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Corporal Punishment in Schools

I have noted, with some amazement, that a report presented to the Ministry of Education recommended the reinstatement of corporal punishment in schools. It would be disrespectful to assume that the learned members of the team did not embrace some rationale for their conclusion but I am reluctant to succumb to conjecture.

Corporal punishment in schools, as I understand, allowed teachers to use rulers, belts, leather strap or "switches" from the tree branches or shrubs to administer lashes to students' palms, buttocks or calves. Apart from minimal exceptions, such chastisement engendered discipline and conformity and I feel sure that such an objective precipitated the team's report.

Unlike the pure sciences where one is able without fail to predict an outcome, behavioral scientists must rely on deduction. In order to try to understand why corporal punishment worked, we must recognize the following facts:

l. Respect was the cornerstone of behavior. Because of the esteem children had for their parents or guardians who generally employed the axiom "don't spare the rod and spoil the child," the avoidance of being disciplined was paramount.

2. In practice, children were reared by the "village." If one saw a neighbor's child behaving badly, that person could take whatever measures were deemed prudent and when parents found out about such an occurrence, there would be more "hell to pay."

3. A policeman was respected. Whenever children were engaging in "no-no" behavior, they would cease and desist when the constabulary was present.

4. When parents found out that their children were "spanked" in school, the supplementary phase was promptly implemented at home.

If we compare the above with present day circumstances, we find that, in large measure, children show no "respect." Consequently, the chain breaks down. It would be simplistic to assume that failure to flog has led to the dilemma. We should be aware that some young adults are as obedient and respectful today as counterparts of their earlier generations but they are not the problem. When youngsters are invited to file charges against their parents for flogging or even harsh oral rebuke, who has the leverage? When the media indoctrinates the young with sex and violence under the guise of "entertainment" what happens to the moral compass? When Parliamentarians demonstrate that attainment of high office is only a platform to show contempt for the Constitutional procedures and authority of the August bodies of government, what should we expect from juveniles?

What does the team really expect to accomplish if their recommendation is implemented? Examine some of their findings of school violence, delinquency and classroom disruption: "... skipping classes, damaging school property, stealing, cheating, being rude to teachers and parents, using obscene language, getting into trouble with the police, using illegal drugs, smoking, drinking alcohol, threatening and bullying other students, carrying weapons in school, using force for extortion and fighting with or without weapons. Pray tell, how do they expect to correct these ills? I fear that if they look to the physical, punishment will have to be meted out by those above the rank of "corporal."

Naivety should not be a prerequisite to the pursuit of solutions to problems. In fairness to the panel, they have said "parallel emphasis should be placed on examining the role of alternatives to physical forms of discipline." However, I perceive their pronouncement as an exculpatory caveat and not as a focal point highlighted with any degree of sincerity.

It is no less gratifying to ponder the observation that teachers, parents and students are "in strong favor of some form of corporal punishment in schools" Of course, teachers are frustrated by the fact that they are unable to control their classrooms because of disruptive students; responsible parents are at their wits' end to combat recalcitrant behavior despite their best efforts, and good students have no desire to support their nemeses.

I make the assumption that the Ministry of Education and its six-member team will be guided by good judgment. If not, which teacher is going to be brave enough to attempt to flog students who might be "carrying weapons?" Will the Ministry ask the Judiciary to establish a separate court for all the lawsuits that will be filed by students, parents and, perforce, teachers who will be the most vulnerable? Will the budget be increased to take care of the penalties that will ensue? Most importantly, will such a course of action lead to abatement of the problem?

In this case, it would be difficult to consider that "past is prologue."

Selwyn P. Nimblett
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Trinidad and Tobago News

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