The Princess irritates her teacher by answering before other children (as well she might, since they have to struggle with limited French in a way that she does not). I well remember when I was in fourth class (10) annoying my teacher by lecturing her on Samuel Johnson (who wouldn’t be annoyed?). I got a letter from my father the other day (letters from my father are always a thrill and it remains a matter of deep irritation that my sister gets more of them than I do – she points out that she writes more too) recounting something similar happening to him when he was young in the 1930s:
“I recalled when I was in St. Joseph’s (a fairly tough National school which drew a lot of its clientele from the Marsh – that is, from the flat of the city, places like Sheare’s street, Liberty street, the Main street, and so on). This area had mostly been depopulated by giving the people better housing in the suburbs – Ballyphehane, Gurranebraher, and so on, so that you would not be able to form a very good idea of the way it was when I was a child.
I was a goody-two-shoes sitting in the front of the class, when the Presentation brother in charge, a brother Alphonsus, set the class a problem in mathematics. I was then a precocious little b*st*rd who had also (like you) learned to read very early, and I tended to be a teacher’s pet, I think. At all events, I solved the problem easily and quickly (I am not so sure I could do it now) and called out the answer within a very short time.
At that time each teacher had a cane – a stick about a metre long and 1 or 2 centimetres thick – and the good brother called me to the front of the class, and gave me a good blow of the cane on my outstretched hand. This was then roughly the equivalent of what you told me about M. The zeitgeist today would find this sort of discipline offensive, but it was the norm then, although I think the brother over-reacted: he might have been hoping for a few minutes relaxation while the class struggled with the problem. This sort of discipline even had a theoretical pedagological justification. The unruly student was beaten, and when suffering the pain of the punishment he would be more amenable to words of advice and reproof about his behaviour. I am not necessarily defending this, but I didn’t offend in this way again”.
I’m still struggling to understand what his “offense” was.