|EDUCATION TRIBUNE||Tuesday, April 29, 2003, Chandigarh, India|
Courts have taken away the rod, but...
Fear creates mental dwarfs
Use of force counter-productive
When teaching becomes coercive
ACCORDING to a fable, Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, when in captivity, asked his son Aurangzeb to send a few children to his prison cell so that he could school them. "Your deserve to rule has not yet died in you", quipped his son. This perception of a teacher as one who wields absolute authority and that of pupils as his obedient subjects has not altered much since.
Though most modern schools pretend to have discarded the rod (read authoritarianism), it is common knowledge that there is more stick than carrot in schools. Schools and the government seem to have colluded to a joint pretense — that corporal punishment is a practice of the past. This is far from the truth. A perusal of cases reported in the media in the past two years reveals that physical punishment is often administered by schools for enforcing "discipline".
But why is absolute compliance desirable. Because regimentation makes the task of the instructor so much easier, it is a device/system for the convenience of the authorities and not of the pupil. This invariably leads to the student being torn between adult (teacher) approval and self-respect.
According to psychologists, pleasant memories do not make up for painful ones. Hence, the stick and carrot method is undesirable. There is increasing awareness among civilised societies to facilitate learning through a system of rewards alone.
This leads to the second question — what begets reward? In most cases it is the ability of the child to produce the right answer! It is a fact that children very often do not understand concepts, yet can produce the right answer and a perfect score eg habitual counting on fingers to get the correct answer for addition or substruction by KG and Grade I students. The method is a device to help children reach the right answer, but fails to help him comprehend the concept itself.
The true test of intelligence, say experts, is not how much we know, but how we behave when we don’t know. One day, when my son was in KG, I inadvertently prepared him for a wrong exam. When I went to pick him up after school, he looked at me with a stern eye, complaining: "I had to think mama, think. You taught me the wrong lesson for the test." Obviously, he felt thinking was an unnecessary activity when rote was much more easier and rewarding. He scored 80 per cent and was unhappy as he yearned for the "reward-fetching" 100 (excellent remark by teacher and a star on the answersheet).
Children are quicker than most adults at grasping new concepts and acquiring skills but have their own way of figuring out things. Very often schools destroy their natural thinking abilities by insisting on conformist methods. Children naturally like to learn, but do not like being pushed around. Schooling rarely promotes learning as instructors insist on "packaging instruction with certification".
Says Paul Goodman of the deschooling society: "Institutionalised learning stunts and distorts natural intellectual development, makes students hostile to the very idea of education and finally turns out regimented, competitive citizens likely only to aggravate our current social ills".
A teacher may scar the mind of a child not by corporal punishment alone. Disparaging remarks as "he is good for nothing," "he is dull", "she is slow" etc can devastate a child’s confidence. Withholding of approval or lack of appreciation is yet another way to do so. Yet parents are reluctant to take on the authorities — the reason being they have placed a halo around schools.
The focus is not on the child but the prestige that the name of the institution he goes to carries. A teacher seldom admits to wielding the stick. It is the child’s word against the teacher’s. Government officials like the DPI(Schools) almost never inspect schools for malpractices. This conspiracy of silence works against the pupil.
For children whose motivations do not conform to established expectations, their vulnerability in the system reduces them to fear and intellectual incompetence (Jules Henry). An inflexible approach can make teaching a subversive or coercive activity.
It is, indeed, unfortunate that while the European Union (EU) is in the process of finalising a charter of rights for pets, our children continue to suffer indignities at the hands of those who are supposed to be care-givers.
Courts have taken away the rod, but...
NOTHING but failure of the authorities to check indiscipline among so many school instructors can explain the existence of corporal punishment in the institutes.
Though the Delhi High Court snatched the stick from the unwilling hands of the teachers in December 2000 and countries like Denmark, Austria, Croatia, Cyprus, Iceland, Italy, even Israel, have completely prohibited "corporal punishment" in all forms, little has been done in India to arrest the hands that hit the young innocent, ruthlessly.
Even after a lapse of several years since the pronouncement of the verdict banning corporal punishments in schools, and at least two suicides in Chandigarh by students allegedly "harassed" by teachers, spanking goes on and on. The reason: monitors from the education department seldom inspect schools for hitting the erring teachers hard. No, not on the knuckles, but in their personal files.
Delivering the verdict on a petition filed by the Parents' Forum for Meaningful Education, Mr Justice Anil Dev Singh and Mr Justice Dr Mukundakam Sharma had ruled: "Even animals are protected against cruelty, our children surely cannot be worse than the animals`85. They should receive education in environment of freedom and dignity, free from fear".
The Judges had further ruled that the infliction of physical pain had a powerful effect on the children "who are precious national resources". While some become submissive, others learn punishment is an effective form of ensuring compliance. Physical violence becomes accepted mean of exercising control, leading to a class of people for whom violence becomes an integral part of their lives.
Quoting studies, the Judges, in their detailed orders, had held that the children ruled by the rod in the schools acquired hatred for teachers, lost concentration and developed a fear psychosis. The drop-out rate also increased.
Regarding the government stand that a parent or a teacher had a right to use "reasonable and moderate" corporal punishment on the basis of "Hopley case" in 1860, the Judges had stated: "It may be noted that this decision was rendered about one and a half centuries back. Since then, thinking has undergone a sea change. The United Nations Convention, to which India is a signatory, is a testimony of that change and the importance which is being attached to the child. Law cannot be static. It must move with the time. The rights of the child cannot be ignored`85"
The Judges had concluded: "Before parting with the case, we would like to observe that fundamental rights of the child will have no meaning if they are not protected by the State`85. The State must ensure that corporal punishment to students is excluded from schools. The State and the schools are bound to recognise the right of the children not to be exposed to violence of any kind connected with education".
Well, the State has failed to ensure that. But its inability to monitor the implementation of the directions is one thing, "inhuman approach" on part of the teachers is another. Why do instructors talk more with sticks and wooden rulers then with words? It is an aspect the authorities have not considered. You will agree, directions are just not enough. The root cause has to be analysed, and removed.
What school heads say
“Spanking the child for reasons such as not doing home work or not following the lessons quickly is no solution. It results in aggressive behaviour in the child, besides making him lose interest in studies. The child may start hesitating in coming to school and attending the class of that teacher.”
“Many children create a nuisance in the class to get attention. These children may have a younger sibling at home and probably feel neglected by parents. When they come to school, they again feel ignored as a single teacher has to take care of 45 students in a class. But when such children are given special attention, they show remarkable performance and attain excellent results.”
Ms Neena Khanna, Principal,
Kundan Vidya Mandir, Ludhiana
“Corporal punishment exists practically in all schools. The only way to contain it is by creating awareness among teachers, parents and students. The real culprits are a section of PT teachers, who in their zeal to set things right in haste, subject children to corporal punishment. Though legally it is banned, it continues in schools as there is nobody to implement the ban.
“This is the work of sick elements who have been subjected to similar treatment at one or the other point of their lives. Such elements know they cannot fix things with logic. Media can play a great role in this direction. Children should know about their rights,”
Mr R.S. Mehta, Principal,
Montgomery Guru Nanak Public School, Jalandhar
“Corporal punishment is strictly prohibited in my school as I believe all children can be helped only with love and affection. A majority of children respond amazingly well to kind words and gestures. Some need to be warned. However, child battering has ill-effects on his psyche and can even result in making him an anti-social element.”
Sister Sobel, Principal, Sacred Heart Senior Secondary School, BRS Nagar, Ludhiana
“Well-known psycho-analyst Dr Spock advocated that children had tender minds and body. They should not be hit, least we distort their personalities. Yet his own son committed suicide.”
“That no force is required to discipline students is a utopian notion. We are mollycoddling our children too much. Of course excessive force is bad, but we must make our children tough.”
“The ban on corporal punishment is strictly enforced in my school. The adage spare the rod and spoil the child has been proven by education psychologist to hold no truth at all. At Strawberry, we groom children to be sensitive, thinking beings. Violence hinders both.”
Fear creates mental dwarfs
YOUNG, tender and curious children enter the portals of learning for knowledge and wisdom, but some return home completely injured and traumatised at the hands of those who are supposed to teach and motivate them.
Though corporal punishment or physical punishment stands banned throughout the country, for reasons best known to the teaching community, many ‘gurus’ not only think but firmly believe that fear and constant fear is the key to learning.
Throwing the rules of the book to the winds, they use all possible means of corporal punishment. In a majority of cases, such incidents go unreported and remain confined to the four walls of the schools. So, many teachers keep on ruthlessly employing inhumane methods to discipline children.
These responsible members of the teaching community who fail to follow the rules of the land and that of their own institutions cannot proclaim to wear the veil of idealism, discipline and self-control.
Motivation and experimentation are the keys to progress in a modern society. Help the child discover. Tap his innate abilities and talent. Too much structurisation and punishment will produce inhibited, resentful and dwarf minds.
Such an atmosphere is bound to suppress their natural energies and capabilities. What we need today is a happy and positive mind which can extend its contribution in making this world a better place to live and also help others have a fruitful and creative life.
There is a need to change the mindset so that an average mind grows into a fertile mind, so that it can be filled with zeal and passion to grow and progress. There is a need to consider the young mind as a young adult whose mental processes and energies can be channelised to make him a more responsible and a mature citizen.
Use of force counter-productive
CORPORAL punishment is the norm in many homes and educational institutions and is used as a tool to control children. Its proponents argue that it is effective and cite the old adage "spare the rod and spoil the child" to validate its usage. Some argue that corporal punishment toughens children and that a few raps, slaps and canes will not go amiss or harm children. The truth is that corporal punishment has a devastating effect in the long run on a child’s mind and self-esteem.
A worried mother told me about her son Karan who used to sit and rock himself on the floor, mumbling to himself on a regular basis. After having many informal sessions with Karan, it emerged that he was regularly being hit in class by his teachers and ridiculed. He wished they would die, or that he could kill them. It further unfolded that Karan was dyslexic, but his teachers who had no training or patience to understand the connotations of dyslexia, hit him to get some work out of him!
Since then I have watched Karan grow up into a boy who hates school, his teachers, and suffers from low self-esteem that vents itself periodically in errant behaviour.
Caregivers of children, be it parents or teachers, must understand that raising children is a privilege and a responsibility. Children will behave like children and display characteristics which are the hallmarks of their age. These characteristics are being naughty, daring, restless, impish, distracted and so on. The challenge for adults lies in channelising this energy most fruitfully. Anger and physical punishment on the part of adults shows their lack of patience and understanding. When adults vent their anger on children, the root of that anger lies in their own inadequacies and personal frustrations.
Physical violence on children kindles fear, anxiety, humiliation, resentment and a low self-image. Over time, and with continued usage, children become withdrawn or violent themselves. These are negative emotions. Why would thinking adults nurture them in children? They are contrary to objectives of raising young people who are confident and happy.
Fear as a mechanism to control children is not at all helpful. Fearful children never respond or grow with confidence and shy away from new challenges and situations. Education is an effort to remove ignorance and fear of the unknown, to help children successfully meet the challenges that life faces them with. Violence or the fear of punishment, makes children brash, meek, nervous or approval-seeking. This distracts children from realising their potential and many are emotionally scarred by these childhood experiences.
Why does corporal punishment exist in schools? Many teachers are unable to transcend what they experienced as children. Second, a B.Ed. degree does not give teachers adequate training in dealing with children and their emotional needs and requirements. This understanding is key to raising children in a healthful manner.
Children are responsive to logic, and from a young age can discriminate between ‘wanted’ and ‘unwanted’ behaviour. Yet being children, they push the limits and need to be guided. This pushing of limits is also vital for children’s growth and development.
This is how they explore their limits, determine the scope of their ventures, and also their responses.
As adults, we need to sit with children and talk about the consequences of errant behaviour and determine with them the punishment that should follow. Children respond very well to this technique. Logic, cause and effect appeal to them. When they err or overstep their limits, they want to face the predetermined consequence, and will willingly do so, and even demand to do so!
As adults we give little credence to our children’s ability to think and discern. We foist upon them our views and our judgments. This has a long-term crippling affect on a child’s ability to make his or her own judgments. I have seen children looking to their parents or teachers in askance for the simplest choices they need to make.
Making them understand that they are a vital part of their school and community will make them value themselves and in turn they will value and honour other people and property. Community service is ideal for teenagers to make up for errant behaviour. It teaches them responsibility and inculcates in them a sense of belonging to a larger community.
The curse of corporal punishment must be obliterated from society if we want to raise a nation of confident adults.
The writer is education consultant