Thy rod and thy staff discomfort me - Corporal punishment in schools
Kaieteur News
June 27, 2004

Related Links: Articles on corporal punishment
Letters Menu Archival Menu

Over the years, educational directives have changed drastically concerning the administration of corporal punishment by education professors and instructors.

However, this issue has sparked widespread debate on the local as well as international fronts.

Some teachers argue that the abolishment of corporal punishment in schools was not necessary. However most agreed that whenever this type of punishment is meted out, it should be with the greatest amount of caution.

In an interview with the country’s highest teaching institution, Cyril Potter College of Education, a senior officer told Kaieteur News that she was not an advocate for the removal of corporal punishment.

She said though, that it should be there only as an extreme form of discipline when all the other options have been exhausted.

“If it should be used, it should be done only by the headmaster and should not lead to physical harm for the student,” the official said.

One teacher at St. Stanislaus Secondary School said that she is not in favour of corporal punishment but remarked that students, now, are extremely ill mannered.

“I never grew up under corporal punishment and I’m not in favour of it. People now tend to abuse children. I don’t beat my children or nobody else’s.”

Another instructor at a city primary school took a neutral stance and mentioned the reason for her impartiality.

“I cannot (unequivocally) state if I’m for or against it but there are some children you just have to use the cane on. It should not get to the stage where children are brutalised but it should be done under the strictest of supervision, because such punishment could have psychological effects on them.

“However, there are instances where you have the breakdown in discipline and students are even hitting on teachers.”

In light of the fact that some students have been hospitalised following disciplinary action meted out to them by educational instructors, one teacher explained that corporal punishment does not mean using a rod.

Kaieteur News also spoke with Mrs. Sybil Watson on the types of punishment in her day as compared to the more contemporary measures.

Mrs. Watson celebrated her 74th birth anniversary yesterday and went to school during the 1930s.

She confirmed that the methods of punishment were very rigid but pupils back then were not as indisciplined.

“We had a headmistress, Eugene Martindale. When you misbehave the boys got licks on their seat and the girls in their hand.”

Mrs. Watson, who is slimly built, energetic and entertaining revealed her days back in school.

“In secondary school if you went late, talked in class or did not do homework you got six lashes. But I was a Grade A student,” she said proudly.

As if reminiscent of a particular time, Watson added, “But I was sometimes late.”

She told of the days when children were made to comb their hair in four plaits with red ribbon bows tied to the back; this played a crucial role and was an important part of discipline.

“There were no cornrows or fancy hair designs like the ones I see now,” she said in a tone that displayed a hint of approval.

Watson remembers vividly her headmaster, Robert Harte, who was the Principal of the Enterprise High School.

She told of Mr. Harte’s outlandish peculiarity of requesting that students turn over to him any pen or pencil they might have found, a simple method of instilling honesty in students.

But the severest punishment that has been eternally etched in her memory was an incident where a child was expelled for having a book in his possession that did not belong to him.

“I felt very sorry for him because I don’t know if any other school would have accepted him.”

She describes her school days as ‘good old days’ though, with scholarly friends in an extremely disciplined school environment.

When asked to compare the conventional disciplinary methods to that of modern times, Watson said that these days the punishment is too harsh.

“You see back then, we were disciplined with a few lashes in the hand or on the buttocks, not beaten with a stick across the back and all over the body.”

She decreed that teachers must go back to the ancient ways of disciplining children.

Mrs. Watson expressed concern that children now are allowed to absent themselves from school without a legitimate excuse or without carrying a note from parents.

Mrs. Watson commented that head teachers even visited homes in the event that the child was not to be believed.

“If you walked with a boy the headmaster announced that the boy would have to wear a tag saying that he was your brother or he would pay a visit to your parents to find out who the boy was.”

That is just to show how particular the school system was long ago. Even now, there is a direct relationship between the suitable home environment and a child who performs creditably well at school.

However, parents now join with children to hurl abuses at teachers and lament about corporal punishment, resisting authority and disregarding school regulation.

Contradistinctively, these same parents who denounce the so-called ‘uncivilised treatment’ of their children in school are themselves instruments of brutality.

In the olden days those who were particularly repulsive were made to stand with their face to the corner or with their hands on the head.

At home the children were told to kneel on hand graters or with something weighty in hand.

Last week, Antigua voted to sustain the use of corporal punishment in schools after a move by UNICEF to abolish the disciplinary measure.

A representative of the Ministry of Education in Antigua had said that they were not willing to have such punishment abolished in the face of tyrannical behaviour exhibited by some students in schools.