I find it very worrying when the people who are supposed to be our education leaders and experts boldly and conveniently choose to ignore current research in education. If, as educators, we are not being guided by scientific research in our field then what is it exactly that informs our practice or pedagogy? Research on the negative effects of corporal punishment is clear, practically unanimous, and readily available. Some of these include:
• A harshly punitive environment may have long-term detrimental effects on children’s verbal intelligence and their executive-functioning ability.
• Corporal punishment induces fear and distorts one’s ability to reason.
• It encourages children to behave only when they believe they will get caught while continuing to misbehave in your absence.
• It has long-lasting, damaging effects on self esteem, self confidence, and one’s social and emotional well being.
• It encourages bullying, aggression, physical violence, delinquency and other deviant and antisocial behaviors.
• The fear of being beaten can affect the child’s motivation and ability to learn.
There seems to be a widespread fear among many St. Lucian educators of the possible consequences if corporal punishment were to be abolished. The fact that so many principals and teachers can instantly visualize a situation where our nation’s children are running amok because they’re not being beaten anymore is testimony to the heavy emphasis that we have placed on forced obedience, discipline out of fear, and a dictatorial style of leadership, as compared to teaching children how to make wise decisions and control themselves. When a principal asks in desperation: “What else can we do?” it shows clearly the incompetence of such a person who is supposed to have at his or her disposal a repertoire of strategies.
I wish to expound a bit more on just a few approaches and corrective measures – as opposed to punishment strategies, which educators can use, all of which I have employed successfully in my 23 years as an educator, teaching at secondary schools where most of the students were labeled (and rightly so in many cases) as undisciplined.
Always bear in mind, however, that good discipline is a process, and not a quick fix, that begins with the teacher establishing a healthy, caring relationship with his or her students. It entails developing in oneself important traits such as fairness, consistency, sternness, socio-emotional intelligence, patience, and a respectful attitude that attracts equal respect in return. Good discipline also includes the ability of the teacher to be organized, to plan and execute interesting and engaging lessons that make students eager to learn.
It means making the effort to understand the child and investigate the root of a problem before attempting to remedy it.
So let us assume that you have tried to put all preventive and supportive measures in place. You are making use of a log book to record the date and time of student misbehaviors and having them sign as “hard evidence”. Yet there are those few students who still won’t cooperate. What other approaches can you use?
• Firstly, always give your students a choice, ensuring that one of the choices is less favorable and be willing to follow through in the event the child chooses the less favorable option. Many students will put you to the test because they know too well, unfortunately, that many adults hardly ever follow through with their threats. For example: “Shawn, it’s either you stop disturbing my classes or you will have to start sitting in the principal’s office to do your work (where he will have no one to disturb). Depending on how you behave tomorrow I will know what you have decided.”
• Change the way you speak to students and choose your words carefully and effectively. A confrontational, bossy attitude only invites resistance, resentment, and a vengeful attitude from students. The more you fuss and quarrel, the more pleasure they receive and the more they will aggravate you. Instead of: “Child, what is your problem? Why are you making me talk so much?” say, “Bernice, what you’re doing is really not a good idea. Every time you disturb me the entire class is being kept behind and we have so much to cover. You have my permission to rest your head on the desk if you’re not interested but could you please allow the rest of the class to learn. Thanks.” Those unexpected responses usually put a spoke in their wheel.
• Have students make appropriate reparations for their misdeeds and as much as possible make them similar to real life situations and the adult world. This includes having the offender calculate any costs incurred from his or act (transportation costs for parents to come to the school, costs of medication or doctor’s visit, price of a damaged item or uniform, etc.), and coming up with a plan to earn the money to compensate the one offended.
Students who are rude should be made to write an apology during detention or time out—over and over, until the finished product reflects their best handwriting and perfect, grammatically correct English. The offender should then read the apology publicly, which will subsequently be placed in his or her file.
As you can see, such strategies require creativity, dedication, self sacrifice, and time, and unfortunately, this is one of the reasons why so many educators and parents will do anything to hold on tightly to the easiest method, which is corporal punishment. It’s not that our children are so horrible that they deserve to be beaten like slaves. We are just not willing to make the necessary effort to upgrade ourselves so that we can more effectively change student behavior, and foster self-discipline.
Note: Jason C. Joseph is a Curriculum Specialist- Music.