Sunday, 30 November 2008

A Rough, Non-Proofread Extract from Volume 2: An experiment in Education: Multiplication Tables

I just thought I'd put up a little snippet from a thing that I wrote some time ago intending it for INSTITUTIONALISED volume 1 but that didn't make it in, having been later earmarked to make up part of volume 2 when it looked as if there was some danger of volume 1 growing too large and unwieldy. Inspired by all the talk of unethical psychology experimentation in my last post I thought now the time might be ripe for its inclusion. As for the pic, well that's another story, of which more later...
The principle of social compliance

An experiment in Education: Multiplication Tables

She was to copy out a multiplication table, totally spurious and of their own devising, bearing scant resemblance to any truth or logic. The detailed make up of each would be random, computer-generated, with virtually guaranteed mutual exclusivity from any of the previous sets they had been forced to learn or would learn; there was nothing that might constitute a pattern and that might allow the more astute to benefit from previous impositions by easing the take up and recall of the new.

Rote learning and recital were the key principles in force; the need to keep up, to concentrate, not only on recording the dictation but doing so without recourse to correction and while maintaining a near perfect copper-plate hand, denied even the brightest sufficient pause so as to press into employment any learning and recall strategies they might have picked up through their past academic endeavours.

Indeed, there was insufficient mental freedom allowed them so as to consider anything else; it kept them grounded within their physical surrounds, the escape of daydreams, of imagination, of wonder, was barred them at every turn.

“Ok, girls, fingertips on shoulders, elbows smartly out to the sides. Not like that, 16S, you stupid girl! That's better, elbows right back, nice and tight. Now, class, I'm glad to report that every one of you finally managed to get through your multiplication tables successfully in the last session. There were one or two stumbles and corrections, to be sure, but generally I'm satisfied that you finally have them drummed into those thick heads of yours.”

Six pairs of wide eyes stared fixedly ahead, locked on to the white board or more accurately, the long, thin, tapering cane that hung along side it; near-on one and one half metres of whippy white-plastic perfection, capable, under expert wielding, of a finely resolved and graduated chastisement, from the faintest, stingily-pink, lines, through raised and purpling wheals of throbbing agony to the actual splitting of velvet peach pink flesh, drawn drum-tight through hairpin-bent, ankle-grasping and straight-legged stance. The latter was to be feared the most, the final eight to ten centimetres, would be skilfully landed, the taper increasing markedly and aggressively over that distance, down to a mere two or three millimetres in diameter at its extremity. The immediate physical pain might well be lessened in comparison by the adoption of that technique, but the psychological pain would grow exponentially with each cut – as the understanding would dawn that such a flawlessly satin-white curvaceous expanse of flesh as would render breathless the most unaffected of bystanders was being systematically and quite deliberately marred.

It was the horror one might feel if forced to witness the irreparable defacing of an exquisite, irreplaceable artwork, but to the individual girl it was a horror brought closer to home, internalised and personalised. It was no less than the murder of self esteem, the destruction of dreams, aspirations and of prospects; her buttocks permanently marked, her body, to some, perhaps her best if not only asset, defiled, blemished, disfigured, her worth lessened, at least in her own eyes and such was the intent after all was said and done.

There was little reaction expressed in those eyes, little more than a nervous tick around the corners of a mouth or across a pale cheek, certainly none would risk a smile, even had she some sufficient lightness of heart, nevertheless the relief was somehow palpable: There would be no such punishment for the moment. Each and every young woman present was grateful for the effort of her nameless and unknowable compatriots; the failing of any one of them would have been cause enough for the punishment of them all. Such was the system here, such had been the result of the previous four tests; every last one of them could still feel the cost throbbing across their sweating, rubber-encased buttocks.

The woman standing at the head of the class, seemingly having barely paused long enough to draw breath, continued on in the same vein, warming to her subject with mock-enthusiasm;

“Today we are going to start work on learning a new set of tables. I understand the limitations with what I have to work with here; I realise that none of you are too bright, I accept that all of you have psychological impairments of one form or another, or you wouldn't have been sent here in the first place, and I realise that one or two of you are particularly slow learners...but I do not intend to put up with any more of the sort of nonsense we have just had over learning this last set.”

As she spoke she had begun to pace up and down, threading her way between the rows of desks, pausing on occasion to stroke the slender nape of a girls neck, gently tuck her fingers under a stiffly starched blouse collar or under a gymslip's taut shoulder-strap, pausing to trace its lie over the striped, puff-shouldered blouse, briefly trickling pianist-nimble fingertips down behind the front of the bib-like bodice and over thimble-stiffening nipples, the latter perkily-presented and thrusting hopefully from within their sheaving of sheer, fine-weave cotton.

“I have seen little children perform better than you at learning their 'times tables'. Look at yourselves, you're supposed to be grown women, all you have to do is learn a few multiplication tables but you are either too lazy, too stupid or both. We've had to dress you like children, treat you like children, just to get you to behave yourselves; you look ridiculous sitting there in those gymslips, blouses and ties, even children of ten would feel ridiculous in those outfits. and how many ten-year-olds do you think we would have to put in diapers and rubber pants? Hmmm?

Do you know what? I, for one, think you should look ridiculous...because you are ridiculous. Well, I can tell you this: you are going to be lazy no longer. From today I am going to drastically shorten the time allowed for you to achieve the learning outcomes required of you for each task set. This time there are going to be just four sessions before I set the first test.. and I'll expect each and every one of you to know all of your new tables from one to twelve verbatim by that time. Make no mistake, I mean all of you - one mistake from any one of you and you are all going to be out here over my desk, one at a time, with your nasty smelly little knickers down, your diapers piled around your ankles and your big fat buttocks bouncing and dancing under my cane.”

“Right, girls...listen, copy...begin.”

The woman's poise was of the most elegantly-authoritative confidence; assertive in the extreme. She was a walking anachronism; an aura of authority surrounded her as if a bubble of some substance, some remnant of an earlier era, having somehow intruded into our own, had engulfed her, bringing forth with it the very essence of that past time. Outdated attitudes, Victorian values and social moirés, long since forgotten, had been reinvigorated in that room by the power of will alone. Personified by her - and made manifest in her – these were mere abstractions yet somehow were made tangible, as much by her dress, her attitude and the authority in her voice as by the riding switch she habitually carried.

She strolled up and down slowly between the two columns of low-slung school desks, each a white-plastic facsimile of a Victorian schoolroom design with seat and top combined. Her stockings swished and whispered softly beneath her closely-fitted knee-length white leather skirt, her white satin mandarin-collared blouse slithered seductively beneath her calf-length white doctor’s coat, the latter worn open, the blouse’s pearl buttons catching the light on their spherical surfaces, lying nestling between the woman's aggressively thrusting breasts. Her right-hand was en-gloved in soft white kid, a white leather loop attaching a finely tapering white switch to her wrist ran between her fingers and she toyed with the cane seemingly absent-mindedly as she walked.

From speakers hidden and secreted around the room the sound of a school bell rang out and with that the pre-recorded lesson proceeded. In response her charges bent to their task, craning over carefully copperplate-recorded transcriptions of the robotically delivered dictation, each forced to learn and relearn endless, mindless, useless nonsense simply to test whether or not in time, she would become unable to recall that she had previously learnt elsewhere. This was not education - or anything like it - this was discipline for the sake of itself, but, moreover, this was the cruel and deliberate unravelling of years of education and social development.

“Two times three equals five... three times three equals six... four times three equals seven... five times three equals nine...” The voice authoritatively-feminine, cold, emotionless and virtually monotonal, insistent, without letup, and going on, and on, and on...

There would be seventeen hours of this, before bedtime, the girls using their bedpans at their desks at the allotted ‘toilet times’ and quietly filing out to take their meals at the circular table in the dormitory ward twice during the day. Different ‘teachers’ would take the class in shifts throughout the day, each of a similar stamp and each dressing virtually identically. There would be some small relief from the monotony of the regime, one welcomed, even yearned for, without exception - and despite the deleterious effect they all suspected, deep down, was the result. At some point or other throughout the day, individually, each and every one of them would be taken to the doctor's room for an hour's intensive interview, psychological testing and appraisal or behavior modification therapy – whatever the specifics, each would return sharing the same glassy-eyed detachment and requiring more than one rebuke from the 'teacher', or even a stroke or two of the cane on occasion, before satisfactory regaining her concentration on her work.

These few digressions and distractions notwithstanding, the day would progress without change or interruption, as had the previous and as would those subsequently to follow, stretching off without end seemingly indefinitely into the future, each identically structured and largely indiscernible from any other. Even through the swirling fog of distress, even through the befuddled mire of thought patterns retrained, manipulated, sculpted and restricted by the unrelenting and unforgiving discipline of the place, even to a personality picked apart strand by strand and trapped within a mind progressively enfeebled by sensory impoverishment and isolation, there could be no further pretense. To Lavinia Vitesse it was now all too clear: this treatment would continue until those faceless individuals who had sanction it, and to whom there was presumably some sort of nefarious satisfaction to be had in the imposition of a regime of such strict discipline and punishment on a group of attractive young ladies, lost interest in their game. But by then they would undoubtedly have quite thoroughly broken her will.

It might go on for years for all she knew...she would be left as hopelessly child-like as most of the others around her were already; she would be just one of six imbeciles, each left with little more ability to get by in society at large than a newborn babe. The tears came welling up - her hands flew instinctively to her face but only for an instant, only for as long as it took for instinct to brutally oppressed by discipline, to be overcome and denied. In fact her pen had barely left the paper, that was not the problem – it was the tears themselves that were the problem.

Already the first few splashes were causing the ink to run, smudging her work. Her weeping redoubled – smudged work was untidy work...and untidy work meant six strokes of the cane...and already it had been noted, already the teacher's cut-glass tones were berating her, already the woman was approaching, swishing her cane through the air with each stride...So soon...Her first schoolroom caning was coming; so soon, so soon - and in front of all those other poor cows.

She'd held some vague notion of holding out, of keeping some flicker of hope alive in herself by inspiring some sort of spirit of rebellion in one or two of the others. But what chance would she have of that once they had witnessed her howling under the cane and every bit as bitterly and broken-heartedly as they did themselves.

That chance was only ever an illusion in the first place. A girl such as Lavinia, despite the length of time she had already been detained, was still considered a 'new' girl. She would never have have placed into such a situation unless all those around her had already been satisfactory tamed – it ensured her social isolation, encouraged conformity. Nonetheless, a salutatory lesson was called for - and would soon be learnt...

Sweet Lavinia was waiting, now, refaced and viably shaking, bent tightly across her little school desk. The lock at their waistband having been released, she could feel her latex-lined school bloomers being slowly peeled away from her sweat-tacky flesh. She could hear that all too familiar sequence of sounds: the first like sucking sticky Sellotape being peeled from a Christmas balloon; the second, like rain-soggy autumn leaves, being the rustling of the thin, rubber, knicker liner; the third, the even softer sighing of the acetate knickers themselves. Then the cool air washing around her buttocks announced their nearing readiness...

She would scream from the first cut, she knew she would...she just knew...that woman would ensure that she would. Switch in hand, an arm swept back, hesitating in readiness, tension building in taut muscles as the plump fleshy target was squared up...In that brief moment teacher and pupil both were united in understanding; this was to be as much a lesson for the other girls, for the class as a whole, as for the miscreant presently quivering so prettily over that desk. The girl had done nothing wrong, not in reality, not in the real world - but she would be punished nonetheless and punished severely. It would be punishment despite innocence, perhaps because of that innocence if truth be told. It would be punishment without rhyme or reason, punishment meted out on a whim – but it was that very sense of unfairness that made make it so effective, that broke the spirit. Tension released, its aim assured, the arm swung down, the switch arcing back through the air, whistling, singing...

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