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Schoolmaster and pupils, illustration from a 15th century manuscript.

Apposing is a classroom practice employed by schoolmasters from the Middle Ages until the 17th/18th century. In apposing, a student is made to approach the place where the schoolmaster is seated, so that he can be examined and corrected.

In school-related illustrations of those days, the schoolmaster is typically depicted seated in his big chair, in the way of a king on a throne. The master gave lessons and issued commands from this chair. When apposing, the boy might be standing, kneeling, or sitting at the teacher's feet. The main idea was that the boys came to the teacher, and not he to them. This had a psychological importance, as it emphasized the schoolmaster's authority and high status.

Apposing was common practice both in convent schools, in secular schools and in private teaching.

Apposing and CP at the schoolmaster's chair[edit]

The birch lay within reach from the schoolmaster's chair and was used to punish indiscipline and inability to answer. The practice of apposing also meant the student was expected to come and and actively acquiesce in any punishment the schoolmaster felt inclined to give.

Judging from image sources of these days, most school corporal punishment in Europe was administered with a birch rod, and always on the bare buttocks. The typical spanking positions seem to have been the horsed position, the bent-over-object position, and the OTK position. In several of these image sources, the schoolmaster is depicted remaining seated while meting out corporal punishment.

In regions that didn't grow birch trees, other implements where used, such as sticks, switches, straps and whips. The rattan cane was not available in Europe until around the 18th century, when it was imported to Europe from the colonies.

For more images, see School corporal punishment (antiquity-1699) and School corporal punishment (1700-1899).


A student in front of the teacher's desk.

By the 18th/19th century, classrooms had changed. The teacher would now typically sit at a desk or stand at a lectern. Students who were called to approach the teacher for examinations would either stand in front of this desk or to the side of it. When corporal punishment was meted out, the teacher typically rose from his seat. OTK spankings and birchings became nearly extinct in the schoolroom because the teacher's chair faced his desk. When a student was to be birched, switched, strapped, or caned, other positions such as bent over or bent-over-a-desk were typically employed. Some schools who meted out a lot of corporal punishment had birching blocks, for example Eton College. The teacher was still a classic authority figure, but in a way became more physically distant to his students.

Girls were now educated the same or nearly so as boys, female teachers appeared, and teachers were no longer called "schoolmasters".

The end of apposing[edit]

The 20th century brought various further revolutions to teaching practices. Modern pedagogics often attempts to minimize the status difference between teacher and students, which is reflected in classroom design. The teacher's desk is no longer on a raised platform, and the teacher will come to he student's places more often than the students come to the teacher. Desks are often rearranged for discussion and workshop-style units.