinousness; this property can be grafted on the variable punishments, as imprisonment. 4, Characteristicalness: this is where something can be found in the punishment whose idea exactly fits the crime. Bentham dilates upon this topic, in order to discriminate it from the old crude method of an eye for an eye; cases in point occur abundantly both in the family and in the school. 5. Exemplarity: this is connected with the impressiveness of a punishment; all the solemnities accompanying the execution increase this effect. Bentham, however, did not sufficiently consider the evils attending too great publicity, which have led to withdrawing punishments from the gaze of the multitude; it being simply intimated that they have been carried out. 6. Frugality: or making punishments less costly to the state, as when prisoners are employed productively. 7. Subserviency to reformation: by weakening the seductive and strengthening the preserving motives; as in giving habits of labor to the idle. 8. Efficacy in disablement: as in deposition from office. 9. Subserviency to compensation: as by pecuniary inflictions. 10. Popularity. Bentham lays much stress upon the popularity and unpopularity of punishments, whereby the public sympathy may work for or against the law; when a punishment is unpopular, juries are reluctant to convict, and public agitation gets up for remission of sentence. 11. Simplicity of description: under this head Bentham comments upon the obscure and unintelligible descriptions of the old law, as capital felony, prœmunire. 12. Remissibility, in case of mistake.

Punishments must go deeper than words; indeed, the efficacy of blame depends on something else to follow. Bearing in mind what are the evil tendencies to be encountered in school discipline—want of application being the most constant—we may review the different kinds of penalties that have been placed at the disposal of the schoolmaster. The occasional aggravation of disorder and rebelliousness has also to be encountered, but with an eye to the main requisite.

Simple forms of disgrace have been invented, in the shape of shameful positions and humiliating isolation. As appealing to the sense of shame, these are powerful with many, but not with all: their power varies with the view taken of them by the collective body, as well as with individual sensitiveness. They answer for smaller offenses, but not for the greatest; they may do to begin with, but they rapidly lose power by repetition. It is a rule in punishment to try slight penalties at first; with the better natures the mere idea of punishment is enough; severity is entirely unnecessary. It is a coarse and blundering system that knows of nothing but the severe and degrading sorts.

Detention from play, or keeping-in after hours, is very galling to the young; and it ought to suffice for even serious offenses; especially for riotous and unruly tendencies, for which it has all the merits of "characteristicalness." The excess of activity and aggressiveness is met by withholding the ordinary legitimate outlets.

Tasks or impositions are the usual punishment of neglect of lessons, and are also employed for rebelliousness; the pain lies in the intellectual ennui, which is severe to those that have no liking for books in any shape. They also possess the irksomeness of confinement and fatigue-drill. They may be superadded to shame, and the combination is a formidable penalty.

With all these various resources ingeniously plied—emulation, praise, censure, forms of disgrace, confinement, impositions—the necessity for corporal punishments should be nearly done away with. In any well-regulated school, where all the motives are carefully graded, through a long series of increasing privations and penalties, there should be no cases but what are sufficiently met. The presence of pupils that are not amenable to such means is a discord and anomaly; and the direct remedy would consist in removing them to some place where the lower natures are grouped together. Inequality of moral tone is as much to be deprecated in a class as inequality of intellectual advancement. There should be reformatories, or special institutions, for those that cannot be governed like the majority.

Where corporal punishment is kept up, it should be at the far end of the list of penalties; its slightest application should be accounted the worst disgrace, and should be accompanied with stigmatizing forms. It should be regarded as a deep injury to the person that inflicts it, and to those that have to witness it—as the height of shame and infamy. It ought not to be repeated with the same pupil; if two or three applications are not enough, removal is the proper course.

The misfortune is, that in the national schools the worst and most neglected natures have to be introduced; yet they should not brutalize a whole school. Even when children are habituated to blows at home, it does not follow that these are necessary at school; parents are often unskillful, as well as hampered in all their circumstances, and emergencies are pressing; the treatment at school may easily rise above the conduct of the family. In many instances the school will be a welcome haven to the children of troubled homes, and lead to the generous response of good behavior.

In point of fact, however, the children of wretchedness are not always those that give trouble, nor is it the schools where these are found that are most given to corporal punishments. The schoolmaster's most wayward subjects come often from good families; and they are found in schools of the highest grade. There should be no difficulty in sending away from superior schools all such as could not be disciplined without the degradation of flogging.[1]

The Discipline of Consequences.—The idea of Rousseau that children, instead of being punished, should be left to the natural consequences of their disobedience, has much plausibility, and is taken up at the present day by educationists. Mr. Spencer has dwelt upon it with great emphasis.

One obvious limitation to the principle is, that the results may be too serious to be used for discipline: children have to be protected from the consequences of many of their acts.

What is intended is, to free parents and others from the odium of being the authors of pain, and to throw this upon impersonal agencies, toward whom the child can entertain no resentment. But, before counting on that result, two things are to be weighed. For one, the child may soon be able to see through the device, and to be aware that after all the pain is brought about by virtue of a well-laid scheme for the purpose: as when the unpunctual child is left behind. The other remark is that, the personifying or anthropomorphic tendency being at its greatest in early years, every natural evil is laid to the door of a person known or unknown. The habit of looking at the laws of Nature, in their crushing application, as cold, passionless, purposeless, is a very late and difficult acquirement, one of the triumphs of science or philosophy: we begin by resenting everything that does us harm, and are but too ready to look round for an actual person to bear the brunt of our wrath.

A further difficulty is the want of foresight and foreknowledge in children: they are unable to realize consequences when the evil impulse is upon them. This, of course, decreases by time; and, according as the sense of consequences is strengthened, these become more adequate as a check to misconduct. It is then indifferent whether they are natural or ordained.

Among the natural consequences that are relied on as correctives of misbehavior in the family are such as these: going with shabby clothes, from having spoiled a new suit; getting no new toys to replace those that are destroyed. The case of one child having to make reparation to another for things destroyed is more an example of Bentham's "characteristical" punishment.

In school, the discipline of consequences comes in under the arrangements of the school for assigning each one's merit on an impersonal plan, the temper or disposition of the master being nowhere apparent. The regulations being fixed and understood, non-compliance punishes itself.—Author's advance-sheets.

  1. Testimonials are adduced from very distinguished men, to the effect that without flogging they would have done nothing. Melanchthon, Johnson, Goldsmith, are all quoted for a sentiment of this kind. We must, however, interpret the fact on a wider basis. There was no intermediate course in those days between spoiling and corporal punishment: he that spared the rod hated the child. Many ways can now be found of spurring young and capable minds to application; and corporal punishment would take an inferior position in the mere point of efficiency.
    It is not to be held that corporal punishment, to such extent as is permissible, is the severest form of punishment that may be administered in connection with the school. For mere pain, a whipping would often be chosen in preference to the intolerable irksomeness of confinement during play or after hours, and of impositions in the way of drill-tasks; while the language of censure may be so cutting as to be far worse than blows. What is maintained is that these other punishments are not so liable to abuse, nor so brutalizing to all concerned, as bodily inflictions.