Friday, 19 July 2013

Birch - A Switch in Crime

Corporal punishment, Birch rod,


Verb trans. Mid-19th century.
[from the noun.]

Flog with a birch. 

Also: birching noun M19
The action of the verb; a flogging with a birch.

"Bring back the birch!" is the oft-heard refrain of the morally-outraged tabloid-reader that ascribes virtually all of society's ills to immigrants, socialism and the abolition of corporal punishment in modern schools. Curiously, on Googling the phrase 'bring back the birch', the top three hits were for Wikipedia, The Daily Mail and The Sun; bringing back "the birch" (i.e corporal punishment) is also a stated policy of the British National Party. Hmm.

Interestingly, birching need not involve actual birch at all; rather, a birch rod can be a bundle of any leafless twigs so fashioned as to be a tool for corporal punishment. It was used as a judicial punishment in the United Kingdom until abolished in 1948 (presumably at which point society collapsed), although the Isle of Man (a Crown Dependency) has the bizarre claim-to-fame of only abolishing birching in 1976 (apparently the meddlesome European Court of Human Rights had something to say about it), although they only officially got around to repealing the law in 1993.

Do you long for an age when children will once again have their bare buttocks flogged with a birch rod?

Am I being hopelessly naive when, in fact, birching would be of great benefit to wayward modern youth? 

Do please leave your comments below.


  1. Uhm, is it just me or does the lady in the picture, the one that is being birched, look a tad bit too old to be disciplined like that?

    I've been raised with corporal discipline whenever it was needed. I got spanked when I was bad, my dad pinched us when we were being rowdy in the car, and when we were in time-out, we had to sit on our knees, on the tiles. I didn't grow up to be a non-functional member of society so I don't see any problem. Within reason.

    Don't go smacking your kids with a rod though, that's not what I call "within reason".

    1. She does look a little older indeed - though birching was used for adults and juveniles It took me quite a while to find an appropriate picture and most were quite ... umm ... gleeful.

      I was brought up with "corporal punishment" too, Bibi - well, smacking and the threat of the slipper if we were really naughty (I never got the slipper because I was such a good boy!). I don't think it did us any harm either, but ... neither do I think it did us any good.

      Birching, however, goes a long way beyond smacking and is a form of flogging.

    2. Same with me here. I don't think that parents should beat their children, but a slap on the face once or twice is needed to show them who the boss is. I remember thinking how entitled and spoiled most of my students were and their parents seemed to promote this kind of behavior rather than make it stop.

      Also, I remember being slapped and having my hair pulled by my teacher when I was 8 because I wouldn't stop talking during a test. Believe me, I never broke the classroom rules ever since.

    3. Hmm, I can only imagine the kinds of pictures you stumbled across in your search, Ed. I can't say this one seems all that normal either... she's tied down :|...

      Anywho, my mom talks about the days when she attended school and received the strap for getting her stockings wet while playing during recess. I can't imagine, especially as a teacher myself, using corporal punishment on my students, especially for something so trivial. Playing in puddles is the quintessential childhood experience and brought me a lot of joy haha.

      Within reason while parenting I think a bit of physical punishment - not anywhere near the point of flogging without a doubt - is not such a bad thing. I must say many parents do need to implement stronger discipline, as Evi said. There are many parents who feel their child can do no wrong! A fellow teacher actually was told by a parent that she should just try to get the boy to like her more...evidently the teacher needed to pander to the poor child's laziness. I was horrified! Since when is it a teacher's job to get a student to like him/her so that said student will behave?!

      Eegadz. Sorry for the near rant.

    4. Yes, she is tied down, Kara, but that's how it was done in Britain - there are various implements of restraint for holding someone while they're being birched, including the birching table, birching pony and birching donkey.

    5. A birching donkey... I must say I didn't expect that!!

  2. The Bircher looks like she used to be a samurai, before she became a grumpy librarian.


    1. "Jane Eyre? Returned late again?? Why you little ... !"

  3. I clearly remember getting the leather strap at school for talking during class.
    I never did it again - that thing hurt!!
    That would've been the late 60s. Yeah, I'm old! And loving it!
    At home, we got spankings, but they never hurt, and were only used as a last resort.
    We deserved them!
    They were more of a reminder who was the boss in the house - and it wasn't me!!
    Mum often threatened that we'd 'see dad's belt' when he got home.
    He never wore one! :)

    I do think children today do need more discipline.
    Without it, how do they learn respect?

  4. Ok guys........
    The one being birched does not look too old.
    Your all forgetting the time period this picture would be representing.
    The dress code is fitting for a young girl between the age of child to young woman, the girl in the picture is prob 13.


    Youngsters need discipline.
    I often got slapped at school ( bad boy ) well not really, my point s as follows....

    My father use to smack us kids too much and often using a belt or wooden spoon etc...
    However my fathers method of hitting us and the frequency was too often and often wrong!
    He would see his error after and apologise......
    So you might be wondering why I am in favour of discipline with the rod!

    I have good examples from teachers in school and My late Mother!
    When I was smacked by these people in was done because it was deserved and in moderation.
    I loved my mother very much and respected her for her discipline which wasn't that often.
    Plus I am very close to 4 teachers from my school and the Principle who are all retired now..... These people are the ones I look up to in life for how to discipline kids, this idea of smacking promotes smacking ( apologies ) is full of shit.

    My sister has three boys and one I swear is the anti-Christ ,
    However, she does not believe in smacking and yet 1 of the kicks and punches and nips and spits her and anyone else who is in the house.....except for me..???????
    Yes you are wondering why?
    Answer is when I'm in the house he comes and sits on my lap and gives me hugs and plays and is a great boy, but he knows if he does it to me I will do it to him and a little harder,
    4 years since he has tried it on me and he's 8 now.

    Use the rod guys.

    Enjoyed everyone's comment.
    Until we meet again!


    1. T, you never specified, but when you say you're pro-rod, does that mean the *actual* rod? Or do you mean it in a figurative way, referring to being pro-spanking? Because I didn't really get that from your comment.

      It's kind of interesting how we all seem to be pretty much pro the justifiable spanking, here. Seems to be one of the most successful ways to discipline a child. I shall remember this for when I spawn my underlings!

  5. Very interesting comments on this post! I didn’t expect a lot of reaction, to be truthful, but it’s obviously something people feel strongly about. It’s probably clear that I’m definitely anti-birching and softly anti-smacking. I’d also like to address some of the arguments made on both sides.

    Firstly, birching is not synonymous with smacking. While they’re both forms of ‘corporal punishment’, the similarity ends there. Birching is a form of flogging – using a specific instrument, usually on bare skin (usually the buttocks) and usually using restraints (at least when performed judicially). The birch rod would traditionally be soaked in brine or some other liquid to harden it, and would cause real injuries. This type of extreme punishment isn’t comparable to the type of corporal punishment most of us here seem to have received in our childhoods.

    With regards smacking, it’s always wrong to assume that “no smacking = no discipline” (or even equals a lack of discipline). The assumption is often heard: “Yes, but children need discipline; children need to be corrected; etc.” That’s true; children do need discipline and correction. However, corporal punishment is not the only way to correct a child, and to assume that a child that isn’t smacked is a child that isn’t disciplined is completely erroneous.

    I also think there are some basic “cause and effect” errors in the logic of the debate (on both sides). It’s impossible to ever take one instance and build an argument around it. I was smacked as a child; I turned out fine; my parents by and large did a wonderful job of bringing me and my siblings up. Does this mean that smacking is fine? No, of course not; there are a myriad other factors in my upbringing that affect the outcome, rather than just smacking. T1 Thousand’s example is his sister’s child who is not smacked but is “the anti-Christ”. Is it really possible that such bad behaviour is solely the result of not being smacked? And, as he has a good relationship with you, is it really possible that the sole basis of that positive relationship is that you do smack him? Even if either case were true, it could be an isolated case, and the “one instance” arguments can always be scuppered by “one other instance”. My sister, for example, doesn’t smack her children, and they’ve turned out wonderfully.

    1. Lastly, I’ll explain why I’m (softly) anti-smacking. This is quite an emotive issue for me because I feel like I’m somehow insinuating that my parents got it wrong, when I don’t think that at all.

      The first reason is the ethics I want to instil in my daughter. I am, as a general rule, trying to teach her that violence is wrong; violence is not the answer; physical force is not the way problems between two people are resolved. Therefore, I’m teaching her that she is never to hit someone, be it me, her Mum or other children (with the exception of defending herself). Therefore, if she ever has a problem with someone, an issue, an argument, whatever it might be, she is not to resort to violence to deal with that. Therefore, I feel that there would be a distinct hypocrisy if, when I have a problem with her and her behaviour, I resort to hitting her as a way of correction. Why would I be teaching her that violence is not the answer, when I readily use violence as the answer of how to discipline her? For me, this smacks of double-standards and hypocrisy, and was one of the key reasons we chose we would not use smacking.

      Finally, as a parent that has gone through (goes through) the torture of sleep deprivation, smacking just seems like an easy way option. There have been times when she has really (I mean *really*) tested my patience, to the point of wanting to just explode with rage at having to say the same thing again and again and again. If I smacked her in those instances, why am I smacking her? To release my pent up frustration? Because I’m having difficulty explaining something in a way that a two-year-old can understand? Parenting isn’t easy; there should be no “easy-options”. Smacking always felt like the easy way out to me, which is why I’ve decided I will never do it.

      As for other parents, they of course have to make their own decisions as to how they discipline their children, and I respect their rights to decide that with regards mild forms of corporal punishment. Birching, however, is in a different league altogether.

    2. All I can think of right now is that you're so different from my dad... and that I'm quite happy I don't have any kids yet - and no prospects of having any in the near future. People say lots of things and they are all different yet they all make sense. I think I'd be a very lost mama if I were one right now.

    3. Parenting is hard, Bibi - it's hard work, hard to get right and hard to cope with. There are different parenting styles, and I'm too new a parent to dogmatically say: "My way works! This is how it should be done!" It's also a matter of flexibility and adjustment, rather than preconceived ideas about how things must or must not be done. I'm sure that when and if the day comes, you'll be a great Mum - there's no greater pleasure in the world than having a good relationship with your own children.

  6. It seems pretty simple to me. If you struck my child in any fashion, my instant reaction would be "eliminate threat to offspring"

    I can't very well eliminate myself can I? If you have to resort to striking a child, you screwed up LONG ago dude. It's totally unnecessary. Seriously. That's not a joke. There are a hundred other things you could do to gain respect. Hitting doesn't work, in any form. And it just doesn't make sense. Your kid's future boss isn't going to spank them are they? That's absurd. They're going to sack them. Or punish them in another way.

    Teach your kids REAL LIFE consequences. Spanking is not a REAL LIFE consequence. It's something you grow out of. However, losing money and privileges for bad behavior isn't. Time out = prison. Losing money/privileges = sacking. Simple as that. You do your child a service when you show them to do the right thing because it has real, tangible, realistic consequences, not because they live in fear of being struck. Fear doesn't motivate good behaviors, it instills rebellion and hatred. In individuals as well as large populations.

    1. You make a very interesting point - and you're right, of course; spanking doesn't equate (generally) to real life consequences. I hadn't thought of it that way before.

  7. A statistical correlation does not prove that there is a causal correlation. But the fact that the frequency of misbehavior in schools, juvenile delinquency and adult crime have all been multiplied many times over during the very same period of time (roughly the last 80 years) during which corporal punishment has been gradually abolished does suggest that there *might* be a causal relation. Maybe it is true that a physically unpleasant punishment can discourage bad modes of behavior on the part of both minors and adults?

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