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School CP - July 1998

Bermuda Sun, Hamilton, 15 July 1998

Widespread support for corporal punishment

By Meredith Ebbin

A MAJORITY of Bermudians, no matter whether they're black or white, male or female, young or old, support the use of corporal punishment in schools, a Bermuda Sun poll has found.

Such across-the-board support for strapping in schools could explain why corporal punishment remains on the books in Bermuda, even though it is used infrequently in government schools and not at all in private schools.

It also explains the strong public support Northlands headmaster Dale Butler received some months ago for strapping three students in front of a school assembly, even though his actions were opposed by child rights activists.

Support for corporal punishment in schools, though widespread, is higher among blacks, men, lower- and middle-income earners and older Bermudians.

The poll, which is the fourth in a series of monthly polls carried out for the Bermuda Sun by Research Innovations Ltd., also found strong support for drug and alcohol testing in the workplace and for the installation of surveillance cameras in Hamilton.

Pollster Walton Brown, the president of Research Innovations Ltd. and a politics lecturer at the Bermuda College, said the responses to all three questions is "quite consistent with the emphasis throughout Bermudian society on punitive measures to address a wide range of issues."

And he said at least two of the three issues -- drug testing in the workplace and corporal punishment -- require further examination by those responsible for making policies.

He said politicians have a responsibility to lead and to shape public opinion, not simply reflect it.

"They are representatives, not delegates," he said.

And Sheelagh Cooper, chairman of the Board of the Coalition for the Protection of Children, said whether most people in Bermuda support corporal punishment or not, it doesn't work.

For people who say strapping worked for them, she said corporal punishment is less likely to be effective nowadays because "we are preparing our children for a different world than the one we were prepared for."

"The trends in both the private and public sector are towards far more collaborative relationships based on shared decision-making.

"This contrasts sharply with the kind of authoritarian structures that we were reared in and which to a certain extent still remain."

She also said: "When children exhibit persistent anti-social behaviour, or consistently violate the school rules, there is a great deal more going on than caning or the threat of it will rectify."

Mrs. Cooper was among those who slammed Mr. Butler for strapping the youngsters, although Mr. Butler, who was off the island this week and unavailable for comment, has since said if he had to do it all over again, he would still strap the youngsters, but not in public.

He also predicted principals would be less likely to use corporal punishment for fear of criticism.

Both the current Education Minister Tim Smith and his predecessor Jerome Dill have expressed support for corporal punishment, while the Opposition PLP -- for whom Mr. Butler will be a candidate in the general election -- opposes it.

Yesterday, Mr. Smith, when asked to comment on the poll findings, said the poll results are not surprising, based on what members of the community have said to him.

"I believe people, particularly parents, believe that children should be schooled in an environment that's safe and conducive to learning.

"I am convinced that corporal punishment acts as a deterrent to inappropriate behaviour.

"For those students who might receive the strap, I am confident that they subsequently modify their behaviour."

Mr. Smith also pointed out that the Education Ministry's Code of Conduct requires corporal punishment to be administered this way -- no more than four straps and on the hand.

On the issue of surveillance cameras, the Corporation of Hamilton is preparing to install surveillance cameras as a crime-fighting measure and with financial backing from government.

And with regards to drug testing in the workplace, the Bermuda Electric Light Company and the Public Transportation Board are among workplaces with a mandatory drug-testing policy in place and tests are done randomly. The telephone poll, which was done over the week of June 21-28, had 395 respondents and has a margin of error of four per cent.

It found that a 64.1 per cent approval for corporal punishment in schools and 66.6 per cent among registered voters.

The issue found favour with 69 per cent of men and nearly 71 per cent of blacks who responded to the poll as compared with 60 per cent of women and 52.6 per cent of whites.

Corporal punishment also struck a positive chord with 61.2 per cent of those with household incomes of $50,000 a year or less and with 65.6 per cent of those with annual household incomes of between $50,000 and $100,000.

Among those with annual household incomes of $100,000 or more, the percentage of support was 52.2 per cent.


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