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Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 84,395
Marty Offline OP
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By Godfrey Smith

Who would have predicted that corporal punishment in schools would have been the next issue to ignite a sudden but credible mass protest in Belize, almost overnight?

Did we wake up in the right country? How did this issue outstrip the bread-and-butter issues and the personal security issue to become the most explosive issue of the day?

Is this not Belize where neither randomly exploding grenades, nor rampant youth violence, nor crumbling infrastructure, nor serial episodes of negligence in public health delivery prompts a minute's protest by the citizenry?

The Minister of Education, Patrick Faber, formerly a high school teacher, recently tabled legislation in parliament to remove the last vestige of corporal punishment in schools. It has for some time been illegal for school teachers to "lash" unruly children; only school principals retained the power.

The Belize National Teachers' Union wanted the Bill delayed, citing the need for more time to find alternatives to caning in the classroom. The Minister refused saying there had been enough delay, prompting a 1,000-teacher protest in parliament square against the Bill.

But mightn't this debate be a little too rich for our public discourse palate? Was there not a recent poverty assessment report that shows people are growing poorer in Belize?

Are we not besieged by a battery of other pressing socio-economic challenges impelling us to urgent collective action like HIV-Aids, domestic violence, child molestation and young, poor, uneducated girls having children?

Nothing, of course, is more important than the education and treatment of our children in schools. But seriously, did a deserved lashing ever hurt anybody?

Not that the issue isn't germane [being both pertinent and fitting] and relevant. My complaint is that for a polity [an organized society, such as a nation, having a specific form of government] with no training in juggling, we certainly have a lot of balls up in the air only to have them go bouncing all over the place instead of taking one issue at a time and following through to completion.

The abolition of corporal punishment in schools is an enlightened position. It perhaps works well in Europe where there are the financial resources, studies, and institutional support structures to enable people over a period of time to understand, accept and sustain enlightened positions.

To illustrate: Belizeans could conceivably accept the enlightened position of abolishing the death penalty if they accepted that the state could sustain good police work, high conviction rates and ensure that, in relation to the worst offenders, life imprisonment means just that.

Developed countries sometimes insist that poor countries adopt enlightened positions in exchange for development funding. What they simply don't get is that such countries on the brink of economic failure simply lack the wherewithal to introduce and sustain the institutional framework necessary for the success of a particular "enlightened" program.

Interestingly, corporal punishment is retained in most Asian countries; a culture generally regarded as better disciplined, highly respectful of family values, hard-working and committed to achievement.

If, as the minister says, in six months his ministry will train all 5,000 teachers in the required pedagogical strategies to compensate for losing the language of the lash, the obvious question is: shouldn't we be first satisfied that teachers are comfortable in the new skin before they shed the old?

It is difficult to see how one's view on corporal punishment in schools can differ from one's personal stance on parental or domestic corporal punishment.

At a minimum, most "enlightened" households probably reserve corporal punishment (a spanking) for when all attempts at reasoning, persuading, threatening and bribery fail to deter a child from spoilt, unacceptable behavior.

How then could they credibly argue for the removal of a school principal's reserve power to inflict corporal punishment in deserving cases?

As one caller to a morning talk show suggested it would have been quite easy and useful for schools to send each child home with a short questionnaire for their family to tick whether it wished school principals to retain the power of corporal punishment in deserving cases or not.

People are by nature resistant to change even where it will engender a greater public good. At the same time, they complain that politicians worry more about being re-elected than about doing what's best for the country.

It was therefore refreshing to see the minister, having the courage of his conviction, persist in the pro-abolition stance regardless of the trade union torpedoes threatened to be deployed against him.

That feeling of political upliftment was fleeting, rapidly and noisily deflated as I watched the emotional minister, now clearly out of his depth in the teeth of the protest, reeling between emotions in parliament.

He angrily denigrated the teachers as "ignorant", accusing them of being directed by political agents, only to then embarrassingly melt down into a tearful, unmanly, un-parliamentary, how-could-they-do-this-to-me-after-all-I've-done-for-them lament.

He put a full-blown "tracing" on the teachers saying what they should be paying attention to were their panty lines showing through their uniforms rather than his Bill; outside parliament the teachers chanted that he should be lashed for not listening.

With slack-jawed incredulity I watched as the minister compounded his mistakes by insisting on a television morning show that the teachers were indeed "ignorant" in the dictionary sense of the word.

It was surreal as if nothing at all had been learnt from the foreign minister's faux pas in describing Belize's border, claimed by neighboring Guatemala, as "artificial". Calling public school teachers (of all persons!) "ignorant" is roughly equivalent in Creole culture to calling them stupid.

In making a public defence of his actions, he sought to distinguish the teacher's protest against him from their protest against the former government's financial mismanagement in 2005, missing the point that it is a personal discredit to him that such a simple, manageable matter boiled over into a march against him.

He exhorts the teachers to aspire to greater finesse and skill in the management of their classrooms but descends to emotional name-calling in his management of the union.

Subtlety, obviously not his forte, he openly admitted to harboring leadership ambitions that fuelled his desire to manifest decisiveness on this issue, detracting significantly from the initial view of his acting from a principled position.

Having exposed himself, his symptoms are readily recognizable. Those whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad with power. A power that repels objective self-criticism.

Not surprisingly, he reached for the familiar crutches to regain his political balance: the demonstrators were ignorant, he said, politically motivated and at 1,000-strong represented only a minority of the 5,000 teachers.

The PUP Government had similarly accused the unions of being "hijacked by political agents" when, simply fed up with financial mismanagement, they had mobilized against the government in 2005.

The question the minister must now ask himself is whether the abolition of corporal punishment in schools which he bravely and urgently lead was worth pissing off the unions, damaging his personal reputation and dissipating his government's rapidly depleting store of good will. For what, a delay of six months?

Joined: Oct 2003
Posts: 2,461
I think they should cane the teachers who went on strike over this.

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Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 84,395
Marty Offline OP
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i'm with you Katie!

Joined: Sep 2000
Posts: 955
I,m on the fence on this one, while I was caned many many times at school (and I did not turn out too bad wink I was also physically punished by my parents but you know what ?

I did not care, when I got caned yeah it hurt a bit but it was over and done with and 5 minutes later I had forgotten about it.

When my dad whacked me, again 5 minutes later it was forgotton and I was back getting into mischief.

What worked for me was being grounded and not being able to go out and play football or go out and play with my mates now that really hurt and made me think about my actions next time I was getting into trouble.

I have 2 kids and ones 12 and ones 2 and I dont beat them I use other alternatives when they misbehave and it works.

The thought of someone caning or beating one of my children makes my blood boil if I dont hit or lash my kids then no one else has that right.

The root of this problem is the parents its the lack of parenting skills that has got us to where we are today.

The thought of giving a teacher the right to cane or beat your kids is far from a good idea in my eyes.

Joined: May 2000
Posts: 7,047
All good points Gaz, but you are a father that takes interest in your kids' lives. Here in Belize, and indeed in the world we are seeing many broken families, many single parents raising their kids. When you read the news from the city where the kids join gangs you often see the Mother's crying and lamenting the fact that as a single Mom they had to work 2 jobs to put food on the table - they barely see their kids and without a father to assist the single parents rely heavily on the schools to administer punishment and supply stability in the kids lives. Even corporal punishment is a show of adults taking an interest in these kids lives.

If we all had the perfect family life, with a parent at home, a parent at work, shared responsibilities of nurturing and discipling this wouldn't even be an issue.

We have much deeper social issues to be concerned about rather than whether a teacher can lash the li pickney.

Joined: May 2000
Posts: 7,047
As a quick note - the teacher's at my kids schools never lashed or caned any of the kids that attended those schools.

No, I don't believe it is an ideal situation that parents rely on schools to discipline their kids. Nor do I believe that any teacher other than the principal should be granted the right to administer such punishment.

As a child that was indeed lashed in school (UK) I gotta say that it was not an experience I ever wanted to relive. Therefore I shaped up, started to behave and never forgot how disgraceful, demeaning, painful and embarrassing the experience was. So in a nutshell, I feel that sometimes such a punishment is indeed a necessity - if meted out sparingly.

Joined: Feb 2004
Posts: 2,208
I gave a talk recently on learning theory and have cut and pasted some notes from the part that covered punishment in the lecture as food for thought in this debate.

"The difficulty with using punishment in learning is that applying it effectively takes considerable skill if it is going to have the outcome desired with few side effects, so let's look at it in more detail.

1. Association. For punishment to work effectively it has to be directly associated with the behaviour. This can sometimes lead to all sorts of difficulties especially when we look at in the context of classical conditioning. Here is an example. A child is at home and gets hungry. He eats some cake that has been left out for dinner. When mother gets home, child goes to greet mother by giving her a hug in the kitchen. But the mother has seen that the cake has been eaten and hits the child. Unless there has been a very close connection made in the child's mind about eating the cake and the punishment there could now become an association between greeting the mother and showing her affection and punishment. Not the sort of association a parent would want to make with their child.
2. Potential for abuse. Frustration can often lead to irrational behaviour. I've seen this amongst tourists in Belize when dealing with Spanish speakers. If the person they are speaking to doesn't understand them, they start shouting as if this will make the situation better. I also see it with people using computers and other equipment. If the machine isn't working correctly they start to hit the keys harder as if this will somehow make the machine go faster or work properly. We have the same tendency when teaching. If the punishment I used isn't working, then I need to escalate. With physical punishment there is a real risk that abuse can occur.
3. Is positive punishment the only tool at hand? It is important that those working with children have a 'toolbox' full of alternatives.
4. Do you want to teach correct behaviour or just stop incorrect behaviour? This is something that many people do not think about when they use punishment. They want a behaviour to stop but they give no alternative to that behaviour. All punishment can do is decrease a behaviour that might be unwanted. It cannot teach a behaviour that is wanted. Even more worrying is when punishment becomes a positive reinforcer for a child. If the child is not getting attention for doing anything right, then maybe any attention will do even if it is a beating. Sadly this is a really serious problem in the cycle of violence and often leads children to become abusers or abuse victims in relationships as adults, because they learn that any attention is better than no attention.
5. Other side effects. In one study, over 70% of parents observed their children repeating the physical punishment they had received when interacting with other children. Children also learn through mimicry and they are likely to copy behaviours that they see or experience at home. Punishment can also hinder compliance. Research indicates that children that are physically punished tend to be less compliant than those who are not. It is believed that this is because parents that rely on physical punishment are less inclined to focus on teaching children appropriate behaviour as an alternative, so rather than learning what is right or wrong behaviour, they just learn impulse control through fear. What happens when the children aren't scared enough - or are faced with someone who cannot use physical punishment to control them? When you consider that it is against the law to hit another adult, this may well have repercussions on their ability to control their impulses when they become adults and are not faced with something scary enough.
6. Learning cannot take place in subjects that are in a state of fear or anxiety. Fear and anxiety place the brain into a physiological state that makes learning impossible. Fight or flight kicks in and this is often the reason people have very poor detailed memories about traumatic incidents or are poor at taking instruction under duress. So even if parents or teachers try to combine teaching alternative behaviours with positive punishment they may find it ineffective.
7. Relationship breakdowns. Punishment can cause problems of trust between adult and child. If a child is frightened of their parent or teacher this can lead to communication problems .
8. An important one for me is the loss of empathy caused by physical punishment. When a child is positively punished they are inclined to focus on their own pain, fear and misery as opposed to thinking about the consequences and effects their behaviour has had on others.
9. Ultimately it can become impossible or ineffective - then what? What happens when the child can hit you back or the punishment stops working (and this goes back to escalation). Humans and animals can become habituated and desensitised to punishment. For punishment to be truly effective it has to cause enough discomfort - either emotionally or physically - to stop a behaviour from being repeated. Where do you draw the line?"
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Joined: May 2000
Posts: 7,047
The line is obviously different for each child and each disciplinarian.

One of my children was rarely ever punished. She knew what was expected of her and she toed the line so that she could enjoy the rewards of good behaviour.

One of my children always pushed the limits. She even said that she didn't care what the punishment would be, if she wanted to do something that might not be acceptable to her parents she would do it and then tell us that she was ready for the punishment - and that the pleasure she derived from doing the "forbidden" would be worth any punishment we would lay out.

The little one pushes the limits all of the time. He gripes about his punishments and he still pushes the limits.

They are all so different.

Joined: Feb 2003
Posts: 2,429
As I've grown older, I enjoy a good spanking now and then. smile

If you must choose between two evils, pick the one you've never tried before.
Joined: Aug 2015
Posts: 32
Dear parents,
I am on the way to figure out where I can get help or trustworthy parents in the case that your child told you..the children that are unruly are caned by the teacher, round about 5 to 10 times during a day in school in his class...what would you do now? I can not change the school because there is no space at the government school R.C...and I do not like to send my son to the Island Academy, because it is to expensive and to ...however..any advice? I am afraid that the principal knows about it but would lie to us..we believe our son and he never was caned yet but he said he is unhappy to see that when children ran in the corner of a classroom because they are afraif of the stick...

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