The Difference between firmness and cruelty

Theodore Dalrymple writes of a teacher in a ZEP (a zone d’éducation prioritize) in France.

The teacher, named only as Marie in the article, was attacked in mid-lesson by a large male youth previously unknown to her who suddenly burst into her classroom and struck her in the face ten times with a knuckleduster. She fell to the ground bleeding. She needed fifteen stitches and not surprisingly, the attack altered her view of the world. She became generally fearful, which she had never been before. But the worst thing for her was that it took from her the desire to do what she had most wanted to do: teach in a ZEP.

Marie was a genuine and admirable idealist…

In such circumstances, I was alarmed but not altogether surprised to read that Marie, referring to the culprits’ current trial, did not want them to be locked up but rather that they should receive a punishment “so that they understand.”
Marie, like all the sentimentalists who confuse law with therapy, believes that firmness and cruelty are the same. This unwillingness or inability to make proper distinctions is a symptom of our time. It is a form of moral cowardice.