THE following headline in The Guyana Times on November 20, 2022: “You can’t abuse people’s children – Manickchand warns teachers” brings back memories of my younger years attending Messiah Government School at No. 71 Village and Skeldon Line Path Government Secondary School, in the Corentyne Berbice that are worth sharing.
Let me begin by quoting Education Minister Priya Manickchand: “You [teachers] can’t beat people’s children black and blue. You can’t abuse people’s children and believe, somehow or the other, that is the order of the day. Look at you; young, fresh citizens of this world who must inform yourselves of what is the new, civilized behaviour.”
Minister Manickchand was simply repeating a social practice that has been going on for centuries in Guyana. In a plea for more meaningful ways of teaching, she reasoned that it is important “to understand that every single child in there could be adversely affected by your terrible attitude or really feel like the most valued human being by your good attitude. Sometimes it’s not even what you teach, it’s how you make children feel.” In one breath, the Education Minister was a teacher, psychologist, and disciplinarian.
School corporal punishment is when physical and psychological pain are inflicted by teachers on students when they do not conform to the desired expectations of a classroom. A whip, wild cane, ruler, chalk board erasure, belts, or slaps are used by teachers to conduct corporal punishment.
Boys are generally whipped on the buttocks and girls on the palms of their hands. On some occasions, boys and girls are whipped on the back while sitting, a painful experience since that area is difficult to reach and rub. Corporal punishment was implemented in Guyana during British colonial days in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and justified by a clause in common law doctrine known as loco parentis.
Teachers are given the same rights as parents to discipline and punish students in their care or supervision. For example, if a student misbehaves in school, playground included, the teacher, instead of calling or speaking with the parents, will do what he thinks the parents would have done.
This means, in Guyana, “drop lash.” I have overheard stories of how parents encouraged teachers to discipline their children when out of their care, thinking if the complaint is coming from the teacher, then the teacher must be right. This situation gets worse if a relative is the teacher who is instructing the student since the conversation of school performance and behaviour is closer to home and normally occurs and erupts at any given time.
I remember in preparation to take the common entrance examination at the age of 10, the teacher was merciless in his whipping spree, averaging about 100 lashes per a day from September to May, excluding the holiday breaks.
I recall one student was whipped so much that he had diarrhoea in class, an embarrassment he carried with him most of his life. Other students did not attend school but hid in the nearby bushes. There was one student who was remarkably familiar with the backlands of the school where there were black sage plants/trees. The teacher would ask him to go there every morning and bring back twenty black sage whips, and man, he was good at bringing back well-groomed ones.
The black sage whips were green, flexible and firm and when administered on the buttocks of the khaki drill pants you could hear the sound about 100 yards away. I ran into this former classmate some time back and I asked him why he chose to bring the best of black sage whips to the teacher. He replied by saying, “He used to drop am in me rass first.”
Was I whipped at Messiah Government School? Oh yes, but we had a silent game to deal with the whippings. Those of us who took the whippings and did not rub or cry were the toughest. What a reward! I did qualify for common entrance and up to this day, I am not sure if I did so because of studying or the whippings.
Now on to Skeldon Line Path Secondary, where I was growing into a young man, experimenting with things some young men did. Before I get into my story let me say that the school had some good teachers who did not hit students such as Ms. Persaud, Madan Jagdeo, and Jai, among others.
They were friendly. So, one day, I experimented with smoking a cigarette and somehow the news went back to a teacher named by a generation of students after a TV character, Bud…Butt. He called me in and questioned me for about an hour and I caved. The next day, the man flogged me (three strokes) in front of the class. I was about to forgive this man but in a recent conversation with a fellow classmate who met him at a Line Path reunion in New York, said the teacher/TV character was proud of how he treated students at Line Path.
In closing, I refer you, the teachers, back to Minister Manickchand when she declared that Guyana “will hold you accountable because people want a better, nicer, more developed Guyana.” I take the position that physical punishment in the classroom is ineffective in the long term, since it disturbs learning and creates anti-social behaviour (firstname.lastname@example.org).