Has there been corporal punishment in your school

When the cane disappeared from the schools

The theme was Highly sensitive: On April 1, 1969, the then Hamburg School Senator Wilhelm Drexelius (SPD) ensured clarity and legal certainty in schools with an instruction on the ban on corporal punishment. Again and again, educators had to answer in court for taking violent action against recalcitrant students. From now on, corporal punishment was generally taboo, and the cane was banned from classrooms. There were essentially three principles that should now apply: Maintaining order in the school was an educational task. Every teacher should refrain from corporal punishment. In addition, all measures that could damage physical or mental health or harm the sense of decency were prohibited.

Drexelius thus conceded a controversial regulation that had been put into effect in 1960 during the term of office of his predecessor Heinrich Landahl (SPD). According to this decree, which had sparked heated discussions at the time, corporal punishment was allowed as a last resort, "after careful consideration in a measured manner". State school supervisor Ernst Matthewes had explained that "in principle" every teacher should refrain from being beaten, at least when "other educational measures are still fruitful".

The legal situation of 1960 said: No student should be exposed to the arbitrariness of a teacher. Slaps in the face and blows to the head are also prohibited in the future, as well as beatings that are harmful to health. In the punishment of girls, boys in the 1st and 2nd school year and after the age of 15, "special restraint is required". Any teacher who violated these rules would face disciplinary proceedings.

If a teacher came to the conclusion that he could only deal with a student by corporal punishment, he had to use an officially approved cane supplied by the school authorities, the use of which doctors had declared to be safe. Matthewes had assured in his decree that beatings as a last resort had not yet been criticized by either the teachers or the parents in Hamburg. The cases in which a teacher had to use a cane are also becoming "less and less".

But that was by no means the end of the controversial debates in schools and among parents. Even the foreign press took up the topic, sometimes in a hateful manner. Particularly violent attacks took place at the end of April 1960 in the "Literaturnaja Gazeta", the organ of the Soviet Writers' Union. In a deliberate distortion of the facts, an editorial said: "The instructions, elaborated in the spirit of the most beautiful traditions of Prussian cane discipline, explain to the teachers how they should use the guaranteed harmless canes." All of this is "not an April Fool's joke, but the bitter truth".

It was not the first time that foreign newspapers dealt with corporal punishment in the Hamburg school system. In October 1932, French as well as German newspapers claimed that the Hamburg state school authority had "recently" sent schools an order on corporal punishment from the war year 1917, thereby overriding the more lenient regulations that had been issued in the meantime.

That was inaccurate on the merits because the 1917 decree remained in effect and all new teachers were obliged to comply with it. Even then, that was anything but a license to officially beat in the classroom, but rather the permission to corporal punishment as a last resort, for example in the case of persistent lies, outbursts of "moral rawness" or "shamelessness". All of this served to "maintain school discipline".

In its core, it remained with this legal situation, the service instruction of April 1, 1960 summarized it again. When school senator Wilhelm Drexelius announced the end of the punishment nine years later, he was not only in line with his own convictions. He also took the zeitgeist into account, because the 1968 movement was committed to the "democratization" of schools, and of course corporal punishment was completely incompatible with it.

Mental harassment also fell under the ban on beatings. That, on the other hand, was a legally elusive fact. The state school supervisor Wolfgang Neckel, who was in office in 1969, was realistic enough to publicly admit: "There will always be conflicts. The pupils cannot do what they want. Some pupils go so far as to tell the teacher: 'Just shut up, then you come in front of the Kadi! '"The school law of 1997 now bans flogging, and in suspected cases the parents can lodge an administrative complaint or call the public prosecutor.