When I mention that I live in Singapore to someone back in the States, chances are very high that they'll make some crack about caning. It gets a little tedious, and I'm not even a Singaporean. Then again, they do cane people here, as well as hang them by the neck until dead, both of which are a bit outré in this day and age, so I guess it's a fair cop.
But just the other day I learned that this passion for caning doesn't only exist at the highest levels of the justice system, but extends into the heartland! I was talking with my Greek students and they explained to me that this thing, which I had seen in markets before (it looks like a little shephard's crook, sort of; a colorful, plastic mini-cane) is for caning kids. The hook is so you han hang it on the window grill or whatever, so it's handy. Once the topic was brought up, they started reminiscing about various caning styles and so forth. It was really very fascinating.
The consensus view was that the first-born child gets caned the most, basically whack bam the whole day through. Then the next child gets off more easily. Finally, the youngest child gets off scot free, running (comparatively--this is Singapore) wild while the older siblings look on with resentment. Also, different parents employ different caning implements. One student said that his parents used a wire hanger. "What, did they untwist it?" he was asked. No, no, he explained, miming the thrashing action, they just used it in its natural state. Hmm. This was met with appreciative silence. But the student in question said he would like to think he was the better for it, and didn't appear resentful or anything. And he is a really good student, you know...
Other methods, not employed by the parents of any of my students, include caning with the big bamboo poles that you stick out of the window with laundry on them (heavy, but unwieldy; it's hard to see how you could really manouver one around on the laundry balcony of a normal flat). The worst, clearly, is caning with little switches, such as you could get by taking one piece from a big outdoor broom (people sweep up outside in Singapore with big brooms of stiff switches bound onto a bamboo pole). "Draws blood, lah." I'm pretty sure you could get arrested in the US for doing that.
So, there you have it! Much as I would never hit my kids with a stick, I have to admit it doesn't seem to do much harm, and is perfectly consistent with loving parenting in this context. (My students seemed to agree that drawing blood was over the line, but that it was the act of an excessively strict parent, not a crazy evil person.) Other Singaporeans to whom I mentioned this conversation were amused that this was news to me. It's funny, but it seems to me that the valence of this kind of thing would be quite different if everybody were doing it. Indeed, if you read old books, it's quite clear that kids who misbehaved expected to get "a good licking" or whatever when they got home, without much comment or resentment. Now, some may complain about conformity and so on (my students did joke about this), but I do remember my mother's comment on her first visit. As she and I passed yet another stream of perfectly-behaved third-graders at the zoo, all walking along in a line, holding hands with their buddy, and supervised by a rather small number of teachers, she said: "you have to stay here long enough to send Zoë to school! These kids are amazing!"
Maybe I've just discovered a new way to motivate my students to learn the endings for the optative.