End Corporal Punishment in our Schools Now
The recent passage of the Child Justice Act is properly heralded by its proponents as a measure of progress in the laws governing the treatment of children accused and/or convicted of criminal offences.
Among its provisions is the elimination of corporal punishment from the disciplinary regime that can be used against a child convicted of a crime. But in the passage of the Act, we however do not rid ourselves of corporal punishment in schools which is still legal under the provisions of the Education Act.
During the debate on the Child Justice Act, the Prime Minister said that before the passage of the Education Act of 2006, the then leadership of the Teachers’ Union were the chief protagonists for the retention in law of corporal punishment as a disciplinary measure for students.
And in doing so, the Prime Minister has issued a challenge to the Teachers’ Union and all Vincentians to contemplate the patent absurdity of refraining from using corporal punishment against children who in some cases may have committed heinous crimes while simultaneously approving the use of such punishment against children in schools whose only offence may be insolence, or as we like to say, being ‘rude’ to a teacher.
In editorials over the years, Searchlight has repeatedly held that inflicting corporal punishment on our children whether in school or at home is unwarranted, counterproductive to the physical and psychological well-being of our children, and is a gateway to the violence that plagues our society. It literally legitimizes the idea that violence is an instrument through which we can command that others conform to our will. And in doing so at such a young age it inculcates in our children a lifelong belief that such violence is moral, effective, and a humane approach to nurturing our children.
The passage of the Child Justice Act repudiates these claims and is a necessary and welcome step in making our society more humane. The maintenance of corporal punishment in our schools, however, stains that noble enterprise. If it is inhumane for our legal system to impose corporal punishment on our children, it is equally inhumane for our school system to do the same. Whatever harmful effects corporal punishment inflicts on young offenders within the criminal justice system, it would certainly produce the same effects on children beaten in school and at home.
The damaging effects of corporal punishment levelled against children is not a consequence of the place where the beatings were administered. Rather, they are the consequence of the beating themselves. Hence, the stage is now set for the education system to re-examine the maintenance of this archaic and barbarous form of punishment in our schools.
This cannot come to soon. One more beating administered to one more child in our schools is one beating too many. In our continuing efforts to re-imagine and re-make our society freed from the violence and brutality of our colonial past, we need to re-claim the idea of the innocence of childhood. Inflicting violence on our children for any reason whatsoever is destructive to that idea.
This in no sense means that our children are beyond discipline. It affirms instead that we embrace other forms of discipline designed to achieve appropriate behaviours within our children without launching a physical assault against their bodies.
When the scene of this violence is the classroom, and the perpetrator is the teacher, and the victim is the student, it is the complete violation of the most fundamental principle of the classroom: the creation of a learning community that nurtures the intellectual growth of our children in a safe and supporting environment. It is the most ironic and perverse outcome of the classroom encounter between teacher and child when the most powerful lesson the student takes from that is that violence can be used to impose your will on another person.
End corporal punishment in our schools now and bring our schools into compliance with the vision of the Child Justice Act.