Tue | Sep 26, 2017

Jaevion Nelson: Corporal punishment does not instill discipline

Published:Thursday | December 24, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Many of us continue to endorse corporal punishment because we believe the slaps, beatings, and even torture that we endured from our parents, teachers and other adults for our 'bad behaviour' and, in some cases, inability to do something 'properly' have made us a better person. Quite frankly, it's absurd for any well-thinking person to think that corporal punishment can have a positive impact. We are, as a friend said, better in spite of the corporal punishment that we experienced in our childhood, but it didn't make us the successes we are.

We have a tendency to pretend that the only students who are beaten are the so-called 'bad' ones who disrupt classes, fight other students, and who teachers must, in some cases, defend themselves from, when that is really not the case. I was a victim of corporal punishment both directly and indirectly in primary and high school.

Distressing experience

I attended York Town Primary School. In grade four, I often had to take home my cousin, Devon McKay, who would become terribly ill whenever he was beaten by our teacher. Devon was, in all honesty, a largely very quiet student, but he was regularly beaten for not being able to do his work very well. It seems he was a 'slow learner'. Strangely, it didn't seem to matter to our teacher that every time she 'disciplined' him he became ill. It was such a distressing experience. We had a practising teacher, who threw a duster at me which caught me just a little over one of my eyes for talking in class.

As a third former at Clarendon College, I received 10 lashes with a very thick leather strap from the vice-principal for being 'insolent' to the religious education teacher. That was my punishment for daring to speak my mind to that teacher. This was the less draconian punishment, as I was to be suspended for three days, but managed to talk my way out of that. There was another teacher who was known to be quite brutal. It is rumoured that one or more students have been physically harmed by the individual, who was allowed to continue teaching for some time despite reports.

Simple fact

Corporal punishment has no place in our schools. Officials at the Ministry of Education must accept this simple fact for us to move forward. Such an appreciation should then be translated into an amendment of the Education Regulations Act (which is long overdue). Far too many students have suffered psychologically and physically.

Section 62 (d) of the Child Care and Protection Act (2004) protects children in a government-run place of safety, children's home or in the care of a fit person from all forms of corporal punishment. The Early Childhood Act (2005) also bans the use of corporal punishment in early-childhood institutions such as kindergartens, basic schools and day-care centres. However, the Education Regulations of 1980 does not outlaw the use of corporal punishment in schools.

It is rather unfortunate that we have to be debating this again. In June 2008, UNICEF Jamaica provided the Ministry of Education with a grant for a three-year project entitled Strengthening Education through Policy Development Capacity-building and Public Education, which would, among other things, address the issue of corporal punishment in schools. To the best of my knowledge, the project, which would have included a public-education campaign and workshops on alternative methods of discipline, was not fully implemented.

If a student needs to be disciplined (for whatever reason), then one can certainly find more appropriate and less harmful ways to do so. Yes, it is possible to 'discipline' without slapping or beating a child. Geraldine Garwood, a clinical psychologist and behaviour analyst, provided some alternatives to corporal punishment, which can facilitate a "structured consequence and reinforcement methodology for mainstreaming appropriate behaviours of students" in this paper on Sunday, December 20, 2015.

We shouldn't allow our leaders to vacillate and pander to societal views and attitudes on this so-called controversial matter of banning corporal punishment. Let's end this practice once and for all. It is not in anyway efficacious in engendering more positive attitudes and behaviours in our children nor does it make them any more successful than the child who was never 'disciplined'.

- Jaevion Nelson is a youth development, HIV and human rights advocate. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and jaevion@gmail.com.