Spare The Rod!
Kolkata, June 18, 2010
It took a Class 8 student’s suicide and the intense media scrutiny that followed to change a practice that La Martiniere for Boys had been following from the time the East India Company ruled India. Four months after 13-year-old Rouvanjit Rawla committed suicide after being allegedly caned by his principal and humiliated in school, the prestigious Kolkata school has banned caning and other forms of corporal punishment. Following a public uproar, La Martiniere principal Sunirmal Chakravarthi announced on June 15 that the school would discontinue corporal punishment.
Corporal punishment in one form or another has been around schools for centuries. It certainly is not a new issue. The age old practice of using rod to punish students continues to rule thousands of classrooms across many countries around the world, including India and the United States. Educators, who face the difficult task of maintaining order in the classroom, resort to corporal punishment because it is quick to administer and it's free, basically. All you need is a paddle. The schools are not much concerned with serious medical consequences resulting from corporal punishment, including severe muscle injury, extensive blood-clotting, whiplash damage and hemorrhaging. Ironically, the children who get in fights are the ones who are most of the times the victims of corporal punishment. So the schools are supposed to teach them not to hit by hitting them?
Corporal punishment is not allowed in the prisons, but it is still legal to hit students in schools. The research shows that children who are beaten and abused are more likely to be prone to depression, low self-esteem and suicide. The simple fact that corporal punishment as a disciplinary measure is not part of any education curriculum indicates that educators at every level know that corporal punishment has no place in the classroom. Most leading professional associations oppose corporal punishment in all its forms. The reason why is that they feel it causes irreparable emotional damage to young people. It perpetuates the cycle of abuse, apart from physical damage to the abused students. Schools need to find more enlightened and effective methods for dealing with disciplinary issues. Honor codes and clearly spelled out results for infractions can give them an edge in dealing with discipline. Basically, if students do something seriously wrong, fear of suspension or expulsion from school can work as an affective deterrent. Students can be grounded for mischief or punished some other way, but certainly not through corporal punishment.
It's time schools come of age and usher in an era where rule of law prevails over prevailing practice of punishing the students with rulers. A vast amount of evidence shows an urgent need to replace corporal punishment with enlightened and humane methods of discipline. Many studies have shown that corporal punishment causes serious physical and psychological harm to large numbers of children. Each year in the U. S., thousands of children require medical treatment due to corporal punishment administered in schools. School-inflicted corporal punishment has even caused the deaths of seven children - including a kindergarten girl. Among the emotional problems that can result from corporal punishment are depression, withdrawal, sleep disturbances, avoidance of school, learning problems, loss of self-esteem, and delinquency.
Harvard Medical School professor Alvin Poussaint, a psychiatrist who has written extensively on African-American issues, points out that 80 to 90 percent of black prison inmates were severely punished or neglected as children. He also says the more that children are beaten, the angrier they get and the more likely they are to use violence in responding to problems and frustrations. Our violent society has a tremendous need for people to be taught, through word and example, peaceful means of resolving problems. But corporal punishment causes schools to neglect nonviolent solutions such as counseling, detention, Saturday school, withdrawal of privileges, and use of student mediators. Those methods are effective and teach children to resolve conflicts without resorting to violence. Moreover, corporal punishment is an ineffective means of discipline, because the same students are repeatedly the recipients of it. Corporal punishment does not teach a child appropriate behavior, but only suppresses the undesirable behavior when the punisher is nearby. Physical punishment may produce obedience in the short term, but continued over time it tends to increase the probability of aggressive and violent behavior during childhood and adulthood. One reason it does is that being physically assaulted causes many young people to develop resentment, rage, and a desire to strike back.
The number of organizations opposed to corporal punishment continues to grow. This is due to increasing awareness of the harms caused by it and the availability of superior disciplinary alternatives.
For the same reasons, corporal punishment in schools is prohibited in all of Europe, South and Central America, Japan, and China. A total of 109 countries ban it. In the U.S., more than half the states prohibit it, and thousands of local school districts in other states have followed suit. Because schools in those places have developed effective alternative means of discipline and successfully educate students, schools elsewhere can surely do the same. In fact, schools that have eliminated corporal punishment report many positive results, such as increased attendance, higher academic performance, decreased behavioral problems, and better relations between students and school personnel.
In view of the harmful effects of corporal punishment and the availability of far better disciplinary methods, government officials have a moral obligation to end these assaults on children. The evidence indicates that failing to do so will jeopardize the health and happiness of many children and perpetuate the high levels of violence in the society. As Mahatma Gandhi said, "If we are to reach real peace in the world, we shall have to begin with children." The age old philosophy 'spare the rod, spoil the child', must be substituted with the new mantra 'save the child, spare the rod'.