June 19, 2004
THE news that the general consensus at a national workshop on school discipline is that corporal punishment should be retained in schools will doubtlessly fuel debate on the impact of corporal punishment on child behavior.
Libraries and databases are already awash with literature on corporal punishment. But arguments on the issue are so polarized, that the debate is heating up even in countries that have banned corporal punishment in schools.
In Guyana, the debate has already evolved into interpretations of the Scriptures, with proponents citing the Bible's admonitions on the topic and critics pointing to what they claim are contradictory messages from King Solomon, whose advice, "Spare not the rod and spoil the child," is at the core of the controversy.
Opponents in particular have become so emotionally charged that some analysts are equating the debate on corporal punishment with arguments on Jesus' affirmation of or doing away with the Ten Commandments and the Bible's prescribed day of worship on the one hand, and the dangers or non-dangers of cigarette smoking to human health on the other.
Thursday's workshop consensus comes on the heels of a GINA-featured 'What The People Are Saying?' column in which all of the respondents felt corporal punishment is a major component of classroom discipline.
What then is corporal punishment?
"Corporal punishment is, quite literally, the infliction of punishment on the body," says David Benatar, of the Philosophy Department of the University of Cape Town, South Africa. "Even once it is differentiated from 'capital punishment,' corporal punishment remains a very broad term. It can be used to refer to a wide spectrum of punishments ranging from forced labor to mutilating torture."
In an approved June 1988 policy statement, the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry defined corporal punishment as "a discipline method in which a supervising adult deliberately inflicts pain upon a child in response to a child's unacceptable behavior and/or inappropriate language." "The immediate aims of such punishment," it says, "are usually to halt the offense, prevent its recurrence and set an example for others. The purported long-term goal is to change the child's behavior and to make it more consistent with the adult's expectations."
Yet the Academy opposes the use of corporal punishment in schools because "corporal punishment signals to the child that a way to settle interpersonal conflicts is to use physical force and inflict pain. Such children may in turn resort to such behavior themselves. They may also fail to develop trusting, secure relationships with adults and fail to evolve the necessary skills to settle disputes or wield authority in less violent ways. Supervising adults who will fully humiliate children and punish by force and pain are often causing more harm than they prevent."
Guyanese who have spoken on this very emotive issue support claims that the lack of this method of discipline in the classroom is why children fail in school, turn to a life of crime and become liabilities to society.
The decibel of comments such as "If my dad hadn't taken me over his knee I would be in big trouble now," "I was spanked and I'm OK," and "Crime is up because parents and teachers are not beating children," resonate above arguments against corporal punishment.
We accept that opponents of the corporal punishment of children are rightly critical of its extensive use and the severity with which it is all too often inflicted. But there's a vast difference between child discipline and child abuse.
We believe that disciplining a child is vital to maintaining explicit moral values and, in the words of experts, a "safe and positive environment in schools."
Corporal punishment worked in Guyana until some who abhorred spanking began accepting the 'child abuse' label placed on it by anti-CP advocates, linked it to the upsurge in youth crimes, and then waged a campaign for its abolishment.
The danger of prohibiting corporal punishment in and out of school in Guyana is that it will give children license to become more disorderly, lawless and criminal. They'll have no fear that they would be spanked for their infractions and therefore interpret school and parental leniency as an endorsement of their undisciplined behavior.