Corporal punishment isn’t effective as a method of discipline
Guyana Chronicle
March 7 2004

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I HAVE been a teacher since 1985 and I have found that corporal punishment is never an effective method of discipline or an efficient motivator of learning. Since my early teaching days, I have never beaten children for giving wrong answers or for not learning their lessons. I used to reserve beating for misdemeanours and misbehaviour, but the results were never satisfactory or permanent. One particular beating that took place about 18 years ago still stands out in my mind and I have lived to regret it.

There was this little boy, let’s call him Robin, who used to attend my weekly Bible Club meetings. He was a willful mischievous boy and one day he misbehaved during class whereupon I inflicted a beating on him. He there and then said to me, “Sir, you beat me. I will never come back to your Bible meetings.” He never did.

Sometime after that, he dropped out of school. During our school’s inter-house sports a few years ago, the now adult Robin rode his bicycle on the track and refused to leave the field. When he did relent and while he was not watching, I hid his bicycle. Someone told him what I had done and he threatened to beat me. Fortunately, both of us were prevented from harming each other. A few months, later I saw him engaged in a cutlass wielding duel with another adult. Later, I met him in a restaurant and he greeted me in a civil manner, “Hi, Sir, how’re you doing.” I reciprocated and all ended well between us. But I have heard that he is now a “bad boy” in his community.

I have always wondered had I not beaten him 18 years ago, would he have been a better person? Definitely, he would have continued to attend Bible meetings and that might have influenced him to a better life. Not only did I lose a student, but I lost a precious soul for Christ. As the song says, “If I could turn back the hands of time…”

On another occasion, I boxed a boy for misbehaving in class. He ran out of school, jumped the fence and complained to his mother who came ranting and raving into school threatening to beat me. Fortunately, the headmaster kept her in his office and quieted her down. Also, she knew my mother and she said that prevented her from beating me. I never beat her son after that, and later on, he and I became not really friends, but at least cooperating non-enemies. That lady was twice my size and if she had beaten me, I might not have been writing this letter today. You can never predict all the results and consequences of corporal punishment.

Another time, I whipped a boy for misbehaving. His father came to school and complained to the headmaster, so I apologised for beating his son. I now believe that any parent has a right to complain to the headteacher or to the highest authority when his child is beaten by a teacher. A few years ago, I met the boy, now a grown man, on holiday in Guyana from the USA. Although he did not mention it, I could have seen that he clearly remembered the beating, but he has forgiven me.

Others are not so forgiving. One girl, now a grown married woman with children, recently reminded me of a beating I gave her when she made the class laugh at a pair of new trousers I had worn to school that day. Some of the frivolous things we beat children for! But by and large, I tried to beat in moderation and for “good reasons”. However, even that did not work and after years of reflection I have come to realise that none of those “good reasons” were good at all and that beating only worsens a bad situation.

I stopped beating completely when I entered teacher’s training college nine years ago. I tried the various alternatives to corporal punishment that we were taught. Some worked, some did not work, but none worsened a bad situation. What I have found is that nurturing works, not beating.

Around the same time I had beaten little Robin, there was a girl in my class who had broken her leg and had to be confined at home until she was fully recovered. I visited her home and prayed for her. She returned to school and later migrated to the USA. About three years ago, I heard that she was in Guyana and was looking for me to thank me for my kindness. Unfortunately, we never met.

While I was in teacher training, I had in a class a little boy who had learning difficulties. I lent him some books and tried my best to help him. Then I noticed he was absent frequently from school. So I told him that if he does not attend more regularly, I would go to his home and bring him to school. His attendance improved remarkably after that. Today, although a slow learner, or as I prefer to call him, a late-developer, he is still in school.

Nowadays, to maintain order and create lasting self-control in students I try various nonviolent techniques. One I have found successful is to ask students a novel question that causes them to expend their energy on thinking instead of misbehaving. Here is one that stumped them for weeks: How can you use a piece of ice to start a fire? I did not give them the answer, only clues as I saw how they were struggling to reach the solution. Now they are begging me for more tough questions. One question that I have found effective in quieting a nearby noisy class is this: Find the sum of all the whole numbers from 1 to 100. I never tell them the answer, and to date, no child has ever given me the right answer, but it does keep them busy and quiet while I get on working with my class. Any child who can give the right answer in three minutes has to be a mathematics genius and I would have discovered a precious jewel.

Advocates of `gentle’ corporal punishment tell us that when we beat we must do so in a cool and calm manner. But I have found that the only way you can beat is to lose your cool and be angry. A cool calm person simply cannot beat, since beating is an act of violence and you have to be worked up in anger to commit violence. Non-violent beating is nonexistent and is an oxymoron. In order to beat, the situation itself must make you steamed up or you have to work up your own steam. Hence, corporal punishment is always accompanied by the violent anger of the punisher when it is inflicted on the punished. This can, and often does, result in physical injury to the bodies of children and psychological damage to their minds which can lead to aberrant sexual practices and antisocial behaviours in their adult lives.

If it is right to inflict corporal punishment on children, then list all the specific misdemeanours and misbehaviours that deserve beating. Specify fully the instrument that is to be used for beating. How many lashes are to be inflicted for a particular “crime” of childhood? What magnitude of physical force is to be used to apply the instrument of punishment? What part of the anatomy of a child is to beaten?

In the following 11 states, children are protected by law from all corporal punishment (year law passed is in brackets): Austria (1989), Finland (1983), Latvia (1998), Croatia (1999), Germany (2000), Norway (1987), Cyprus (1994), Israel (2000), Sweden (1979), Denmark (1997), Iceland (2003). There has been no consequential increase in violence or ill-discipline among the youths of those countries. Any violence in them is due to old ongoing ethnic conflict among their adult populations.

Contrary to popular belief, corporal punishment is not banned in the USA; 23 states still allow beating in schools and a greater number allow beatings in homes. According to the Children’s Rights: Human Rights Watch 1999 World Report, “Every recognised country of the world, except the United States and the collapsed state of Somalia, has ratified the Convention [on the Right of the Child], making it the single most widely ratified treaty in existence. The Convention was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on November 20, 1989, and is the focus of a special U.N. General Assembly session on November 11. ‘The U.S. failure to ratify this convention is inexcusable," said Whitman [Executive Director for the Children's Rights Division of Human Rights Watch]. "What kind of message does this send? It undermines the U.S.'s credibility as a nation that cares about children.’”

Some provinces in Canada still allow corporal punishment in schools.

Here are two more relevant quotes.

“Corporal punishment socialises children into accepting violence, and the combination of unquestioning obedience to authority figures and violence makes them into ideal child soldiers… Psychological studies bear out the connection between the violent treatment of children, whether at the hands of teachers or parents, and their propensity for violence and aggression in later life. The more violence they suffered as a child, the more violence-prone they become as adults. Not everyone who has been caned or smacked at school will become a Pol Pot, but there is no escaping the fact that violence begets violence: the difference [between a murderer and a beater] is only a matter of degree. Caning may be effective in stopping pupils from doing what the teacher forbids, but it is a short term solution. After being caned, children will behave…until the next time. More importantly, the lesson that they learn will be a highly negative one. It is that human interaction is based on force, that might is right. The more they are exposed to such treatment, the more likely they are to deal with others not by reason but by force” (Katarina Tomasevski, Education Denied, 2003).

“But it is not through appeals to reason that the race problem will be solved, but by the provision of a healthy environment and a loving socialisation of the child. Indeed…all that is really necessary is that children be genuinely loved and treated as human beings. These are the key words, the key to the solution of humanity’s problems.” (Ashley Montagu, Man’s Most Dangerous Myth: The Fallacy of Race, 1997).

I am not much of a poet, but I tried my hand at composing a poem which I have titled `Is A Child Less Than Human?’

If it is wrong to beat an adult,
Then why is it right to beat a child?
Is a child less than human?
If it is wrong to kill a defenceless unborn child,
Then why is it right to beat a defenceless born child?
Why do we still insist on violating and beating the defenceless ones?
Adults often treat children as they treat adults of a different ethnic group.
We violate our children- this is called child abuse.
We violate adults of other ethnic groups- this is called racism.
Is another ethic group less than human?
Is a child less than human?
Stop the beating,
Start the nurturing.

Yours faithfully,
M. Xiu Quan-Balgobind-Hackett