With regard to the issue of corporal punishment, a trip down memory lane is necessary. The place is the village of Laborie; the time my infant and primary school days. I attended the St. Anthony Private School, run by Jesse and Olienne Medouze, former principals of the Laborie Girls’ Primary School. Subsequent thereto I attended the Laborie Boys’ Primary School. The principlal was Mr. Vincent Glasgow. In both schools and at home corporal punishment featured liberally in our education and discipline. I can recall Ms. Jesse with her tamarind whip teaching us “time” (when the long hand is on five and the short hand is on five it is twenty-five past five). I can still recall the refrain shouted by the boys and the girls with the whip brushing our legs and thighs.
I was never afraid of Ms. Jesse or her sister Ms. Olienne. We lived next door to their home and school. They were family friends. I was not afraid of them but I certainly was afraid of their tamarind whips. In both schools and in the various homes in the village corporal punishment featured in our every-day life. Now, when I consider our generation, I believe we, for the greater part, have done very well. For the greater part we have been
law-abiding and for the greater part we have made our parents proud. In the village and amongst us I can only recall Collins who stole and kept on stealing. The generality of us were well behaved. And so for those who hold the view that corporal punishment per se is abuse and warps the personality and character of young people, I vehemently disagree. My generation, including myself and those behind us, are the product of corporal punishment.
The question that needs to be asked is: Why didn’t corporal punishment deleteriously impact my generation and me? The answer is quite simple. We were not abused. We lived in an environment where there was community. Within and outside the home there were formal and informal mechanisms with their articulated and unarticulated purpose: the protection and proper development of children. Salubrious values pertaining to right and wrong were inculcated directly and indirectly, consciously and unconsciously, in the very psyche of the children’s village world. And those who devisted as the years went by were immoral by virtue of their knowledge of what was right and what was wrong. Those who deviated did not deviate because of corporal punishment but because of human weaknesses.
It is wrong to equate corporal punishment with abuse. Children are abused just like adults are abused. But in the context of child abuse there are two aspects of abuse. The abuse of the child and the abuser of the child who are themselves children/parents. When the human elements in a society, and for whatever the reason, fail to inculcate the requisite societal parental values in an individual, that, in my opinion, is abuse. It is primary abuse that is further translated into secondary abuse when that individual becomes a parent and is unable to transmit those values to their offspring.
What comes to mind is the “shift system” in the schools which lasted for approximately twenty-five years. In conjunction with this was, and is, the changed pattern and mode of work. The two phenomena aiding and abetting each other. There are, of course, other factors exacerbating this morass of contrived accidental, incidental and necessary “delinquency.” It should have been avoided or minimised. But that did not happen and so, at this time in our dubious evolution, we are indeed reaping the whirlwind.
How does this phenomenon play out in real life? When parents are at work, children are at home for inordinate lengths of time. They are alone—but with their friends. They are at home fixated on the TV, feasting their eyes on what they should not be watching. And when the exhausted parents do get home they use the TV as a diversionary mechanism and a baby-sitting, child-watching mechanical agent. There is no significant, salubrious interaction between parents and children. There is no inculcation of values; and the guidance to be provided is anything but loving, caring, warm and relevant. The consequence of all of this over the years is that the genesis and phenomenon of crime undergoes a morbid metamorphosis. The traditional climate of crime changes and a novel climate is being spawned. And so today crime is no longer a symptom or a function of “immoral” behaviour. Crime is amoral behaviour in its menacing and societally frightening mode.
How do you deal with amoral criminals? How can you undo that which has not been done? How can you reform that which has not been formed? How can you rehabilitate that which has not been habilitated? Will corporal punishment suffice? Will it assist? We do not think so. In this new environment corporal punishment will be an abuse and counter-productive. For the present, new strategies will have to be devised for the containment of delinquent behaviour on all levels. There is a perverse metamorphosis among the “abused” youth of today. They have a cognitive discernment of what is right; what is good. But they do not have a moral sensibility to that which is good and that which is not. There is a certain characterological dissonance between their moral sensibilities and their knowledge of the good. And as a result there is a patent lack of conscience, be it spiritual, social or otherwise. There is no remorse; no latent passive or actual abhorence to the commission of any offence. Nothing registers. And so the bad or evil obtain their dubious legitimacy in a context of vile acquisition and murderous disposition. For this generation corporal punishment will not cut the mustard. This generation, as I see it, is lost. And so we have to look at the three-year-old now sitting on the school benches or cushions of this nation. The school curricula must be changed in order to deal and cope with the already changing societal landscape. Parenting as I see it is the key; and it is a function too important to be left only to parents. It must become a government responsibility. And so the formal society must know where the children are at all times, and what they are doing at all times. In every community the Laborie Village needs to be created; for it is only in such an environment that the corrective and redeeming responsibilities corporal punishment can be actualised. And in this regard it must be realised that corporal punishment is just one brick in the edifice of salubrious child development. And in this edifice no one brick stands alone!