Many people look back on their school days with fond memories of favourite teachers, playground shenanigans and friendships that may still exist. For others, thinking about school can make the palms of the hands or the backside start to smart with the memory.
Corporal punishment was legal in the classroom at the inception of state schools in New Zealand in the 1870s. The schools were based on the British system which gave teachers the legal right to punish misbehaviour in the classroom or school grounds, and incorrect answers, with physical violence including the strap, cane or ruler.
Section 59 of the 1961 Crimes Act allowed teachers to use force to correct behaviour, as long as the force used was reasonable considering the circumstances of the offending.
There were rules to be followed: all punishments needed to be recorded in a logbook; a second teacher needed to supervise the act; and only male teachers were permitted to carry it out (because female teachers were not as powerful so the message wouldn't get through). But sometimes the rules slipped.
Not all teachers agreed with the method. In 1952 a group of teachers formed the Post Primary Teachers Association (PPTA) and would take regular votes on the suitability of corporal punishment in the school environment. The early votes opted to keep it but increasing numbers of teachers refused to use it.
In 1970 the Department of Education began encouraging schools to explore alternative methods of punishment.
Many new schools opening at the time opted to never instigate it in the first place, choosing instead to use detention, suspension or expulsion if needed.
In 1975 Education Minister Phil Amos publicly called corporal punishment an abomination. Five years later the Campaign Against Violence in Education (CAVE) was established and set about raising awareness.
Punishment logbooks were borrowed and proved the same students were being punished time and again, inferring that the method of correction simply was not effective.
Parents also shared stories and photographs of the damage their children received at the hands of brutal teachers.
At the 1985 AGM the PPTA overwhelmingly voted to abolish corporal punishment. Labour Education Minister Russell Marshall agreed but the government didn't follow through and Marshall was replaced.
While heading towards the 1990 election, the Labour Party revisited the matter, and on July 23 that year the use of corporal punishment by anyone employed by, supervising or in control of a school was officially made illegal under section 139a of the 1989 Education Act. By then most schools had voluntarily stopped the practice anyway.
Last year the museum received a collection of reviews written by pupils of Room 5 at Rutherford Intermediate School in Whanganui. The pupils were asked to evaluate their year in class and the teacher's performance. They make for interesting reading.
Most of the students found the teacher Mr Smith to be fair and reasonable. Nearly every letter in the collection mentions use of the strap and most pupils seem to accept its use on those who earned it. Some felt he was too heavy handed with his punishments, especially during the middle of the year, while one said he didn't use it enough. Two students even drew his portrait.
* Sandi Black is the archivist at Whanganui Regional Museum.