A helpless mom, probably out of desperation put up a picture of her son with a big red imprint of a hand on his cheek on Facebook. This boy had been slapped by the PE teacher apparently in front of an assembly of children. The worst irony was that all this was witnessed by the principal who chose to do nothing about it.
On reading this heart wrenching story, n number of questions cropped up in my mind. What were the dominant feelings in the boy’s mind – anger, fear, pain, helplessness, sadness? How were the other children feeling? How was this act going to affect this child’s development? Why did the principal choose to do nothing about it? What drove the PE teacher to slap the child? Did the PE teacher feel any remorse? Did they feel that the child’s parent would not complain? Or did they believe that they were powerful and that they could cover up the issue and not get into trouble? What were their notions of childhood?
It is more than 25 years since the United Nations convention on child rights brought in the child rights legislation. Corporal punishment is banned in schools and yet we find many instances of punishment meted out to students. A report published by the ministry of women and child development, 2007 stated that every 2 out of 3 school going children have faced abuse (Unicef India, n.d.). A comment on another blog I recently read noted, “Corporal punishment is very much there. It’s just that it is hidden, it does not get reported.”
Decades ago, the common belief of ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’ prevailed not only in India but the entire world. Even I have memories of being caned by my school Principal for small reasons like arriving late to school and forgetting a notebook at home, during my childhood, i.e. about 30 years ago. During a ‘parenting session’ a parent revealed that beating and spanking was common during his childhood and he felt helpless as he was aware that he should not resort to it, but did not know how to resolve the issues in any other way.
I can understand this parents’ situation and empathize with him too. Nobody has taught him how to be a good parent. But when a teacher or the highest authority at school resorts to such actions, I wonder whether the fault lies in our teacher training and school leadership courses? Don’t our training courses teach about handling behavioral issues and methods of handling such issues in a respectful manner? Are our courses talking about child rights and how corporal punishments mar the overall development of a child?
The relationship between a teacher and a student is usually limited to a few hours of interaction everyday. This interaction is usually in a class and rarely on a one on one basis. Children are expected to follow school rules and meet the expectations of the teacher. Completing homework, sitting quietly during a lesson, walking in a line, being present on time in school, not causing any disturbance in class are some of the rules a child is expected to follow. The common notion as I observe is that a child who disobeys or disrupts the school discipline needs to be taught a lesson of obedience and needs to be disciplined. Punishing the child and conditioning them to not repeat a behavior that results in humiliation, hurt and pain yet seems to be most commonly used practice.
A few months ago, a forwarded video on a social media site showing a male teacher probably the headmaster, spanking kindergarten children mercilessly, went viral. The video upset me a lot. The teacher seemed to be deriving a lot of pleasure in spanking the little children. What this man resorted to was clearly an abuse of power, authority and responsibility bestowed on him by parents and the society in general.
The teacher is in charge of the students and is responsible for maintaining class discipline and ensuring that all their students learn. In our system, the teacher is the ‘giver’ and the student the ‘receiver’. To add to this is our deep rooted tradition of ‘worshiping the Guru’ and the common belief that ‘teaching is the most noble profession.’ While I am sure most teachers do not misuse this power, a handful do use of force, threats and deterrents in the form of verbal and physical abuse.
A close acquaintance shared, “we got beaten, spanked, punished – but see we are all doing fine. During an interview, a teacher from a Government school justified the use of cane. “This is the only way to discipline the child and I am sure we will see the fruits of it when he grows up” he proclaimed. Yes, most of us a are doing fine, but we could have been better without experiences of such punishment and abuse.
Is there a feeling of remorse or guilt on seeing a child wince in pain, or shudder with fear at the very sight of cane? Aren’t these teachers troubled by the fact that they are the reason for the humiliation, the pain and fear they have caused among children? Are these teachers aware that such actions are wrong not only ethically but also in the eyes of law? Or is it the confidence that they will never get caught that drives them to such behavior? Or is it out of frustration of being unable to get a student to comply with the demands of a teacher or rules of a school?
The world has come a long way since the Puritan view of children being little devils and sinners who needed to be tamed and disciplined. Today it is the age of the ‘Rights’. Every living being on this earth has a right to survival and protection from harm. The need of the hour is for teachers to unlearn these olden ways of disciplining and taming and explore newer methods which keep intact the self-respect and dignity of the students. Kofi Annan very aptly puts this as, “There is no trust more sacred than the one the world holds with children. There is no duty more important than ensuring that their rights are respected, that their welfare is protected, that their lives are free from fear and want and that they can grow up in peace.”
I welcome responses that would give the teaching fraternity insights on how to handle questions of disciplining children, without having to resort to physical and mental abuse. Any one interested in writing a piece on ‘positive ways of disciplining children’ are most welcome to send me their requests at firstname.lastname@example.org.