I was walking past the VP’s office, an unusual sight caught my attention, a young student, probably a seventh or eighth grader, was standing very close to a tree, his arms around its trunk. I went closer and asked him why he was standing like this.. ‘Ma’am, I have been punished.’ He replied. ‘Oh!’ I said. I was rather amused at this mode of punishment. Though I am sure the poor kid was cursing himself and the tree too. This and many other similar scenes of students being punished for ‘offences’ are a normal sight in our schools.
In the past when a child was admitted in a school, the father would say to the teacher ‘his bones are mine and skin yours’. Meaning you can inflict pain without causing him injury. The teacher thus, had the license to deal with him. From then onwards the poor child, like a dirty linen, would be beaten on a slab and quashed with a rod to ensure that learning was ‘going home.’ What happened at the end was either he emerged a learned gentleman (like most of our fathers or fore fathers) or run away to become a labourer.
Rewards and punishments are tools that are employed by all societies, competitive organizations, institutions and even religions to motivate people to do good. Nowhere in the world is this tool used so widely as in schools. Obviously, all children are not alike. All are neither bright and intelligent nor well mannered and disciplined. Some are restless and prone to disturb the class with their antics and disorderly behavior.
While the high achievers are awarded for their skills, their less fortunate class mates are subjected to punishments. Teachers punish students for offences as small as forgetting a pencil or a notebook to posing threat to the environment of school or disrupting classes. The punishments vary from gender to gender, level to level and age to age. Caning, smacking, boxing ears are common corporal punishments while some teachers employ novel ideas to reprimand their poor victims.
One teacher whom I know, was known to be a terror for his students. He use to take firm hold of the student by locking his finger in his belt and shake him like a jelly. Even after many years he left the school, the students still remember with a shudder his ‘jhatkas’. A female teacher brought baby soothers with her and any talkative girl was made to put that in her mouth. Another head teacher made the student run around the ground shouting at the top of his voice ‘I am stupid’ …. Kneeling down, standing with hands above shoulders, standing in the corner of the class, holding one’s ears are far too common.
Not just our schools, student bashing has been in vogue in schools all over the world since times immemorial. Ragging in the academies and professional colleges is just another form. Charles Dickens laments on this aspect in his novels David Copperfield, Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby. He describes the children who attended such schools : ‘Pale and haggard faced, lank and bony figures, children with the countenances of old men –There was childhood with the light of its eyes quenched, its beauty gone and its helplessness alone remaining.’
Many succeeding educationists and reformists like Pestalozzi, Froebel, Herbart and Maria Montessori brought significant changes in the theories of education and behavior with children. Reward or punishment now come in the form of grades. Although, psychological flogging in the form of grades has diminished the amount of physical flogging, the basic underlying thought is still the same that is children are seen as what they should be not what they are.
According to a recent study as reported in the Daily Telegraph in July 2011: ‘Researchers have found that smacking reduced children’s ability to think on the spot and modify their behavior.’ The study warned: ‘this could lead to lower levels of self control and poorer behavior.’ Children withdraw, lack spontaneity and have lesser evidence of conscience. In fact they feel worse about themselves. Contrary to this, David Benator in his research paper on corporal punishment concludes that ‘Corporal punishment should not be totally abandoned and is not always immoral. With appropriate restrictions, it is sometimes permissible.’
In the European and western countries and most of the states of US corporal punishment has been banned, however, it still remains in some Asian, African and Carribean countries. In the mainstream schools of the former countries face of punishment has changed but is still retained in the non-corporal form such as detention, time-outs, being grounded, suspension or even expulsion.
The modern approach to the problem of dealing with student’s misbehavior lies in developing a strategy by the teachers to instill a sense of responsibility in the students through a partnership approach, share rules and provide opportunities for success. The teacher should understand the individual’s reasons for misbehaviour and help him to alter it. This approach show significant changes in the statistics of vandalism and also improves student attitude and behavior, school atmosphere, academic performance and even personal and professional growth.
To sum up: ‘The schools should inculcate, how to be professional, how to wear a uniform with pride, how to meet deadlines that count, how to complete home work. In short schools should encourage students to have a real ownership of their lives.’