Journal Article

Legislation and Liberalization

Dirk Schumann

in German History

Published on behalf of German History Society

Volume 25, issue 2, pages 192-218
Published in print April 2007 | ISSN: 0266-3554
Published online April 2007 | e-ISSN: 1477-089X | DOI:
Legislation and Liberalization

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Between 1945 and 1975 West Germany became modernized and liberalized. School education was one of the key fields in which this process was played out. Methods of school discipline, corporal punishment in particular, were the subject of heated public debates, reflecting the broader political and moral issues of West German postwar reconstruction. The article examines the debate and its conclusion in the 1970s by focusing on Hesse, the only Land that banned corporal punishment in schools completely in 1946, and Bavaria and North Rhine-Westphalia, which both allowed it under restrictions. Proponents of corporal punishment pointed to the problems with deviant youth in the postwar years and declared the use of this type of sanction to be a right given to teachers by customary law. Opponents, however, put forward pedagogical, psychological, political, and moral arguments and called for a clear break with authoritarian methods of the past as necessary for rebuilding democracy. The pace and character of change, however, was determined in the field of law. While a Supreme Court ruling in 1954 supported the opponents' position, a 1957 ruling by another Chamber of the same court reaffirmed the traditional customary-law view of a teacher's right to wield the cane. Customary law could only be superseded by written law, but when most Land governments finally abolished corporal punishment in schools in the early 1970s, they did so, following Hesse's example, by administrative decree only. While teachers who violated the ban therefore were not automatically subject to criminal proceedings, courts remained reluctant to uphold the ban. The abolition of corporal punishment in schools, which also came at the price of an increase in bureaucratic regulations about school discipline and school life, can thus be seen as reflecting the ambivalence of modernization and liberalization after 1945.

Keywords: education; modernization; legalisation; liberalisation; corporal punishment.

Journal Article.  0 words. 

Subjects: European History

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