School discipline

The lack of discipline in Maltese schools often features in local news. This is in contrast to the discipline that was strictly enforced at schools in the past.

At St Aloysius College in the 1950s there was a “prefect of discipline” who went from classroom to classroom on Monday morning administering “discipline” to students who had “misbehaved” during the previous week. This misbehaviour usually consisted of nothing more than “talking during lessons in class”.

The boys were beaten with a thick, flat leather strap called the ferula – five strikes on each outstretched hand. With each strike, the hand reeled in pain as the ferula came down with great force on the upturned, sensitive palm. Both hands remained sore for several hours.

My heart filled with compassion whenever I witnessed some ultra sensitive boy crying uncontrollably and writhing in pain as the Prefect insisted on going on, in front of the rest of the class, with his 10 strikes of the ferula.

I myself used to feel anxious and apprehensive over the weekend whenever I had to face this punishment on the following Monday. At the same time, the threat of physical punishment did not deter me from “misbehaving” now and then.

On one occasion, I was subjected to 10 strikes of the ferula for humming a tune in class. I don’t recall  the pain but I still remember the tune. It was a melodious song entitled Stranger in Paradise, from the 1955 film Kismet.

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