Getting the strap – Part 3 of 4

historyteaching07In his day teaching in one or two room schools in rural Manitoba,  the strap was an educational tool “applied to the seat of learning,” as my Dad put it. School trustees of the famous rural one-room schools expected it, and students took it as a badge of courage to take a beating as stolidly as possible, heavy corduroys offering some protection to boys in winter. Girls were usually strapped on their hands, though methods tended to vary with each teacher.

My parents, father especially, loved Max Braitwaite’s Why Shoot the Teacher and W.O. Mitchell’sWho Has Seen the Wind. That’s the way it was, mum able to forget and forgive the hand strapping she got, for accidentally breaking a school window with a snowball, from her favourite elementary teacher and role model.


Mennonites are noted pacifists.  If we were not so humble we would be really proud about it. Heck, I am proud my dad was a CO (Conscientious Objector) in World War II.

While there are over 13 different kinds of Mennonites alone in Manitoba the two things you need to know about Mennonites setting them apart from mainstream Protestantism, is that we believe in adult baptism on confession of faith, a theology descending from Anabaptists who were on the front of the line during the Reformation. No Original Sin, no child baptism.   Secondly we developed a New Testament based theology and practice of non-violence.  Though not surviving in all strains of Mennonites, pacifism is generally more or less our publicly expressed position.

There is a famous story of a Gretna resident serving as a missionary in Mexico who was slapped in the face, and he dutifully turned his other cheek and had it slapped too. That was what Jesus would do. We knew how to treat our enemies, but our children were not our enemies, and spare the rod and spoil the child was the common wisdom of the day

Usually we were too young to call out the hypocrisy until we started moving to the city, going to university and mediating our own anger through writing with Patrick Friesen and Di Brandt being the most notable examples.


There was a chilling moment during the Symposium of Manitoba Writing (May/12)when Dick Harrison was asking Manitoba Mennonite Writing panelists of absent Mennonite fathers, and their absence or presence in contemporary Mennonite literature. Patrick spoke from the audience about his own father, and how his pa[1] believed his role as a father and disciplinarian determined by his religion and his church required him to use the strap, making his father beat him harder for having made him “have to” do it.

[1] Finding Friesen’s sequence “pa poems”  Unearthly Horses, following the death of his father I believe,is worth the effort and an example of  a father’s presence in contemporary Mennonite writing.  I will post about them separately.

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