Spare The Rod, School The Child

“Let us remember. One book, one pen, one child, and one teacher can change the world.” – Malala Yousafzi

“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”

(I Corinthians 13:11)

WE ARE TEACHERS. Nay, we were teachers, OR rather, we used to be teachers. From pupil-teaching at Anyinasu, through Ejura / Babaso, Nkroma, Adankwame, Jamasi, Teaching Assistants at School of Business Studies, Legon. Did we forget our National Service days at Vakpo Secondary School? Ei, we should have mentioned our days at Ecole Modernne at Koumassi in Abidjan. Sorry, call Baba Olu of Obalatan School of Ilupeju, Ekiti… during our Agege sojourn, or Oye-Ekiti, call Obasanjo.

       That should take a combined period of half a century, if our public service is discounted. Yes, discount the quarter of a century we spent somewhere, and our years in legal practice. At Form Four, our teacher, Cornelius Amekugee, at Fumesua Anglican Middle School, one day stopped beating us for always going to school late; he asked us the cause. We explained: our mother wakes us up at dawn (about 4:00am); we go to farm to pick cola nuts, mangoes, and leaves (for wrapping food). On return from the farm, we go to the river to fetch water; bathe and carry maize to the ‘nika-nika’ at Tech, then take the corn-dough home before coming to school. From that day, he never beat us again for going to school late, and we enjoyed our life in the school as ‘Class Prefect’ and ‘Section Leader’. Earlier, Mrs. Essilfie would not beat us, but insisted that we used the break period (12 noon to 1:30 pm) to do our ‘Corrections’ in Maths and English.

       At Akrokerri Training College, we were taught in ‘Education’ that we teachers were ‘in loco parentis’, so we assumed the position of parents, and we adopted this, just like Cheadle Hulme School founded in Manchester, in England in 1855 used ‘in loco parentis’ as its motto.

       We cannot run shy of owning that we administered the bastinado on our students. We would give them ‘Mental’ in English, just as we would give them in Maths, and one stroke for one mistake. Those were the days called ‘Abagyimi-bre’. And we had all ‘chewed’ Proverbs 13:24: “He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.” (King James Version). Before you accuse us of being “too colo”, let us quote from the New American Standard Bible; “He who withholds his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him diligently.” Or simply, “Spare the rod, spoil the child.”

       So, people have taken the literal meaning of “rod” and would stick to it: so that “rod” becomes a cane, not a scepter – not even the rod which Moses used to strike a rock for water, nor the rod turned into a snake to swallow another snake, and the rod used to separate the Red Sea for the Israelites to walk through. The symbolism for “rod” is lost on everyone. Hence, it is assumed that it is only physical punishment that can be used as a means of correction. Our teachers have disregarded guidance and appropriate discipline for correction. Symbolism? See how Emily Bronte in “Wuthering Heights” describes her affection for Linton and Heathcliff: “…foliage in the woods.” Who says black is a symbol for evil or death; but white is a symbol for peace, purity and life? White racists, imperialistic stooges… Cecil Rhodes sought to paint British map red. “…if I could, I would annex other planets.”

       Ever since Anthony Boateng, the Deputy Director of the GES insisted that teachers must use alternative sanctions as measures for correcting students in schools, this has generated very interesting responses. Anthony Boateng adds: “… This is in view of the Positive Discipline Toolkit containing positive alternatives to correcting children which was developed in 2016 as a component of the Safe Schools Resource Pack.”

       Do we reckon with the emotional damage that arises from the physical pain suffered from corporal punishment? The emotional scars include trauma, timidity, fear … and Positive Discipline Toolkit contains positive and instructive alternatives to correcting children. Alternatives include assigning extra tasks, withdrawal of responsibility, removal from leadership position, writing of line: ‘I will not disturb the class again’ (This will even improve the child’s handwriting!).

       Mr. Kofi Asare, Chairman of the Ghana National Education Campaign Coalition thinks caning defeats one’s purpose of being in school, raising timid, non-assertive individuals: “If a teacher applies the ‘whip’ because he or she is not happy with a student’s output, then the classroom becomes unattractive to the child. Punishing students physically… makes the students timid and unable to participate in certain subjects…”

       Angel Carbonu, President of NAGRAT is of the view that “disciplining a child needs to be put in a social context … Any time Western donors realise that one way of disciplining a child is by beating them, they feel it a bit weird … but advises teachers not to go against the GES directive, for in the new Code of Conduct, for teachers, when a teacher beats a student, the teachers will be arraigned before the disciplinary committee depending on the gravity of the situation…”

       But a Methodist Bishop warns Ghanaians not to copy wrongly the way children are brought up in co-called developed countries. Right Rev. Samuel K. Osabutey, Diocesan Bishop of Accra, argues: “Children are getting away with a lot of things in the schools in the name of child abuse… human rights. In other jurisdictions like the U. S. and elsewhere, where we find out that children have been given the freedom even to carry guns… and they are able challenge their parents… it is a foolish behavior pattern which we have copied with the excuse of freedom of speech… In those days, (in Ghana) when people were being caned… there were specific rules and regulations… the caning was commensurate to the offence.”

       So, we ask why should teachers of a school under the auspices of a premier University (of all places), cane students publicly for coming to school late? Not even when a guardian had explained to the marauding and rapacious bullies that he (the guardian) was the cause of the children’s lateness? The children had been ready by 7.00 am! And nobody saw anything wrong in that? And the guardian’s complaint to the headmaster was disregarded?

       Will it be far-fetched to draw a conclusion that caning is anachronistic, and belies a teacher’s mental maturity? In Uganda, the school authorities banned caning after five students of Mandela SSS in Arua were hospitalized after being severely caned by a group of teachers.

       In Rwanda, a teacher at a school in Kigali was dismissed for badly beating a girl of Class Three for failing to draw the palm of her hand, as instructed.

       In 1783, Poland became the first nation to outlaw corporal punishment. At present, no European nation entertains corporal punishment. Britain which practiced corporal punishment in the 19th and 20th centuries, eventually outlawed it in 1987 for state schools and in 1999 for all schools. During the Russian revolution in 1917 onwards, corporal punishment was banned in the Soviet Union, condemning same as the decadence of a capitalist education system.

       In the U.S. case of Tinker v Des Moines Independent Community School District (1969), the Supreme Court held that wearing arm-bands did not “materially and substantially interfere with the requirement of appropriate discipline in the operation of the school.” How does a student’s lateness materially and substantially interfere with the requirement of appropriate discipline in the operation of a school?

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Africanus Owusu – Ansah