It would seem, however, that in respect to school and family government there could be no question on this point. The punishment of a child by a parent, or of a pupil by a teacher, ought certainly, one would think, to exclude the element of vindictive retribution altogether, and to be employed solely with reference to the salutary influences that may be expected from it in time to come. If the injunction “Vengeance is mine, I will repay it, saith the Lord” is to be recognized at all, it certainly ought to be acknowledged here.
This principle, once fully and cordially admitted, simplifies the subject of punishment, as administered by parents and teachers, very much. One extremely important and very striking result of it will appear from a moment’s reflection. It is this, namely:
It excludes completely and effectually all manifestations of irritation or excitement in the infliction of punishment—all harsh tones of voice, all scowling or angry looks, all violent or threatening gesticulations, and every other mode, in fact, of expressing indignation or passion. Such indications as these are wholly out of place in punishment considered as the application of a remedy devised beneficently with the sole view of accomplishing a future good. They comport only with punishment considered as vengeance, or a vindictive retribution for the past sin.
This idea is fundamental. The mother who is made angry by the misconduct of her children, and punishes them in a passion, acts under the influence of a brute instinct. Her family government is in principle the same as that of the lower animals over their young. It is, however, at any rate, a government; and such government is certainly better than none. But human parents, in the training of their human offspring, ought surely to aim at something higher and nobler. They who do so, who possess themselves fully with the idea that punishment, as they are to administer it, is wholly remedial in its character—that is to say, is to be considered solely with reference to the future good to be attained by it, will have established in their minds a principle that will surely guide them into right ways, and bring them out successfully in the end. They will soon acquire the habit of never threatening, of never punishing in anger, and of calmly considering, in the case of the faults which they observe in their children, what course of procedure will be most effectual in correcting them.
Parents seem sometimes to have an idea that a manifestation of something like anger—or, at least, very serious displeasure on their part—is necessary in order to make a proper impression in respect to its fault on the mind of the child. This, however, I think, is a mistake. The impression is made by what we do, and not by the indications of irritation or displeasure which we manifest in doing it. To illustrate this, I will state a case, narrating all its essential points just as it occurred. The case is very analogous, in many particulars, to that of Egbert and George related in the last chapter.