Corporal Punishment and Hypocrisy

Especially in the relatively quiet summer months when journalists find themselves a bit short of material (in Britain they call it ‘the silly season’), corporal punishment has found its way on to the national agenda here in India with the case of the boy from La Martiniere School, Kolkata who committed suicide in February this year, 5 days after being caned by the school Principal.

Hindustan Times Article on La Martiniere case
(Click on link above to open article)

Some people seem to get a little mystified as to why there is still so much debate on this issue as they believed it had all been debated out in the past. However, the water is actually still very muddy for a number of reasons.

Firstly, as the article states, the Supreme Court has outlawed corporal punishment in schools. However, you will still find that according to the Education laws in many states it still lies on the statute books as permissible if ‘reasonable’. So, many teachers and leaders of schools are actually quite confused about what is permitted.

To me the far bigger issue when this matter comes up for debate is that there’s a giant 800 pound gorrilla sitting in the middle of the room, yet none dare admit its presence.

For those who demand that corporal punishment can never be permitted in schools and must be completely banned what is their principal reason? I think most would claim that corporal punishment infringes on the human rights of the child. However, how many of those same people hold different views or practice different standards towards their child in their own home?

To say that corporal punishment is an inappropriate way to discipline in the school is also to condemn as hypocrites those who use physical violence against their own children. That differential can only be justified through some sort of ‘property rights’ over ones own children – literally, I own this child, so it is up to me how I discipline – my business alone. But, the school doesn’t own my child and therefore cannot have the same barbaric freedom.

If parents legitimise their own right to use violence to discipline their child at home, then how do they believe discipline is to be maintained by those who don’t have that right?

The fact is, I believe, that they are guilty of holding the professional educator to a higher moral and ethical standard than they are ready to hold themselves to. By my definition that is out and out rank hypocrisy.

We teach our children that might does not equal right, that it is wrong to use physical size, strength etc. to exert one’s will over others. And then, many of us make liers of ourselves by practicing the very opposite of what we preach. Some have the decency to feel some guilt for this, deep down. So, when a case like the one at La Martiniere comes to light we want to hang, draw and quarter the perpetrator to represent all the guilty hypocrites.

When a parent or an educator lashes out and uses violence on a child of any description it has nothing to do with ‘punishment’, but instead the violators right (perceived) to let out their anger physically, without need for restraint or self-control. This, in my view, makes it impossible to then teach children that they have to learn to control impulses, that it is not acceptable to be violent towards everyone who does something we don’t like.

Caning and other disciplinary violent punishments are different as they are pre-meditated, usually planned and communicated in advance. This makes them more comparable to water boarding and other forms of torture, where the loss of control and powerlessness, coupled with anticipation and humiliation are all part of the ‘punishment’ .

We are not educating Pavlov’s dogs or Satan’s offspring. We are bringing up the citizens of the twenty first century. Both as educators and as parents, however hard the road, we have to learn to hold ourselves to a higher standard.

We have the means at our disposal to train ourselves and educators in alternative strategies and approaches that eliminate all excuses for violent, abusive and inhumane treatment of children. It’s also time to dump the double standards between home and school – the child’s rights to a peaceful, violence free life must take precedence over the power of educators and parents.


One Response

  1. Mark,

    I am not sure where this debate is headed in the national arena but what I do know and realise is that as a parent of a 4 year old there is tremendous scope for self-improvement when it comes to expressing disapproval. Your post refreshed that realisation.

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