No Corporal Punishment Please!

Published : 10:31 am  September 20, 2017 | No comments so far |  | 


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In all my years as a teacher and later as a Principal, I have never allowed myself or any member of my Staff to touch a child either in anger or affection. Of course the latter has become somewhat obsolete given that children are less inhibited nowadays and have no difficulty showing affection even to supposedly staid teachers specially when exam results are announced   

I once had the unexpected but totally heart warming experience of a very shy girl throwing her arms round me and kissing me firmly and warmly on the cheek when I told her she had been awarded a full scholarship to Yale. Now that I can excuse! But what of actual corporal punishment? It is too common nowadays and instances of downright cruelty can be read in the press all the time.   

During my school days in various countries, gentle nuns and other well controlled teachers never once showed a tendency to smack any of us although I must confess that my piano teacher did occasionally tap my knuckles with a ruler. I didn’t like it. It certainly did not push me to practise harder or to play any better. Indeed I must ask this question ……’Has Corporal Punishment ever been known to have enhanced performances in Studies, Sports or the Arts?’ It has not. It has had the very opposite effect with a tremendous psychological backlash as well.   

It was just a few days ago that I read, to my surprise. that according to a caveat in Penal Code 314 teachers were able to get away with thrashing pupils (if it was done in good faith) and if they were behaving with “reasonable discretion”. Now those words cover almost every kind of corporal punishment. What is reasonable to one may not be so to another. Who judges the ‘reasonableness’] of corporal punishment?   
That little caveat can and probably does allow downright sadism to take place and the Daily Press constantly tells us of such instances of punishments way beyond their “reasonable” use.   
 We did not have too much coeducation in Colombo in the 1940s and 50s. We knew that the boys of our sister school at S. Thomas’ were being regularly caned by Warden de Saram and others. We knew this because our brothers, cousins and occasionally even boyfriends told us so. (we, girls privately thought it an excellent idea that irritating brothers and unfaithful others were being soundly thrashed). The boys seemed to think it was all in a day’s work if they were caned for not doing homework, skipping choir practice and other offences which would be probably overlooked today with just a verbal reprimand. Sometimes Warden de Saram, Head of S. Thomas’ would hand the caning over to another master. The boys looked forward to a particularly lenient one who interpreted the order to cane in his own way.   

“So here you are again,” Mr. Wise would say genially to the young culprit in his office who was ‘On Report’ for the third time that term.  

He would then take three steps back, take a little run up to the boy bent over his desk with his bottom in the air, and tap him gently on the back. He would repeat this three or four times.   

“You have been caned now”| he would say to a very surprised first offender, “so run along to class.”    

He was predictably one of the most popular teachers in the school. His brilliant teaching was a bonus.   

Caning can leave scars; often deep scars. In fact all physical punishment leaves scars. A father who regularly abuses his children (I do not mean sexually) will have underperforming sons and daughters with only himself to blame. The trouble is that such fathers rarely blame themselves. It is always the fault of the school and never the fault of the home. And often a long suffering wife bears the onus of her child’s lack of interest in his school studies..   

A parent out of control is a frightening sight. There is no protection from the fury of a stronger- than – child parent whose temper has passed beyond the realm of reason. Just once I witnessed such a scene in my office when a furious father got up from his seat in front of me and slapped his daughter so hard she literally reeled against his onslaught.   

She screamed in fright and her subsequent embarrassment was heart-rending. I wish Principals could expel fathers. Certainly we wish we could control them. I will not even touch upon the psychological implication of that incident or of others like it. It can be horrendous.   

Has Corporal Punishment ever been known to have enhanced performances in Studies, Sports or the Arts?’ It has not. It has had the very opposite effect with a tremendous psychological backlash as well   


I believe a Child Protection Society functions in the island but what child is going to report a parent? For two years or more I listened to the screams of fear that emanated every weekday morning from a house behind mine where twin girls were being looked after by their grandmother while both parents worked. There was not a thing I could do about it. All complaints had to be made in writing to the Police or the Child Protection Society and why would I put myself in line of fire of an angry grandmother who could, and would, rightly tell me it was none of my business?   

Abuse of minors takes place all over the world but none so common as abuse in schools. I totally agree with writer, Uditha Davapriya, that we have an educational system that expects deference from students for teachers who do not deserve it. The old Shishya/Guru is totally outdated and I am glad to say we have a less inhibited group of children in International Schools at least. They speak out often and teachers listen. A perfect method and balance in punishment technique has yet to be found but at least many educationists are trying.   

I have another question. Who is going to handle bullying parents?