I’ve been having a bit of a tiff with a poster on a list of late. Yes dear reader, I know you are shocked by this. I’ve been arguing with a professed christian about the origin of the phrase Spare the Rod, Spoil the Child and the nature of the proper disciplining of children.
As for the first part, the phrase originates in a satirical poem concerning the Puritans by Samuel Butler. The poem, Hudibras goes like this:
If matrimony and hanging goWikipedia, the free encyclopedia
By dest’ny, why not whipping too?
What med’cine else can cure the fits
Of lovers when they lose their wits?
Love is a boy by poets stil’d;
Then spare the rod and spoil the child.
I doubt that the average fundamentalist would be comfortable repeating the phrase if they knew that it’s origin was in a poem that lampoon’s their ideological forebears. (editor’s note: a close reading of the poem results in the observation that the final word of the final verse has to be pronounced ‘chilled’ rather than ‘child’ in order for the rhyming to work properly. I wonder if that represents language drift over the centuries or poetic license by the poet?)
On the subject of corporal punishment, I’ll say this; I don’t do it. It never taught me anything as a child, other than to mask my behavior so as to avoid punishment, and to spend hours trying to figure out how to get back at those who punished me.
I was taken out in the hallway on a daily basis in first grade, and given ‘licks’ (application of the paddle to the posterior) because my teacher was convinced that it would make me work faster. According to my mother, what it got her was fired. I never noticed any motivational improvement, myself. I’m reasonably certain that it made me more of an introvert than I already was, and insured that I would never draw attention to myself during class time for the rest of my term of imprisonment in government school.
It probably has something to do with my complete unwillingness to conform to any imposed standard as well. But I digress.
The few times that I have ever attempted to use corporal punishment on my children, it has backfired, with one exception. Both of them, as toddlers, attempted to wander out of the yard and into the street near our home. A quick smack on the behind was all it took to keep them from ever trying that again. The unfamiliarity of the pain is the key. If I had smacked them every time some little transgression had occurred, they wouldn’t even have noticed when I was trying to warn them away from a life-threatening action. Every other time I’ve given in to the urge, I’ve regretted it. It just doesn’t work.
Rather than punish, the wife and I attempt to impress the consequences of the improper action upon the child (Faber and Mazlish have a bit to say on the subject) It’s not always easy, and it’s not always effective. But I’ve never regretted taking the time to try something other than lashing out at the offending child, which is more than I can say for the alternative.
Of course, I said something a little more inflammatory to my opponent. Something like this:
I’m glad they aren’t allowed to beat my children. I don’t beat my children, and I’m the only one who should be allowed to beat my children. I was the target of choice in school for bullies (students and teachers alike) for most of my school life. My children are in school because I want them to learn rather than be forced to dodge bullies on a daily or hourly basis. You have to earn respect, not beat the students into submission in order to get it.
…and it’s a knee slapper, the idea that beating children is something Jesus was in favor of. I pity your children. Hopefully they’ll find good recreational drugs to ease the pain of their existence.
In hindsight, I think I was too easy on him.
Editor’s note 2020. Featured image added. It is Hudibras First Adventure – Plate three by William Hogarth. Hat/tip to the Art Institute of Chicago. Gutenberg has all twelve of the plates in a collected volume of Hogarth’s work, none of them appear to feature the specific passage of the poem that is related here.