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Corporal Punishment

Authored by Mradul Sharma:

Corporal Punishment : Pic taken from Google Images

“There is very little you can beat into a child, but no limit to what you can hug out of it”

Astrid Lindgren(Swedish author)

When I think of corporal punishment (from Latin “corpus” meaning “body”), I am ineluctably led back to the time when i used to be at the receiving end and it is not difficult to recollect the explosive resentment that I ended up stuffed with, which eventually found assorted ways (and let me say, not entirely harmless for myself or others) to vent itself out. And I am bound to think that it has to be no different for any other child.

What essentially lies at the heart of physical punishment?

Is it wanting the child to do what one desires or what is correct? This, in itself is half the problem.

Very often teachers (and parents as well) punish or pester children just to have them do what they want them to do without sufficient rationale behind it. The reason can range from simple impatience (or indifference) to adopt a more reasonable approach in trying to confront  the child’s actual problem and talking to or working with him to solve it, to a deep rooted and yet ubiquitous one of a teacher’s ego (or self-esteem so to say) extracting its share of extraneous authority in order to keep up with his strict teacher image.

In case the latter holds true (that is, the reason for punitive action being a fair and thought out one), we come to the point of actually having an arguable situation. Though a lot of people (elder mostly) are of the opinion that physical form of punishment becomes necessary at some point even if the teacher’s (or parent’s) position stands compromised as someone who could be judged in a bad light for pertaining to such a thing by the children or a third person, I am still of the opinion that almost in all practical situations there is a better way out than inflicting physical form of punishment.

Often people in well established positions advocate the view by saying that had it not been for the thrashings by their elders they wouldn’t have accomplished whatever they managed to. Of course they could be right. Well, the thing is not whether the point is made (you can make your point to anyone holding him at gunpoint) but whether there is a better way to make it. Who knows what these people could have achieved if they were made to do the supposedly correct things in a correct and amiable way. What people talk only of is the people reformed even though there are many others who have been led into dismal lives for fear of the rod. And besides, we cannot ignore the unacceptable effects of this form of violence as in anxiety, depression, malice, lack of self confidence (which is an obvious by-product of regular battering) etc. Also, as Lindgren said, while adopting such ways we deprive ourselves of the multitude of possibilities that a loving gesture might in its place be capable of, for a similar cause.

What works for violent punishment is the imbibing of fear which in turn can be based only on the argument that the children in question are not mature enough to be made to understand the effects of their incorrect actions. In this case, while fear might work as a temporary solution, it will fail to solve the problem in the long term, along with producing a plethora of other difficulties. What can be done in such cases is to let the child experience the consequences of his actions and learn by his own mistake, but that again demands decisive courage on the part of parents and teachers. In case of possible dire consequences of such a mistake the rod might eventually stand a case, but this rests with the judgement and wisdom of the guardian.

Now, coming to the most difficult part of the problem. Treatment of children who understand the cause and effect of their actions but do not care for what is right and are adamant to pursue their own set of standards. Again, fear can only be a short term refuge until the person breaks free (one cannot flog a child forever), breaks down (which happens frequently as we all know), or strategically finds a way to evade the punishment while appearing to have been reformed (which I am inclined to think is generally the case). He might in the long term come to realize his shortcoming and mend his  ways but that should not necessarily be credited to the sticks he bore.

Having said all the above, I also believe that while banning corporal punishment might ideally appear as a simple solution to the problem, in all probability it is not a complete one. Though it might seem contradictory, this is because one cannot do this without leaving the teachers with a feeling of helplessness at the hands of children who, in certain circumstances could be led into exploiting the situation with this knowledge, even though good and methodical teachers might never need such forms at their disposal.

Thus, the only plausible solution for this problem lies with the wisdom and judgement of our teachers and parents who should be, must be made to learn and acknowledge the ways they can make their children learn and receive in a better way and not let their own hindrances or failures come in the way of their children. This can be done in diverse ways like counselling teachers and parents, airing documentaries on the subject, enquiring about such incidences and learning from them and so on but all this is easier said than done in a country where children still die for the lack of food.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

–          Kahlil Gibran on children (The prophet)

 

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