The front-page headline of the Daily News on September 28 stating that “corporal punishment breeds violence” is flagrant nonsense.
Society was not beset by violence when corporal punishment was standard practice in schools. On the contrary, respect for law and order, decency and values were a hallmark of those times. Thus, it is sad to note that more than twenty years since the prohibition of corporal punishment in schools, teacher societies are investigating “alternative methods.”
Having spent 34 years in high school classrooms and been in charge of the drafting and updating of codes of conduct which exclude corporal punishment, my experience showed that such discipline structures are ineffective against hardcore serial offenders. Letters of warning, disciplinary hearings, suspensions, community service, counselling, and threats of expulsion have no effect on deterring such refractory elements. Records of paperwork are no deterrent. Those who routinely disrupt, threaten, steal, vandalise and violate are not intimidated by the proliferation of paper on their record files.
Expulsion is neither a threat nor a reality. Requiring provincial authorisation, it is dependent on the decision of officials who invariably are loathe to authorise expulsion and who have no sense of urgency. One such district official boasted that he had turned down hundreds of applications.
Of course, unwittingly, schools have become the showcases of society’s ills and dysfunctionalism. Bereft of parenting and upbringing, often the products of child-headed households, increasing numbers of youngsters in schools today have no sense of routine and decorum. Consequently, they resent and defy order and conformity.
Classrooms have become arenas in which the undisciplined do as they like regardless of what the teacher says. And they know they can get away with it because the system is loaded in their favour. Teaching under such conditions is reduced to a minimum and often made impossible. Instead of serving as transmitters of knowledge and understanding and being mentors, in many schools, teachers have become hostage to anti-social elements that dominate, disrupt and intimidate.
I was once told to F-off by a learner after repeatedly asking him to desist from shouting across the classroom to his mate on the opposite side and who routinely failed to bring any books to school. At a subsequent disciplinary hearing concerning the incident, he was given a five-day suspension which made no difference to his arrogant and uncooperative attitude.
If schools are to regain their status as centres of learning and as custodians of civilised values, teachers need to recoup their roles as the kings and queens of their classrooms. School management together with governing bodies need to be able to expel unruly, violent elements. Authority needs to be devolved to the teaching profession.
Learners need to know that there are finite and final boundaries and that corporal punishment applies to certain misbehaviour and misdemeanours. Such punishment should be administered only by a few senior staff members and appropriately recorded. That system worked in the past.
The elastic extent of liberal tolerance is responsible for the rot that besieges the fabric of society and the rise of social deviance. Respect for law and order has declined through the failure to uphold law and order and the emergence of anything-goes norms. Excessive tolerance produces chaos and from there it is a short step to anarchy.
Proverbs in the Bible makes four references to the disciplining of children by means of corporal punishment which may be summarised as, “Spare the rod and spoil the child”. The Bible also shows that when God’s word is ignored or defied, suffering and ruin follow. The crisis of indiscipline that besets the education process in many state schools today is the result of the absence of uncompromising disciplinary boundaries which have come about through the enactment of facile liberal legislation.
Given the breakdown of family life, the role of schools is more critical than ever before in instilling moral and civilised values – in loco parentis – namely, substitutes for parenting. If schools were permitted to play that role, as they often did in the past, it would have a positive effect on youth and reduce the tendency towards violence.
Du Bois is an independent post-doctoral researcher
Sent into The Daily News and published,