The key to knowledge is understanding, not fear
Stabroek News
January 8, 2002

Dear Editor,

To regale us with stories of his school days, Mr.Lorri Alexander wrote a very long letter (3.l.2002). In the usual, though sometimes convoluted flourish of "Lorri language" he asked that beatings continue in the nation's schools.

Alexander says that readers must squarely "face the issue" of corporal punishment and the Education Ministry's modern approach to the problem.

In the era of the past many believed that fear was the path leading to knowledge. In fact, Alexander says the "fear of flogging helped a legion of us." Today, many believe that the key to knowledge is "understanding" or proper comprehension achieved through effective communication. Evolved thinkers say most children can be motivated more by having proper examples to follow (as provided by good role models) than through fear. Young adults, by assessing the quality of life enjoyed by educated people, can be inspired to become equally or even more educated.

But alas, as we know only too well in Guyana, there are those who operate solely through the concept of violence; those whose minds stray naturally "towards wilfulness and easy waywardness," those who deliberately refuse to adopt the norms of civilised social behaviour. For these, perhaps, there must be "properly handled and administered" physical punishment. But who in the education system is ably qualified to exact this punishment? Who are judge and jury? Teachers? Alexander seems to think so; in his days he recalled that teachers did the beating. But the infliction of pain at the arbitrary will of a stranger in my opinion defines abuse, plain and simple. Alexander would do well to get an expert opinion (from a psychologist perhaps) about what happens to the minds of children who believe themselves physically abused or unjustly punished.

Can Alexander really compare the quality of teachers (here and abroad) who dispensed discipline in "the late fifties, the sixties and seventies" to the teachers of today? Were those teachers exposed to the same social circumstances, were they under the same pressures and living conditions? Can they withstand, without snapping mentally, the growing strain as those of the past?

I do agree with Alexander that under certain conditions fear could be a deterrent (but it could also be a detriment; it was fear of abuse by painful PNC policies that caused many of Alexander's teachers of the sixties, seventies, and eighties to flee Guyana, resulting in a massive brain drain and ending in a decrepit educational system.)

Is it really fair to put the responsibility of properly raising a child on a total stranger, one who is already burdened with a classroom filled other children and who probably has his or her own offspring to attend to at home? While children go to school mainly for academics, some are known to indulge in misadventures during this time. The punishments available to the schools in these circumstances are detention, suspension and expulsion.

The "rearing" of a child, (including the use of physical punishment if necessary) is the responsibility of parents; this duty should not be foisted upon teachers.

If we were to truly "face the issue squarely" we would admit that discipline begins in the home. I think responsible parents refer to such regulations as exercises in "tough love."

Yours faithfully,

Justin DeFreitas