The Rod of Correction

“AMONG the many things that are good for children and that parents are in duty bound to supply is—the rod! This may sound old-fashioned, and it unfortunately is; there is a new school of home discipline in vogue nowadays.

Slippers have outgrown their usefulness as implements of persuasion, being now employed exclusively as foot-gear. The lissom birch thrives ungarnered in the thicket, where grace and gentleness supply the whilom vigor of its sway. The unyielding barrel-stave, that formerly occupied a place of honor and convenience in the household, is now relegated, a harmless thing, to a forgotten corner of the cellar, and no longer points a moral but adorns a wood-pile. Disciplinary applications of the old type have fallen into innocuous desuetude; the penny now tempts, the sugar candy soothes and sugar-coated promises entice when the rod should quell and blister. Meanwhile the refractory urchin, with no fear to stimulate his sluggish conscience, chuckles, rejoices and is glad, and bethinks himself of some uninvented methods of devilment.

Yes, it is old-fashioned in these days to smite with the rattan as did the mighty of yore. The custom certainly lived a long time. The author of Proverbs spoke of the practise to the parents of his generation, and there is no mistaking the meaning of his words. He spoke with authority, too; if we mistake not, it was the Holy Ghost that inspired his utterances. Here are a few of his old-fashioned sayings: “Spare the rod and spoil the child; he who loves his child spares not the rod; correction gives judgement to the child who ordinarily is incapable of reflection; if the child be not chastised, it will bring down shame and disgrace upon the head of its parent.” It is our opinion that authority of this sort should redeem the defect of antiquity under which the teaching itself labors. There are some things “ever ancient, ever new;” this is one of them.

The philosophy of correction may be found in the doctrine of original sin. Every child of Adam has a nature that is corrupted; it is a soil in which pride in all its forms and with all its cortege of vices takes strong and ready root. This growth crops out into stubbornness, selfishness, a horror of restraint, effort and self-denial; mischief, and a spirit of rebellion and destruction. In its native state, untouched by the rod of discipline, the child is wild. Now, you must force a crooked tree to grow straight; you must break a wild colt to domesticate it, and you must whip a wild boy to make him fit for the company of civilized people. Being self-willed, he will seek to follow the bent of his own inclinations; without intelligence or experience and by nature prone to evil, he will follow the wrong path; and the habits acquired in youth, the faults developed he will carry through life to his own and the misery of others. He therefore requires training and a substitute for judgement; and according to the Holy Ghost the rod furnishes both. In the majority of cases nothing can supply it.

This theory has held good in all ages of the world, and unless the species has “evolved” by extraordinary leaps and bounds within the last fifty years, it holds good to-day, modern nursery milk-and-honey discipline to the contrary notwithstanding. It may be hard on the youngster–it was hard on us!–but the difficulty is only temporary; and difficulty, some genius has said, is the nurse of greatness, a harsh nurse, who roughly rocks her foster-children into strength and athletic proportions.

The great point is that this treatment be given in time, when it is possible to administer it with success and fruit. The ordinary child does not need Oft-repeated doses; a firm hand and a vigorous application go a long way, in most cases. Half-hearted, milk-and-water castigation, like physic, should be thrown to the dogs. Long threatenings spoil the operations; they betray weakness which the child is first to discover. And without being brutal, it is well that the chastisement be such as will linger somewhat longer in the memory than in the sensibility.

The defects that deserve this corrective especially are insubordination, sulkiness and sullenness; it is good to stir up the lazy; it is necessary to install in the child’s mind a saving sense of its own inferiority and to inculcate lessons of humility, self-effacement and self-denial. It should scourge dishonesty and lying. The bear licks its cub into shape; let the parent go to the bear, inquire of its ways and be wise. His children will then have a moral shape and a form of character that will stand them in good stead in the after life; and they will give thanks in proportion to the pain inflicted during the process of formation.”

Rev. John Stapleton. Explanation of Catholic Morals. New York: Benzinger Brothers, 1904. pp. 208-210.  Impr.