Saturday, June 28, 2008

Hitting kids in school

An issue that we often face is the beatings that kids here get. And not just from their moms---we continuously work with them to try to lessen this behavior---but the beatings that the kids get in school from their teachers. Hitting kids is common in schools here, especially in government schools, and our kids have suffered from such action by their teachers.

Our moms were hit when they were children, and some still take beatings by their husbands, so hitting as a disciplinary action is what they know. No excuse, just reality.

Yes, kids are kids and misbehave. Yes, teachers and parents are responsible for disciplining a child. But to inflict such pain as to leave a bruise or a welt is, we think, inexcusable.

In India, it is illegal to hit a child in school. Yet, it happens often.

A recent article in a local Mysore newspaper highlighted the issue. We sent the article to the headmaster at our kids' school, as the teachers there (and in their school last year) use the stick to discipline students. For our kids, being hit brings about a different reaction---they have been abused their entire lives, so their initial reaction is not to "obey" to avoid being hit, but to run from the beater, as that's what's worked for them in the past.

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From the Star of Mysore, online edition, Monday June 23, 2008

Schools have reopened. Quite a few teachers might resort to merciless punishment for minor misconduct of children. Sporadically we have come across instances of grave consequences — even suicidal attempts for humiliating punishment. The Heads of Schools should warn teachers not to indulge in sadistic punishment, says the author of this article.

By Prof. S. Dandapani

Gone are the days when school teachers would invariably enter the classroom, cane in hand, to chastise the mischievous students, and also to quieten the noisy class. Pin-drop silence was supposed to be conducive for learning. The writer recalls the harrowing experiences he had at school during pre-independence days, when the standard punishment was to stand upon the bench for failure to recite a poem or answer questions.

Invariably, mathematics and English grammar classes would send shivers down the spine because teachers handling these subjects would be short-tempered and not at all considerate towards slow-learners. The grammar book, a red-coloured one by Wren and Martin, would appeal only to the creamy layer. Whatever might have been practised by teachers in good old days, corporal punishment seems to be anachronistic in contemporary times.

Opinions have been divided among educators regarding the efficacy of punishment in reforming undesirable behaviour of students. Of course, there would always be occasions to test the forbearance of teachers by the impish or impudent behaviour exhibited by a few rebels. It would disturb the learning climate of the conscientious section of students and also affect the mood of the teacher adversely. What kind of punishment would be appropriate under these trying times is a million-dollar question! What works with one teacher or in one class might fail in others.

Of late, teachers are extracautious to desist from precipitating matters that might otherwise invite the animosity of the youth, wrath of parents, and also the reprimand of the headmaster. They would endeavor to defuse the situation and put on a facade of calmness even under stressful situations. What is wrong if he lets off his steam, at least occasionally, and creates an image of an uncompromising, awe-inspiring figure, who cannot be taken for a ride ?

However, is it not the duty of an ideal teacher to investigate the root cause of misdemeanours and deal with the situation tactfully? No student is basically bad. Peer-group influence, unfavourable home environment, obscene movies and journals, might have spoilt the mental health of youngsters. By inflicting punishment, the teacher would only be worsening the condition and make the offender obdurate and offensive.

Punishment has uniformly been a failure in improving pupil behavior. It seldom changes the deep-rooted malady. Moreover, the psychological fall out of punishment may be just as undesirable as the behaviour, for which the individual has been punished. Here is an anecdote:

Several decades ago, a teacher of mathematics gave some homework that was done by everyone except one boy. When his turn came, he stood up and declared that he didn't do it. The teacher was tolerant and asked the boy the reason for his failure, and was prepared to help him.

The boy refused assistance and asserted his right to do what he wanted. For a moment, the teacher was flabbergasted. Later, he asked the boy to fetch a cane from the headmaster's chamber. He brought it, handed over to the teacher, and was about to go back to his seat. The teacher stopped him and addressed the students:

"I have been a teacher in this school for more than a decade. Never before have I faced a situation that I face today. As a teacher, I am supposed to make you love the subject I teach. Evidently, I have failed to make this boy love mathematics. One who has failed must be punished. Let me therefore give the cane to the boy and receive punishment from him."

The boy's face turned pale. His arrogance and pride gave way to tears and repentance. He begged for forgiveness. But the teacher was adamant. With trembling hands, the boy received the cane and gently touched the palm of the teacher. He broke down and fell upon the feet of the teacher and begged for pardon. The teacher lifted him, hugged him and shed tears of joy. The cane tip not only touched the palm of the teacher, but also the heart of the boy. He turned over a new leaf. By the time he left school, he not only passed with distinction, but also received the Character Medal.

Punishment, in essence, should be Reformative and not Retributive.
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