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TRINIDAD & TOBAGO
School CP - October 1999



Corpun file 4302

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Trinidad Express, Port of Spain, 1 October 1999

The rule of persuasion

By Raymond Ramcharitar

A REAL commentary on corporal punishment in schools shouldn't be offered by anyone who has not been inside the system. I taught at three primary schools over two years in the late 1980s, when corporal punishment was just beginning to be frowned upon by the authorities, but still widely practised.

I should make a distinction here: corporal punishment in the vast majority of instances was a few raps with a wooden ruler, a strap, or a short (soft)cane.

Fan belts and leather belts soaked in urine and long cured wooden whips are the accoutrements of sadists.

In the system as a teacher, I realised that without immediate and visible punishment, you quickly became ineffective.

Facing the blackboard, kneeling down, holding the hands up in the air were distracting, wasted time and didn't work.

Once children saw they could get away with it, homework remained undone, excuses became lamer, and the children actually began to look forward to being put out of class, or made to stand facing the blackboard.

I taught in two country schools and one in Port of Spain. In the first two, I was as idealistic as it was possible to be, given the squalor of the system, the care that became cynicism in other teachers, and the well-intentioned but ill-equipped parents. It adds up.

After two weeks of gentle persuasion trying to teach long division, I gave a class (Standard Three) two problems. None was able to solve them. Another week of explanations, asking whether I was understood.

Same result -- a sea of bland, uninterested faces. I took the ruler to them. Then half the class was able to do them. The other half took a little longer.

In the other two schools I worked at, the same dialectic applied.

As I recall, every other teacher in every school at one point or another did the same.

It's important that the students came from some of the less splendid areas of the country. These were not children whose parents spent time with them over homework.

These were not children who were eager to learn, but were resentful of learning.

In this case, a responsible adult needed to override this resentment. Some of the children come up to me in the street today, and if there's any resentment it's not apparent.

I teach teenagers (17-year-olds) at a private school these days. At the first class, I made it clear that not doing assignments did not hurt me as much as it hurt the student. The result: few assignments were handed in.

When I found out (and let them know) I could give detention and cause more serious consequences like letters to parents, the assignments were handed in regularly.

Brutality against children is abhorrent but children intuitively understand human dynamics better than Machiavelli ever did, and sometimes -- not most or all of the time, but sometimes -- the ruler or the strap makes a necessary point much more efficiently than gentle persuasion could ever do.

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