• Charles Farrugia

8. Spare the Rod, Always.

It is reasonable if some of you ask why I am devoting two blogs to corporal punishment once the practice was legally abolished from Maltese schools in 1988 and from the rest of the country in 2014. Well, we all know that it is one thing for a practice to be legally abolished and another for it to be done away with in practice. Stealing is an illegal activity, yet the practice survives just the same.

Corporal punishment in schools has been eradicated even if rare incidents occur. It is another matter in homes where domestic violence persists. Even in homes where domestic violence is absent, we parents are occasionally –if rarely- tempted to raise a hand in anger. The urge is so wrong that it is worth writing how to avoid the temptation.

In the previous blog, we saw that corporal or physical punishment does not solve discipline problems, it only makes them worse. However, avoiding corporal punishment at any cost does not mean that we, as parents or teachers, should not chastise wrong-doers. Ill-disciplined children and students cannot be allowed to disrupt the harmony in the home or lessons in class at the cost of the better behaved. So, what alternative actions to corporal punishment can we resort to? Here are a few suggestions aimed primarily at parents.

Alternatives to Corporal Punishment.

1. Organise children’s time to keep them busy since inactivity and lounging about invite mischief. Also, be consistent in applying the rules.

2. ‘Be cruel to be kind’. If you threaten a punishment (obviously not physical), keep your word even if you reduce the severity when behaviour improves.

3. Scrap stupid unnecessary rules. If it is a house rule for the children to have a shower first thing in the morning, do not expect them to follow the rule on a cold winter day when the water heater is not working. We cannot send our children to sleep much earlier than usual because we are tired.

4. Apply discipline equally among all; nothing frustrates and angers youngsters more than unfair treatment. Apply the rule: ‘do not be weak with the strong, and strong with the weak.’

5. Apply retribution by withdrawing privileges such as TV, tablet and smart-phone time, reduction in play-time and depriving children from their favourite pastime, even if you too enjoy it. But do not overdo it.

6. Do not let the punishment become a reward whereby wrong-doers can boast of their exploits among friends to turn themselves into heroes.

7. Seek professional help with persistent and nasty wrong-doers.

8. Never, but never, lose your temper. If you are about to do so, inhale deeply, count to 10 and exhale, repeat five times. It works to calm you down.

Now, what do you think about these two true events?

Drunken Kola

Kola (not his real name) was a handful. Older than the other boys, he was malicious and a bully. He made life hell for the more-timid boys, and sometimes for me as well. His father had the reputation of a troublemaker and the son was following in his parent’s footsteps.

The village school had the tradition that on Mardi Gras, the children enjoyed an extended mid-morning break to party on the extra goodies and soft-drinks they were allowed to bring to school as a special treat. Unknown to me, Kola brought a large Cola bottle filled with red wine, which knocked him out by the time classes resumed at 11 o’clock.

At 12 noon, he was still drunk and I did not allow him to go home but sent word for a member of his family to collect him. At 12.30 his father did, complaining loudly to the Head Teacher how disgraceful it was that his son’s teacher always picked on his poor Kola. Mr. Joe Cremona, calm and collected as always, brought him over to my class. I was apprehensive that the father would turn violent.

He did turn violent, but not at me. When he noted his son’s sloshed condition, he was aghast because he lost face in front of outsiders to the village. He took out his belt and started hitting furiously at the boy from the buckle’s end. Mr. Cremona and I earned a few leg bruises trying to shield Kola from his father’s fury. I wonder whether Kola (now in his seventies) remembers the event, or whether it was just one of the many routine beatings his father gave him.

Sleepy Freddie

Practically all the pupils at our school were sons of subsistence farmers working in the surrounding countryside. I remember one time getting annoyed at Fredu (not his real name but a Farrugia like me) who habitually slept at his desk. As a punishment, I detained him in class during the 10 o’clock break.

A fellow teacher and a local man, noticed that I did this on several occasions. One day he expressed his surprise that Fredu was acting up, since the boy had been in his class two years earlier and had always been most well-behaved. I explained the boy’s daily lack of attention and habitual sleeping in class.

My colleague replied that it had been the same in his case and he too used to get annoyed. Until he discovered that Fredu had to get up before dawn each morning to shepherd the family’s sheep and goats for several hours before rushing to school. I could kick myself at my lack of experience: instead of lessening poor Fredu’s hardships, I was adding to them. So, tip number 9: in the case of persistent misconduct, check out the cause.

Next blog on Wednesday: Educating the Whole Person

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