I’m a boomer, and I’m old enough that my boarding school was still enthusiastically beating children when I attended. Male children only, of course, who slept 8 to a room. This was one of Ontario’s best private schools, and the choice of the crowned heads of Europe when they needed their spawn toughened up. I had a hand in picking it as my home for 5 years, so I can’t complain.
We spent a summer weekend touring Ontario private schools when I was 11. We lived in the US at the time, and I was about to move from primary school (quite good in our little New England town) to the middle school (junior high then) which was not so good. This was the early 60s, and the active culture at the high school was hoodlum noir. Buckled leather jackets, skinny jeans and boots we called winkle pickers were de rigeur. My parents didn’t know when they’d be returning to Canada, but they knew they didn’t want me at Hoodlum High.
We saw them all, the top 5 or 6 Ontario private schools (Ontario was my parent’s native province). My great uncles had been to three of them, so I had a legacy advantage, but mostly these places were eager for the money any parent of any misfit could come up with. They were all very nice leafy places, and they all gave us tea, but at the school I chose, the headmaster emeritus took us all out sailing on the lake in his leaky sloop, the Happy Return. He gave youngest sister and I mints he told my parents were “seasickness pills”. He won my heart.
That summer, we bought an island in a lake to the north of the school and built a rudimentary cottage on it. I never went back to New England. My parents dropped me off at the school on their way home, and picked me up again when school ended for the summer. I’d live at the cottage all summer, swimming , driving fast motorboats, doing nothing until Labour Day, when I’d be dropped off at school again.
Anyway, this fall I got a letter from the Chairman of the school’s Board (I’m not active in the Old Boy’s association but I get the mail). They had discovered, to their horror, that the music teacher at the school during my attendance had been a homosexual and had made inappropriate advances to students.
We all knew the teacher in question was gay, he made no attempt to hide it, and we all accepted it as his right. He wasn’t the first and wouldn’t be the last. He had his favourites, for sure, but they were all fully aware of what they were getting into. The most inappropriate thing he did was buy one kid a motorcycle (well, a Norton Commando, actually, and a set of leathers). Have you ever seen the film “If…” by Lindsay Anderson, starring Malcolm McDowell? Well, my school was a lot like that, minus the Sten Guns.
I mentioned the beatings. The headmaster used a collection of whippy canes, which left red striations for weeks. Our fastidious math teacher would turn his Princeton ring around stone inward on his finger and slap you across the back of the head. The grammar teacher used a metal ruler, which he deployed in a downward motion, edge on.
One teacher, a former NHL defenseman, use a sawed off goalie stick. One night, during an unruly argument in the aforementioned 8 bed dorm, he beat an unpopular boy, about 12 years old, so badly he raised welts which bled. Mostly we thought this was awesome, and someone took pictures with their Instamatic.
The photos came back about 2 weeks later, and were circulated while we were in study hall. The teacher in question just happened to be supervising, and seeing the interest, good-naturedly asked to see the photos. We froze. He picked one up and looked at it, turned white, gathered them up and left the room.
The next time we saw him, that evening, when he was supervising study hall before bed, he was stumbling drunk. He kept saying to each of us in turn “I’m not that bad, am I? Do you like me?” He was a shadow of himself.
We heard no more about it, he didn’t supervise dorms at night anymore and the photos were never seen again. The boy he beat left at the end of the year and didn’t return. I looked him up on Google. He still lives in his home town in Michigan.
I wrote to the Chair after receiving his letter. I told him we all knew the music teacher was gay and that he had enriched our lives anyway. As both he and the complainant were dead, there seemed very little need to pursue the case. I did think, and told him so, that the school might, after all these years, reach out to the boy who had been so savagely beaten while in their care. I thought an apology might be in order, as he was still alive.
The Chair took the time to reply to me, saying that corporal discipline was an accepted part of the private school pedagogy at the time, and that, while it may have been practiced too eagerly, wasn’t subject to sanction. Being gay and doing a bit of kiddie-diddling , however, was never permissible (despite being an ever present part of private school life, then and now) and had to be pursued beyond the grave to satisfy the parents whose children they cared for.
I don’t know, I somehow think beating a child until he bleeds is several times more terrible a sin than being a chicken hawk, especially when you’re giving away fast motorcycles.