In Loco Parentis?

Let’s begin in the 1970s with the British cartoonist Colin Leary, who mainly worked on film posters but had a sideline in risqué joke toons.

This particular joke boils down to a simple pun on the word ‘seat’, in its two senses of what might be sat upon. Normally you ask, ‘Is this seat taken?’ when you want a chair, so for the joke to work, the inquirer has to be someone who may be expected to have routine business involving the other kind of seat – and that takes us to teachers whose job includes the spanking of naughty schoolgirls.

The mortar boards and gowns, gymslips and stockings, make it obvious that we’re talking about fictional stereotypes here, not reality. But it is a documented fact that, during the last century, some high school teachers spanked their pupils from time to time, and in some communities it was taken not as an outrage but an ordinary fact of educational life. Since time immemorial, some doting parents have objected to their beloved offspring being whacked in the cause of education, but other families adopted the opposite policy, so that a daughter who was spanked at school could expect a second spanking when she got home.

But school spanking is relatively rare as a scenario in fiction, except of course in spanking pornography, where the relentless search for easy pretexts makes it almost ubiquitous. When it crops up at all in the mainstream, the schoolroom scenario tends to be used in ways that are oblique and metaphorical rather than direct. One lady whom this will affect is Rebecca Welles:

She is the female guest star in ‘Brunette Bombshell’, a 1959 episode of the television series Bat Masterson (1958-61), starring Gene Barry as the legendary gambler and Eastern-dandy-about-the-Wild-West.

The episode begins with Masterson buying a sports club in Denver as a business venture; but when he arrives to take possession, he finds a ‘Property Condemned’ sticker on the building. He has bought a dud: the club is to be torn down to make way for a gambling casino. When he attempts to open up anyway, he lands in jail and is released by the local Commissioner of Police on two conditions: that he pays a huge fine – the same amount he originally paid for the club – and relinquishes his rights in the property.

It gradually emerges that Masterson’s activities are being sabotaged by thugs hired by the mysterious and ruthless ‘town boss’. He arranges to meet his adversary, and discovers that it is actually Isabel Fowler, the (much) younger sister of the Mayor of Denver.

Her brother, an honest politician, thinks she’s helping him to clean up the town, but in reality she and the police commissioner are running a protection racket. The corrupt cop is killed in the course of the story, and on learning the truth Mayor Fowler appoints Masterson as his temporary replacement to allow him to deal out justice with some official standing. Once the villains are routed and the extorted money paid back, Fowler offers to make the appointment permanent, but Masterson declines. Agreeing that Isabel should be punished, however, he suggests another very temporary appointment, as Commissioner of Education, in which capacity he deals out a different kind of justice as the episode comes to an end:

The scene takes place inside a police cell, a setting that carries obvious associations of the kind of adult judicial penalty that is reckoned to be inadequate for Isabel: if handed over to the civil authorities she’d only sweet-talk her way out of it, which is why the only punishment that will do for her is a good, sound spanking. The reasoning may be rather specious, but what’s interesting is that it’s felt Masterson needs to have some kind of formal authority to do it, and that the particular kind of authority he gets is that of a teacher.

In other words, spanking naughty girls is reckoned to be a standard part of a teacher’s job description. But as I said before, it’s not something that is often portrayed directly in narrative. Partly that’s because the schoolroom just isn’t a very viable setting for a spanking scene in most of the usual ways they turn up in mainstream stories: any adult women who are there will ordinarily not be subject to school discipline, while those who are under-age will obviously not be of any interest.

We shouldn’t really need to be told why this particular version of the spanking trope carries uncomfortable baggage, but let’s explore it anyway. First stop – ‘spicy world’! The American cartoon digests published in the 1950s and ’60s by Humorama and their competitors inhabited that hinterland of the mainstream that gave regular social situations and tropes a sexy spin. Spanking often featured, which made the genre as pretext-hungry as porn, with the signal difference that the toons were always wryly honest about the ulterior motive. But what might seem on the face of it to be a gift of a trope, the schoolgirl spanked by her teacher, appeared as infrequently as everywhere else – a sure sign that it approaches areas that were, and remain, a lot more delicate than the usual run of wives spanked by their husbands and secretaries by their bosses.

Here’s the only known example of a spicy spanked schoolgirl from Humorama, a 1957 toon by British artist George Morrice about the perils of detention:

And from a little later, one by Woody Kimbrell (1916-90), who was best known for his newspaper strips but also contributed to the raunchier Sex to Sexty toon collections in the 1970s:

These toons are handicapped by the absence, from America at that time, of the stereotype that Colin Leary was able to draw on: the ‘naughty schoolgirl’ that had been immediately recognizable in Britain at least since Ronald Searle’s St Trinian’s cartoons in the 1940s and which, save perhaps for the incurably literal-minded, had nothing at all to do with actual schoolgirls, naughty or otherwise. But since the equivalent US icon, the sexy Catholic schoolgirl in her just-about-panty-length plaid skirt, seems to have been a later development, the two American-published toons can only present regular pretty girls who happen to be pupils at school. Accordingly, the artists slide around the immediate problem by overtly depicting them with so full a degree of physical development that they are clearly old enough to be spanked – which of course is entirely consistent with the approach that treats spanking as a bit of sexy fun.

Fun for the teacher anyway – which means we’re not out of the woods yet. The wider difficulty is only escalated by upping the age bracket, though at least it brings closer the time when the professional relationship is dissolved and the girl being spanked is no longer strictly a schoolgirl:

090b 1956

(As you can see, waiting until graduation also means she can be spanked with her own diploma!)

So here’s the difficulty: with the passing of time, girls become more spankable but less eligible to be spanked. Let’s take it right to the vanishing point, beyond high-school education and into the college years that are the background to the comic-book story ‘I Paid the Price’. And in case anyone should be in any doubt about what the price she paid was, all is made clear in the outstanding splash page:

In the story, spoiled heiress Connie Desmond comes to Dexter College certain of one thing: her father’s money and influence will solve any and all difficulties she might encounter. On arrival, she has a moment of friction with Burt Taylor, who is driving groups of students from the station to their dorms, but refuses to take her alone.

Next day, she turns up late to her math class, to find that the teacher is none other than Burt Taylor.

Twice embarrassed, she schemes to get her own back on him, and stays behind after class, pretending to want extra instruction – but actually to try and vamp him. She doesn’t succeed, and the outcome is…

Of course, this is romantic fiction – first published in the August 1950 issue of Campus Loves – so the story’s subsequent development takes Connie from vengeful resentment…

to penitent devotion:

Burt’s primary function in the story, as told from Connie’s point of view, is as the object of her ultimate affections and the one who shares the stable happy ending with her. He’s not primarily her teacher, which would make the spanking a more problematic element, even in the unlikely event that it were construed as a part of his professional responsibilities when dealing with a student at college level. As it is, that difficulty can be ignored, eclipsed by the norms of the romance genre, in which impending relationships often pass through the spanking phase.

It’s very much to the point that we are drifting off the topic here: it supports the case I’m making that disciplinary spanking in the classroom is a subject whose sensitivity and complications make it hard for the mainstream to handle directly and straightforwardly. Ultimately, if spanking carries potential romantic or even erotic connotations, then it’s not something you want a schoolteacher to be doing to a schoolgirl. So if you can’t take the sex out of spanking, it’s best to take spanking out of school.

And that is where we are now: corporal punishment has no legitimate place in modern educational techniques and practice.

(‘To think that one of my colleagues in public education got fired for a mere slap on the face.’)

So the prospects of encountering a spanking in a modern classroom are minimal, unless of course someone has a fantasy they want to enact, like Nina (Zoe Kazan), who stays behind after class in ‘Escape from the Castle’, a 2010 episode of the comedy series Bored to Death,

in which the only thing that’s genuinely unwelcome or embarrassing is the arrival of the janitor to lock up the school:

My point is that earlier generations were already at least half-wise to the issue, in their own way, even though spanking was more commonplace, and more accepted, in both real-life education and fictional romance; and that is the reason why so few schoolgirl spankings feature in mainstream fiction.

Except, of course, for the ones that do.

It’s even there in the title of the 1969 German school comedy Klassenkeilekeile being one of many German words for spanking.

The star is Uschi Glas, who gets the first of two spankings in her film career. (The other was by a supposed headmaster, but in a non-school context, in the rather absurd 1971 movie Wenn mein Schätzen auf die Pauke Haut.) She plays Katja Hutten, whose best friend has just been expelled from one school and is being sent unwillingly back to another by her exasperated parents. Katja agrees to take her place as the naughty new girl, because she wants to write an exposé of the institution’s low educational standards. Once there, she becomes interested in the popular teacher Dr Wagner (Walter Giller),

and kisses him in a nightclub, right in front of a press photographer’s lens.

The resultant compromising picture gets him fired, and the students mount a successful campaign to get him reinstated; but not before taking their revenge on Katja in the form of the ‘klassenkeile’ of the title – literally, a spanking from her classmates, forcibly bent over a school desk and smacked by each of them in turn.

There is one telling and significant feature of the scene. This is a mixed high school, and indeed the classmate who passes sentence on Katja is a boy, Klaus Fuchs (Wolfgang Condrus). But when it comes for that sentence to be carried out, the boys all walk to one end of the classroom and turn their backs, leaving Katja to be spanked by the girls alone:

And that starts to explain a small anomaly in the universally wholesome canon of spanking scenes in American high school plays. The bad girls are chastised by Dad, Mom, uncles and aunts and other relatives. Sometimes it is a boyfriend, or a friend of the family, or even an employee like the maid in Little Acorns (1943) or the long-suffering secretary in We ‘Dude’ It (1958). But only once in all those plays do we have an example of that commonplace scenario, a schoolgirl spanked by her teacher in loco parentis. The play in question is Spring Journey (1950), and you can see from the picture just what it is that makes this possible:

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is spring-journey-1963-hammond-hs.jpg

Spanked by Miss! There’s not even the remotest possibility of anything sexual about that… is there?

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