7. Corporal Punishment: Yes or No?
If the EDUCERE approach in education is highly recommended, the use of corporal punishment is the very opposite, its antithesis!
“Spare the rod, spoil the child.” Some claim that this saying comes from the Bible where it states: “He that spares his rod hates his son: but he that loves him chastises him betimes.” Others maintain that the advice originates from Samuel Butler’s (1613-1680) poem Hudibras, which ends with “Then spare the rod and spoil the child.”
Whatever its origin, the proverb means that physical punishment makes children well-behaved and respectful, and the practice has existed since time immemorial. The saying was (is?) quoted to justify the use of corporal punishment in schools and at home. A spank by a piece of wood or the blackboard pointer on students’ open hand was common use in Maltese schools up to the 1980s. However, the practice became frowned upon and was completely prohibited in schools in 1988. Corporal punishment of children, including that exercised at home, became totally illegal in Malta in 2014. In my view, corporal punishment goes directly opposite to the educere concept of education as explained in the earlier blog. In modern society, times have changed and no quote from the Old Testament or from an English 17th Century poet justifies corporal punishment. At the same time, I also believe that a mild chastisement does no harm as long as it does not cause physical pain.
Some teachers, and some parents, justify physical punishment of children by arguing that those who misbehave should be punished. They insist that punishment deters culprits from acting wrongly again. There is no proof that this claim is valid, in fact quite the contrary. It does not justify physical or corporal punishment since there are other forms of correction that are more valid and effective. Moreover, research shows that physical punishment leads to child abuse and eventually to physical violence by the same children towards their own parents. Evidence clearly proves that physically punished children will repeat the experience and act violently on their own children when they become parents.
Research evidence also shows that when beaten, students:
· lose trust in their elders whether teachers or parents,
· come to believe that a stronger person can bully and hit weaker ones, and
· become aggressive believing that violence solves problems.
Worst of all, corporal punishment humiliates both the victim as well as the parent or teacher because it reveals the latter’s failure to solve issues by more intelligent and lasting means.
We will discuss alternative remedies to physical punishment in the next blog on Wednesday. In the meantime, consider this true story as I experienced it.
Corporal Punishment with a Twist
On my first year as a teacher, I inherited the class previously taught by sir Fonzu (not his real nickname) who retired on reaching 60 years. It was a rowdy class and I soon learned the poor man had had a hard time because he had been at the mercy of his more rascally pupils. My time with them was not easy either.
As the relationships with my charges developed, they recounted a ruse they often played on him. They would misbehave atrociously to make him lose his temper and hit them with the blackboard pointer. Pretending to be in great pain and crying profusely, the pretend victims threatened to denounce him to their mother. A bachelor and misogynist, he dreaded the prospect and gave half-a-crown (then quite a windfall for ten-year olds) to the child concerned in order to keep his mouth shut and thus avoid an encounter with an angry female.
As the boys warmed to the topic, more and more claimed to have participated in the scam. I doubted the truth of the story, but when I checked with my fellow teachers, they confirmed that the scam was common knowledge all over the village. Two colleagues admitted that in their school days, they too had earned a couple of half-crowns from sir Fonzu!
The school labelled my pupils as ‘failures’, a most unjust judgment because they were most street-wise and very clever.
Coming Wednesday: Alternatives to Corporal Punishment and more stories. If you wish to get in touch, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org .
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