When the shoe is on the other foot (John Chiramal)

Corporal punishment … (PART TWO)

The disciplinary practice of punitive action, as seen from a teacher’s viewpoint
A school of hard knocks
The first school I taught at was an inner city one.  Or, to call a spade a spade, a ‘slum’ school for boys, which had all the hallmarks of a blackboard jungle.
I was very young at the time – on the cusp of twenty – naïve and not trained at all.  So I had to play it by ear and, at the end of that year, got a taste for the job that stayed with me, and swayed the course of my life.

Now, the way they kept order in that joint must have been taken straight out of an army manual on how to run a boot camp.

The small kids would get swatted like flies, when they crossed the line.  While the big guys, some of who were as old as I was, would get punched (in the gut or side — faces got an open palm, not the fist) and pushed around.

No one raised an eyebrow at these goings on.  Indeed, the head led from the front.

It was a hard ‘hood and it took stern action, it would seem, to keep things ship shape.  And if it all looked like a scene out of the Wild West to me (shades of the Earp bros in Dodge City), what did I know?  I was a rookie!

Sadism masquerading as discipline

There was one teacher, whom I shall not name, who relished this license to lay his hands on all and sundry.  To tell you the truth, his moniker has slipped my mind.  Any hoo, this man must have been Marquis de Sade in a past life; for he came up with some real novel (read, sick) ways to chastise students.  And he did it right there in the full view of all in the staff room.

One of his main means of torment was to put a pencil between the pupil’s fingers and then squeeze with a smile.  Try it on yourself (gingerly, though) and you’ll see how excruciating the pain can be.

His other mode of torture was to pinch and twist the tender skin under the armpit or near the a-hole, and then feign not to see the kid rise to the tips of his toes in agony.

These sights and the sounds they drew out put me right off, and made up my mind that, come what may, I’d not put my hands to like use.  While that may have made me one of the boys for the schoolboys, it set me on a collision course with the powers that be.

I did not survive past that year in that school.  My service with a soft heart (soft in the head, in their eyes) was the sort they could do without.

A system after my own heart

The B.Ed. course I did thence backed my belief that violence played no part in school.  The psychology, philosophy and principles of education, all spoke out, loud and clear, against corporal punishment.

Education was now (and had been for decades, since Froebel, Pestalozzi and Montessori) child-centric, which put us teachers in our place.  That is to say, we had to play second fiddle to the real stars of the show.

I came to Bhutan with these values set, as it were, in stone.  The system I found here was in perfect sync with the way I felt.  Brutality was not on the syllabus!

First of all, the kids used to be respectful to the extreme.  I mean, they’d bow to me.  That was a first.  How can one even think of smacking someone, who treats one like  a god?

The next thing that went against the wham-bam school of thought was the coed system, which bears its own unique code of conduct, both for student and teacher.  The presence of the other sex keeps one and all on their toes, in dress and decorum.

The exceptions that make the rule

The only ones to do corporal punishment were the old lopens (national language teachers).  And, next to what I’d seen from where I came, they were mild as monks.  Like they’d make kids stand on one leg on a chair (big deal!); or do the old catch-the-ear sit-up routine (a piece of cake for ones full of beans).

So, it was a complete volte-face for me to bear witness to a whole school body being flogged in public.  But that, as they say, is another story, one for the books, as they also say, and an extreme case in point.

In my more than 15 years of teaching in this fair land, I can, hand on heart, say I’d never once raised my hand in wrath on a student.  Oh wait, there was this one (and only) time, I must confess, when I grabbed one by the collar and shook him up.  In my own defense, I can only say it took place on a football field, in the heat of a game, where he and I were on rival teams.

Still, mea culpa.  Once a bad sport …

The guy I did that to – I don’t know if he recalls – works right now for the old trade ministry.  Going by his conduct with me, when I meet him now and then, I’d say he’s for sure the ‘forgive and forget’ type.

No violence in schools equals better quality education

Which is why, when I hear today how students are getting out of hand, now that teachers can’t beat them, I can’t believe my ears.  By making corporal punishment against the law, we have in fact regressed; in the sense that legislation was called for in the first place.  Why flog a dead horse in the 21st century, when it was so passé in the 20th?

Then to turn around and say, by doing so, we ape the West, is to make a monkey of ourselves.  And to call it culture is to belittle the same.  Children all over the world get traumatised in the same way by violence; there can be no support for such an anachronism in the name of tradition.  Such mores make us less.

No doubt the stick has deterrent value.  But to teach a child to do the right thing out of fear is not the best way to go about it.  There is no right motive, as the Buddha would say; psychology calls it ‘negative reinforcement’.

In an ideal world, folks do the right thing simply because it’s the right thing to do.

In the real world, though, if there is crime, then there is punishment.

There are as many ways to skin a cat as to punish a pupil, but violence is not an option.

Take, for starters, Rousseau’s ‘learning by natural consequence’.

By which is meant, if a child climbs a tree, let him or her do so; for when s/he falls, they’ll learn not to do so next time; or at least to take more care.  If the kids land on their head first time, then that would be the last lesson of a lifetime.

On second thought, let’s skip Jean Jacques’s prescription.

Still, there’s a lot more to pull out of that hat: detention, exposure, suspension and, the final cut, expulsion, to name but some.

My advice to our noble professionals today, for what it’s worth, is to move on with the times.  School is not a contest between us and them; we are all on the same page.

If you’re a good teacher, who has the student’s best interest in mind, above all else, it will be clear as a bell to them.  In such a scenario, you’ll never have to beat sense into their heads.

Contributed by  John Chiramal

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