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Adolf Busemann, "Barbarization and Brutalization" (1956)

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Barbarization in school

It is clear a priori that such a broad and longstanding process of barbarization extends its influence into school life as well. In fact, in many places very deplorable conditions have developed, for which teachers must by no means be blamed. They are partly rooted in particularly unfavorable local conditions. If no guiding force among the parents, the youth groups, and so on, sets the necessary boundaries for a dissipated village youth, then the teacher alone is not able to get through either. It seems that not everyone everywhere has an adequate sense of the difficulty of the teacher’s task, for otherwise it would be impossible to understand that the use of the cane is outlawed under all circumstances. This is not about the right of “corporal punishment” in the sense of a legal act aimed at deterrence, betterment, and atonement, but about the preservation of a peaceful coexistence of the students with one another and with the teacher, something that precedes any education. One cannot accuse a teacher who secures peace in the classroom by “brute force” of pedagogical backwardness or a lack of child-rearing power. It is not the school that has produced the conditions from which it is suffering today!

It must therefore be stated with all seriousness and clarity: The duty of the teacher to instruct and – as part of this – raise his students, contains by its nature the right to protect the children entrusted to him, most of whom mean well, from the acts of a small number of youthful perpetrators of violence, who sabotage his work not only accidentally and unintentionally, but also consciously and often in a planned fashion, at times even in organized gangs, during the process of which physical attacks by one or more students on the teacher himself take place, not to mention exclamations in the style of Götz von Berlichingen!

That is the situation. Among the 350,000 students leaving school in North Rhine-Westphalia [this year] are about 10,000 who were already before a judge on account of their criminal acts – this makes one criminal for every 70 students. However, behind this one criminal, as we have shown above, stand far more age-mates of the very same emotional constitution. The teacher of our day must unfortunately expect that representatives of this type are found in his class. Towards them he is not only authorized, but as an educator and teacher of the community of the classroom, obligated to proceed, if necessary, with the same means with which these students, if they are not in school but on the street, are apprehended by the police if the occasion warrants, namely with “brute force.” And since the teacher is prohibited from banishing the evil-doer from the school arena or removing him by force, he has no other choice but to inflict blows to the backside in order to subject the one who disturbs the life of the community to the order of the school.

This has nothing to do with pedagogy based on corporeal punishment. The quarrel over Hundshammer’s well-known decree, which is hardly impeachable factually, and which by no means introduces “corporeal punishment” but instead strongly limits its application, is a gloomy chapter in German journalism. It was born of the mentality of the postwar period, in reaction to the outrageous abuse of force in the years of the dictatorship, and under the influence of lectures about the American pedagogical system, according to which the schools in that country achieve excellent student discipline without harsh punishments. But what is the real story of the pedagogical successes in the U.S.? The weekly magazine Time (NY) reported on March 15, 1954: “But . . . veteran Manhattan teachers . . . have become increasingly accustomed to what the New York Daily News has called the new three Rs – ‘rowdyism, riot, and revolt.’” After listing a few characteristic incidents, Time continues: “Said one teacher, on being asked why too few delinquents are reported or punished: ‘The teachers are afraid of the principals. The principals are afraid of their superintendents. The superintendents are afraid of the board [of education], and the board is afraid of the truth. Everybody is afraid but the kids – and they seem to be afraid of nobody.’” Quoted from “Infantilismus” [“Infantilism”], issue 16 of Psychologische Praxis [Psychological Practice], edited by K. Heymann, Basel, 1955, 29.

We need not remind ourselves that the U.S. is still (?) far ahead of us on the issue of youth crime and probably holds the record as such. As for the rest, one only has to say: tout comme chez nous. That our teachers also prefer to keep quiet as long as possible is understandable: according to the current decrees, they themselves are responsible for such incidents, and their possibly forceful measures make them culpable. And so they hide what can be hidden.

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