What It Is Like To Experience Corporal Punishment as a Student

Yana Bostongirl

Recently, I was listening to my friend, a second-grade teacher, talk about how some parents were complaining that her daily homework handouts of one page each of Math and ELA were stressing out their kids.

It reminded me of my schooling.

From a young age, we had to lug textbooks and notebooks (and a lunch box) to and from school, after which we sat down to do long hours of homework — as dictated by a rote education-based system. The downside of not completing homework was either caning, getting rapped on the knuckles with a ruler, or some other form of corporal punishment that the teacher deemed appropriate for this minor infraction.

A line that has stuck with me from the last time I was visiting the old country goes along these lines — “Kids need to be disciplined by their teachers otherwise they become lazy.” This is from a parent who keeps a switch (a thin branch cut from a tree, used for striking, often as corporal punishment)in the house and which is liberally used to dole out discipline whenever either of his two sons misbehaves or is ‘lazy enough’ to bring home bad grades.

Some may consider this appalling but in many parts of the world, corporal punishment both at home and in schools is commonplace.

An article in aacap.org describes corporal punishment as “a discipline method in which a supervising adult deliberately inflicts pain upon a child in response to a child’s unacceptable behavior and/or inappropriate language. The immediate aims of such punishment are usually to halt the offense, prevent its recurrence and set an example for others.” It further explains the purpose of corporal punishment “ The purported long-term goal is to change the child’s behavior and to make it more consistent with the adult’s expectations.”

Corporal punishment is carried out by an adult who hits the child with a hand, or with canes, rulers, or other objects in the name of discipline.

In my case, I personally experienced caning at my school. The teachers did not hesitate to start thrashing students for the slightest misdemeanors such as talking during class (as most kids tend to do when the teacher is not present) and it was usually delivered with a switch in these ways:

  • On the palm (you could cry and plead for mercy all you want but that was usually counterproductive).
  • On the buttocks. Girls were asked to bunch their skirts tightly to the side so as not to deflect the cane.
  • On the calves especially during Physical Education classes.
I have come home several times with red marks from caning imprinted on my body. Despite repeated complaints from my parents, the school principal did little to rectify the situation.

That could have been either because he did not wish to interfere with the tried and tested approach to maintaining discipline or my parents were in a minority of those against corporal punishment.

In addition to caning, other popular ‘remedies for misbehavior and laziness’ included:

  • Standing in or outside the classroom for long amounts of time in order to teach the problem child a lesson.
  • ‘Writing lines’ — otherwise known as the practice of writing the same sentence over and over again (sometimes hundreds of times).
  • The dreaded “Come to the office after class” summons that very well-meant humiliation in front of other teachers.

It is no wonder I hated school. It came to a point where I was so terrified of school that I was left with two choices — either pull my big girl britches up and endure the punishment or be homeschooled. My parents opted briefly for the latter and then packed me off to boarding school which was located so far away from home that I only got to see my family only during summer break.

“Spare the rod spoil the child” is a modern-day saying that parents and teachers in many parts of the world adhere to because they believe that is the only way that orderly education can take place.

Despite the fact that corporal punishment in schools has been officially banned in countries such as South Africa since 1996, it continues to be prevalent in township schools. An article published by ResearchGate puts forth the following reasons for this:

  • Absence of alternatives
  • The legacy of authoritarian legacy practices
  • A neglected explanation is that corporal punishment persists because parents use it in the home and support its use in school.

Even though the government of India banned corporal punishment in schools back in 2010, an article published by BBC points to the fact that it is still widespread despite it being illegal. According to a report by the children’s organization, Plan International, 65% of children on average said they had received corporal punishment.

The main causes of violence against young Indians, including in schools, was discrimination on the basis of caste and gender; “societal acceptance of violence as a form of discipline”; and a general lack of awareness about children’s rights” — Plan International

Currently, corporal punishment is legal in 19 states in the US. It also happens to be legal in private schools all across the country except for the states of New Jersey and Iowa.

I remember the popular rationale for corporal punishment being “It is for your own good.” I have often wondered how it could be if it leaves a kid with mental trauma that lingers well into adulthood, scarring, and in extreme cases, deformity and death.

It is therefore not an exaggeration when I say I consider myself fortunate to have escaped that school from hell. In my opinion, we not only need to continue raising awareness about the harm caused by corporal punishment but also encourage the message of positive discipline.

Originally published on Medium.

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