Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Little Red Madhouse: Rethinking Corporal Punishment Be Revived


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Paradoxically, kids from less 'humane' cultures than ours often long for the relative safety of their homeland. They are more terrorized by the disorder in their inner-city American schools than they were by the threat of corporal punishment in schools back home. 

A teacher recently told me that her elementary ESOL students are uniformly repulsed and frightened by the disorder in their Philadelphia elementary school. One day, when the sound of cursing and fighting grew so loud in the hallway that her ESOL kids could barely hear their teacher, a quiet little girl from Ghana suddenly said, "These kids are just so bad. In my room (meaning her every-day classroom) I cannot learn!" 

She paused, then said longingly, "In Ghana they hit you if you're bad." The ESOL teacher asked, "Did that make Ghanaian kids behave?" "Oh yes," the girl replied, "it wasn't anything like this place!" "Do you think kids in this school would behave if they got hit?" the teacher inquired. "Yes!" the girl replied, momentarily brightening, "Oh yes, I'm sure they would!" Then her smile faded as she realized this was not going to happen.

When we compel children to attend school we incur a non-negotiable obligation to insure that they are safe and that those who want to can learn. This must take precedence over everything including well-intentioned social reclamation efforts, racial pride building, condom distribution, and the thousand and one other non-academic things schools are unwisely charged with doing.

Similarly, teachers must be free of the threats and assaults of disturbed or malevolent youngsters. Likewise, no one should be allowed to destroy their lessons. In short, serious disruption, threats, bullying, extortion, and predation, simply must not be tolerated if schools are to fulfill their function.

To restore order, however, school officials must command meaningful sanctions that tough kids respect. If this can be accomplished without inflicting physical pain on bullies and budding sociopaths, so much the better. But what if resources are inadequate for a more refined approach? Or what if we can't find a more refined approach that works reliably? Should we continue to compel well behaved children to attend unsafe schools where they are bullied unmercifully and denied the opportunity to learn? Should we continue to prate about holding teachers accountable when they are not even safe in their own classrooms?

In the "good old days" if you made other people's lives miserable or learning impossible it cost you a red behind and a one way trip out the door if you persisted. Today, these options have pretty much been ruled out. What has taken their place? Pious sermons, ineffectual detentions, suspensions that the kids view as vacations, forced transfers that spread the chaos, and, more recently, structured efforts to persuade sociopaths not to use the violence that pays off so handsomely for them. All of this is well intentioned. But all too often sneering recipients of these social services continue to lay waste to everyone's safety and learning.

In the best of all possible worlds, pain would never have to be inflicted on anyone for any reason. And a lot can still be done to make schooling more palatable and more effective for a broader range of kids. But the world is far from perfect, school resources are strictly limited and order is necessary for any reforms to take hold. Tough penalties, then, are still required. 

Educators relied on corporal punishment for nearly 6,000 years. Must we now revive what has only recently been set aside? Is there an affordable alternative that tough kids won't laugh at? Perhaps. But in the meantime far too many children — good kids who would dearly love to learn — are compelled to attend mad houses rather than school houses.

For more on this see http://www.newfoundations.com/Clabaugh/CuttingEdge/Singapore.html


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