Talking Corporal Punishment

CORPORAL punishment in schools has been a hot topic for years. Of late, it’s been making the rounds again, and opinions vary, depending on whom you speak to. A statement this month from the Ministry of Education made clear its plans to suspend and eventually do away with corporal punishment in schools. Prior to the announcement, school beatings were in most cases seen as the norm, though a handful of parents had been in and out of local schools and on the media showcasing the result of excessive school beatings on their children. In some cases, adjustments were made. As time progressed, in most schools, only the headmaster or a senior teacher was allowed to discipline students by way of caning or flogging.

As the discussion progressed, even within the teaching circuit reviews were mixed. Some teachers supported corporal punishment, largely because they couldn’t imagine disciplining some of the unruly students who sat in their classrooms in a nontraditional way. Not only had many of them not been trained to do so, they were uncertain of the effectiveness. Those who were against corporal punishment advocated for other less ‘violent’ forms of discipline attributing beatings to a slavery mentality we’d never quite been able to free ourselves from.

At this juncture, perhaps it is time to ask ourselves whether beating children in school has ever truly worked. As a result of our years of punishing students in this way, what can we show for it? Many teachers will tell you, that after a while; even the most troublesome children get used to beatings, and carry on with their regular behaviour. That almost completely dismisses any argument for long term benefits of this method of discipline. One might even argue that children in this Caribbean nation and others are by far better behaved than counterparts in the United States and other territories where corporal punishment has long since been banned. Perhaps this may be true, but aside from the lack of corporal punishment what are the other factors at play resulting in the differences in behaviour of students in overseas territories versus our own?

Advocates opine that beating children is necessary to maintain a strong sense of discipline in and out of school. A common school of thought tends to be, “my parents hit me and I turned out just fine.” On the contrary, studies have linked corporal punishment to aggression once children are older, as well as psychological problems, lower IQ scores, poorer school marks, depression and partner abuse. These are very serious considerations for this argument.

Often it seems hitting children is what some parents and teachers refer to out of frustration and even desperation to get children to behave. We beat them into submission. In some cases, it is the last resort for teachers when lectures and trips to the principal’s office don’t work. Not all parents beat their children, which makes it even more difficult to argue a case for corporal punishment which doesn’t conflict with discipline within the homes of our children – and perhaps that is key.

Past all the shock and awe at the Ministry’s announcement is the realization that in order for the children in our society continue to develop into the kind of citizens we want them to be, it is essential for parents and teachers to be on the same page. Maintaining a culture of discipline is possible even without corporal punishment, but the involvement of parents is vital.

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