– to ban or not to ban
FIRSTLY, corporal punishment has been with society ever since man began to walk this earth, and secondly, corporal punishment in our schools in Guyana goes back to the earliest days of formal education where it was, for the most part, acceptable in the homes as well as the schools; where there was a correlation of the efforts of parents and educators to discipline students; when teachers enjoyed enormous respect in the community and parents supported them unquestionably and when there were hardly ever any public opinion against the use of corporal punishment in schools.
And indeed, Heads of Schools coming to a new School or District received a warmer welcome if they came with a reputation of not sparing the rod.
Thirdly, while modern thinking seems in several quarters to go against the use of corporal punishment as a means of administering discipline, there is yet a large number of people all over the world, including the author of this essay, for whom corporal punishment is an essential tenet of the Christian faith (spare the rod and spoil the child) and for whom the absence of some physical form of discipline will make it harder to enforce the rules of conduct which are a sine qua non in the training of our children.
Fourthly, while we recognize Article 19 of the U.N. Convention on the rights of the Child; the issue is how best it can be implemented having regard to the need to maintain discipline in schools.
Fifthly, consultations. I commend the Hon. Minister of Education and her Educators who have been seeking the opinions/views of the Guyanese public as regards the retaining/abolition of corporal punishment in schools. Simultaneously, I wish to posit that there is need to examine available empirical evidence which would inform us as to whether corporal punishment as a form of discipline has been effective; whether it still has a role in good child rearing; whether it should be phased out allowing other measures to be put in place; or removed from the menu of measures employed until now, to ensure children obey and respect authority and become responsible students and disciplined products of Society.
** 6) I, like thousands of other Guyanese, attended primary and secondary school in the 1950s and 1960s at a time when acquiring an Education was viewed as the major avenue/tool to success and status in society, and consequently, the motivation to learn was probably greater among all classes than is the case today.
** 7) People’s needs then were simple: no brand name boots; no TVs with dubious messages and alien values in our homes diverting our children from reading and doing homework. As children we were schooled and denounced by parents, teachers, relatives, friends, neighbours when we were delinquent. The cane was then the ultimate sanction in instances of serious breaches of school and home rules. And most of us have no feelings of regret because these measures have contributed positively to our upbringing and have helped to shape us into better persons with no ill effects. But alas! These good practices appear to be dying.
** 8) And what is the position today in the 21st century? To understand today’s position we must first understand and appreciate that the rise in indiscipline in schools began in the 1980s at a time when Socialism was bringing down the Economy of our country; when parents went to school not to check on their children’s conduct and performance but to verbally abuse and to beat up on teachers; when adults were afraid to reprimand children even for serious acts of misconduct; when mothers began to go out to work in large numbers to supplement the family income leaving the responsibility for the upbringing of their children to maids/servants and obviously changing the role of the parents, vis a vis the parents of the 1950s, the 1960s and the 1970s. The responsibility for the education and upbringing of our children is no longer a community responsibility.
Our children’s attitude and behaviour are influenced by what they see on the television and therefore by the cultural norms of foreign societies; the desire to enjoy goods and services others enjoy without having to work hard to achieve these.
Today the Head Teacher of a school whips a student to discipline him/her and we cry: ‘Child abuse!’ We emphasise the rights of children but not the duties of parents nor the responsibilities of Society. We spare the rod in school but punish our children through the judicial system.
** 9) I would wish to see the phasing out of corporal punishment as one of several measures used in schools to discipline students; perhaps over a three-year period. In the interim, our guiding motto must be: ‘Limitation not Imitation”. We must not take wholesale some values and principles from other societies and transpose them into our society. Note that the same people who are telling us to abolish corporal punishment in our schools are having tremendous problems in their own jurisdictions and are struggling with indiscipline in their schools…USA, UK.
In fact, in the USA many States still maintain corporal punishment in the schools.
** 10) Corporal punishment must complement other measures of discipline. It’s not an alternative. Societal degradation is fast becoming embedded in our school system and we need to arrest it. We do need a bit of the rod to help our children walk the proverbial straight and narrow path.
“Let us not spare the rod but let the rod be used sparingly”. Corporal punishment does not mean physical abuse. Indeed our Laws are quite clear about abuse by teachers and parents. The use of the cane must be controlled and employed after less stringent measures have failed. The Ministry of Education’s Manual of Guidelines for the maintenance of order and discipline in schools is clear on this procedure; moreso as it relates to the appropriateness and reasonableness of the use of corporal punishment.
** 11) Alternative forms of discipline. There has been much talk about alternative forms of discipline viz; detention, denial of certain privileges, benefits etc. However, there is empirical evidence that children, aware that they cannot be visited with corporal punishment, couldn’t care less that they were denied certain privileges.
Many have argued that the use of the cane does contribute to a display of violent behaviour by the children whom they say have been victims of what they term “physical abuse”. I do believe however that if corporal punishment increases the propensity to violence among students; some of us will be serial killers today.
** 12) The Guyanese culture has embraced the practice of corporal punishment for decades. Indeed, it has become an integral aspect of our upbringing and many students of yesteryear shower their teachers with praises for being such great teachers and would actually attribute their success in large measure to the application of corporal punishment as a form of discipline.
Given the present disciplinary situation in several of our schools it would seem to me that the immediate removal of corporal punishment with alternative forms of discipline not in place, is to reduce the range of sanctions immediately available to the school and would result in a total collapse of order in the classroom. Learning cannot take place in an indisciplined environment.
** 13) We could debate whether to cane or not to cane when in fact we still have class sizes that are above the recommended size; teachers who consequently out of frustration leave their classrooms unattended and unsupervised; and most violent student misconduct takes place when classes are unsupervised. Today in many homes children are left unattended at home and this has resulted in serious deficiencies in parenting that have to be addressed as a matter of urgency. It is this scenario that leads me to determine that the abrupt removal of corporal punishment in schools could lead to the unacceptable practice of reprimands and verbal abuse by students if alternative forms of discipline are not contemporaneously put in place. We do not want to move from one contentious issue to another.
** 14) The removal of corporal punishment as a form of punishment in schools must be over such a period as will allow teachers/parents to be adequately trained to deal with indisciplined students using alternative forms of sanctions. In this regard, there is need not only for parents and teachers to be guided on the proper methods/ways to teach and to bring up children but to establish a common value system in the school and the home to deal with discipline and the inculcation of sound moral values. In this way, we can bridge the gap between the home and the school by coming up with a consensus on matters such as corporal punishment. In this way also we can direct our attention and energies; our resources, our fury and vociferous agitation against the more serious forms of child abuse such as incest, sexual molestation, our street children, etc.
** CONCLUSION. Meanwhile, the focus must be on a gradual change of emphasis from the use of corporal punishment to the alternatives being emphasized and this new focus must ab initio involve parents, teachers, education Administrators, students.
Parent Teachers Association and Students Councils sharing with students the responsibility for maintaining discipline must be set up where they do not exist and rejuvenated where they are not functioning.
Parenting skills must be imparted to parents and teacher training must focus in large measure on the psychology of discipline and management of behaviour problems.
More School Welfare Officers and Counsellors must be trained to schools or cluster of schools etc. and society must take back responsibility for our children’s upbringing.
The ban on corporal punishment in schools cannot be an overnight measure but must be examined in conjunction with the setting up of the necessary institutions, the training of required personnel and the realization that until alternatives to its use are in place and working satisfactorily, corporal punishment has an acceptable role in the discipline of children. Regulated caning is an effective toll of discipline.
NORMAN WHITTAKER, M.P
Minister within the Ministry of Local Government