Disciple and Punishment . . . Not quite the same

Whenever the calypso season comes around, I find myself dreading those radio talk shows where everyone, including the talk show hosts, suddenly becomes experts in calypso and music. I cringe when I hear them use the wrong musical terms to explain something, or advance their biased, and unfounded opinions as the gospel truth.

As an educator, I go through a similar experience when I hear certain preachers and other callers, who are clearly not familiar with the research regarding corporal punishment or child development, speaking so passionately and authoritatively on radio. I immediately think of all the gullible people listening who are being influenced by the uninformed opinions of those advocates for physical punishment. I was disturbed this week when I heard a celebrity pastor on a particular radio station say, “there is no way we are going to accept the abolition of corporal punishment in this country”, or words to that extent, as if someone died and appointed him the voice of the masses.

As if that wasn’t audacious enough, he went on to challenge Doctor Bird and to demand evidence for her assertions when his only source of information was a couple of scriptures from his ancient book of fairy tales. It is evident that many people are unaware of the difference between “discipline” and “punishment”, since those two words are often used in the wrong context.

The term “discipline” refers to a strategy or process of teaching a child how to manage his or her behaviour and emotions in ways that are socially acceptable. Effective discipline does not necessarily need to involve punishment. Punishment is the act of imposing an unpleasant consequence or penalty for wrongdoing. Punishment is only one method of discipline, while Corporal punishment is only one form of punishment. Perhaps you would like to go back and read this over, or should I repeat it in kwéyòl? Getting rid of corporal punishment is NOT synonymous with getting rid of discipline or punishment. In other words, nobody is saying that if we stop beating children they will be allowed to do as they please.

There are other forms of more humane punishment which could be employed when it becomes necessary to punish a child. Instead of promoting the experts who could enlighten the general public about positive and alternative forms of discipline, we keep highlighting myopic preachers who insist on rehashing their worn out, archaic views. It is always a test of patience and self-control to listen to other people, who, for some reason did not get the benefit of higher education, belittle the intelligence of those who spent arduous years at university, acquiring new knowledge and conducting research. They take pleasure in referring to the learned in such condescending terms as “those so called academics” or “those people with all their degrees”.

Since when did formal education become a bad thing, or intelligence became a crime? On one hand, the religious believe that God gave the doctors and scientists their intelligence and brains, yet on the other hand, those same religious zealots have no regard and appreciation for scientific research and the opinions of experts, which are generated from “God-given” brains. Instead, they prefer to embrace ideas like, “spare the rod and spoil the child” as the ultimate wisdom. That same “wise” God in that same “wise” book also says: women should not wear pants (Deut. 22:5), we should not wear cloth that has a mixture of linen and wool (Deut. 22:11), and that a man should not shave his beard (Lev. 19: 27). So much for ultimate wisdom.

Perhaps it is time for us to reframe the corporal punishment debate. Most people are unable to see the dangers in it and remain unconvinced by the research. It is well established that babies who are not given a warm, nurturing, and trusting environment can grow up to become maladjusted. We also know that if children are not provided with a stimulating environment, lots of opportunities for play, and developmentally appropriate experiences, they could become cognitively impaired. Most of us will accept that a child who is raised in an environment where criticism, shame, humiliation, and alienation are the norm, such a child could turn out with a poor self-image and social and emotional issues.

We unanimously agree that the absence of a male figure in the life of both boys and girls can have negative and enduring effects on them. Yet, we find it so difficult to accept that slapping, beating, or screaming after a child could have negative effects. Would it make the advocates of corporal punishment more open minded and willing to try new approaches if we first agreed with them that beating works? It actually does. When a man beats his woman, for example, she listens and responds. She behaves herself accordingly, prepares her man’s meals on time, irons his clothes, and obeys his every command out of fear, or to avoid more licks. In addition, the abused woman looks pretty normal to everyone. She is always smiling and as productive as ever at work. So, yes, licks works one way or another.

Now, all we are saying is that there are other more effective methods of producing disciplined and responsible citizens if only you are willing to try them and to learn. We are also saying that there are many parents and educators who work with challenging children, who do not beat them, and who still manage to produce disciplined individuals, which proves that corporal punishment is not necessary. It is a method for incompetent people. If you believe that you will be hopeless and will lose control if you cannot beat a child, then you are incompetent.

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