Fear of flogging helped a legion of young scholars
Stabroek News
January 3, 2002

Dear Editor,

Let's face the issue squarely. Is it not the height of illogical thinking, screw headed planning and unrealistic pushing of an unripe assumption for the Ministry of Education and those who inhabit the desks that the nation pays for and expects better from, to be mulling the view that corporal punishment should be abolished from our schools, particularly the earlier training areas?

I have not joined the discourse before this because I truly felt that enough persons with good sense would have been able to turn those weighty thinkers, who have been playing around with this idea, away from this seemingly modern penchant for tinkering with everything in our systems.

One wonders whether they have not come across that most apt maxim and suggestion to tinkerers: "If it ent bruk, don't fix it."

The suggestion from this quarter is the same - leave well enough alone. Where have all these planners, with new fangled ways about educating our young, been all these years when Guyana's education system was virtually second to none in the Caribbean, with perhaps the only country near the success it was achieving, being then little Barbados which has now, like the rest of the Caribbean virtually outstripped what passes for an education regime in this country, with certainly the results to prove it, except for the occasional star that jumps out of our mini firmament of under achievers?

Did they know that way back then in the late fifties, the sixties and the seventies that our nubile minds were scoring scholarships, at first the University College of the West Indies and after that the University of the West Indies, at a rate that was the envy of the entire English-speaking Caribbean?

That the product of our education sojourn, as youth, evolved those who answered the challenge of a place at that then new education facility at Mona, Kingston, Jamaica; and were winning four out of five scholarships up for grabs and then all five of those on offer; then five out of six, when it became clear that Guyana was copping all or most these coveted honours in our then Caribbean.

That our Guyana scholars, then and other entrants to those hallowed walls, were matching mental strides with the other best of island in our archipelago in the Caribbean stream; and were emerging so outstanding that not only did Guyana wrest the BWIA scholarships for male and female aspirants to that prize one year, but that Sir Arthur Lewis, the then principal or Vice Chancellor of the UWI, was to lament that, with Guyana to leave the grouping that constituted the University of the West Indies and going it alone, as Dr Cheddi Jagan then insisted should happen, it was a weighty blow to the high standards that the then fledgling institution had already attained.

That at one time three of the four halls of residence, Mary Seacole, Chancellor and Taylor were headed by Guyanese stalwarts; and that no honours roll in any discipline was ever without the name of a Guyanese gracing it then, so much so that the transition of that body from being a college of London University to standing on its own, as the foremost tertiary and highest body of learning in its own right in the spectrum of academia in the world, was effected with the BG (Guyana) undergraduates playing the part through the Student Union with yours truly being then the Chariman of the UWI's ICC its Inter Clubs Committee which staged the cultural extravaganza that heralded that historic move to academic autonomy.

Corporal punishment was then an integral part of our growing up in an atmosphere of necessary discipline and a discipline that set us apart from others, as for instance, that of the education system of the United States, from where it now seems our planners are culling most of their new imported techniques.

We indeed grew up and were brought up with that instructive maxim in mind, "spare the rod and spoil the child." It was surely an aphorism that our then caring mentors bore very much in mind both at and in the home and in the school system.

As youngsters, legendary, in our minds, were the "beat men" of that era men like PMA Homer; widely known (and not only in Bedford Methodist of Bourda street where he held authoritative sway) as "Homophones." Highly respected for his gimlet eye to discipline.

Such a solid bender was he in the eyes of all who came under his energetic and pervasive cultural jurisdiction (of how many a song he walked us through, with himself at the piano) that we never realised how short in stature he was until we ourselves grew from striplings to straplings.

Others there were, who patrolled and bestrode our narrow juvenile world like colossuses as they mainly helped shape our future, our destinies. Names abound and each ofus now, remembering our disparate spheres of existence then would harbour fond memories of those who saw to it that our young tree limbs were bent well, so as to incline us aright. Names like "Lonckie" Francis Percival Loncke of Queenstown RC, father of the current musical geniuses in our midst - Drs Jocelyn, John and Yvonne; and others in the Primary School realm like "Bo Bo," the late Boris Bowen of St Barnabas Primary of Regent and Cummings streets (adjacent to that stately church edifice) who not only led at school but was a legend in his own time at the St George's Cathedral where he sternly but kindly guided youth from both near the church and afar in the then mysteries of the hymnal and the Psalter, as he produced choiristers who are now a dying breed in churches across the land. All male. He was a gem of choirmaster and a stickler for discipline.

Names in both the primary and secondary schools abound, of those who led the coterie of those who administered either the cane or the strap; when "six" of the best" was reserved for those (mainly boys) who were flogged to set an example for those who would be wont to stray towards willfulness and easy waywardness.

The "whack" of merely the cane on a desk was enough to remind us all within earshot, of what could be in store if we dared to challenge authority and stray out of line; if we did not wish to appreciate that diligence at the task at hand was the only way to knowledge and to preparing for a life that, in time, will be used to help another future youngster on the path forward.

Properly handled and administered corporal punishment did a world of good for those who have passed this way before us and with those of us who now must lead.

I strongly suggest that our planners think again and perhaps seek advice from those who have helped shape our past society. The fear of a flogging helped a legion of us.

Yours faithfully

Lorri Alexander