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The Prague Post, 20 June 2007
Poll: Kids need stricter discipline
Survey shows 25 percent of parents support corporal punishment in schools
By Jana Donovan
For The Prague Post
While that's increasingly a dilemma for many young parents, a new survey shows that many Czechs, long seen as strict with children, still favor corporal punishment as a tried-and-true method in raising kids.
A recent poll by Median agency for the daily Mladá fronta Dnes revealed that 25 percent of the public not only supports corporal punishment but backs its use in schools, where it has long been banned.
"The poll results show that we still fall behind advanced countries in terms of cultural and social development," says Milo Kajuk, a psychologist who works with both teachers and students. "In Western Europe, if you hit a child in public, you practically have to move out of the country. Corporal punishment may have been widely used in the past, but it is not acceptable nowadays."
However, some Czech parents clearly disagree -- and are pushing to enable teachers to spank their kids for them.
A quick look at the Mladá fronta Dnes Web site is revealing. "My daughter came home from the school complaining that her teacher slapped her. When I found out that she deserved it, I slapped her two more times for good measure," wrote Jindrich K. on the site. The father said he later contacted the teacher himself, giving her permission to spank his daughter if she misbehaves.
Yet, Jindrich K.'s story isn't indicative of most parents, even if sour mommies can be seen on any stroll through a Prague playground.
VLADIMÍR WEISS/THE PRAGUE POST
Libuše Tomášková, second from right, says students weren't totally opposed to punishment, but felt some teachers could abuse it.
Though the survey did not specifically address teachers' opinions, those contacted by The Prague Post wholly disapproved of corporal punishment. But they also complain that they don't have sufficient means to punish misbehaving students, and say many parents are simply not interested in disciplining their children.
Indeed, while a minority of the poll's 636 respondents support corporal punishment, the majority agrees that better means of punishing students are necessary. Three-fifths say teachers should have the right to punish students by giving them extra homework, making them stay late after school or having them clean up. None of these punishments is allowed.
Many teachers also complain that children are becoming increasingly aggressive. "Speaking rudely to teachers, propping their legs up on tables, provocations ... I experienced all of that at the elementary school where I taught," says Karel Lasík, a young teacher at Marjánka elementary in Prague. "Still, I would not blame the kids. The atmosphere at the school was bad because teachers and the school leadership were unable to communicate not only with the students but also with one another."
Lasík says that a teacher's personality has a major impact on students' conduct.
"It's simple. Not everyone can be a teacher. It's like putting an old lady in front of a group of soldiers," agrees Kajuk, the psychologist. "A teacher must have a personality that naturally commands respect. They must be able to handle kids. And that's not easy."
Furthermore, says Jirí Ružicka, headmaster of Jan Kepler High School in Prague 6, it's hard to keep good teachers at schools because of the teachers' low salary.
Drawing the line
Ružicka says he hates the idea of corporal punishment but that it's important to be able to distinguish between corporal punishment and more innocent gestures. "Just recently, parents of one student complained that a teacher had pulled their son's ear," calling the parents' reaction extreme.
Libuše Tomášková, a senior teacher at Kepler, says she's been able to avoid using corporal punishment her entire career. "I have been at schools where it wasn't necessary. There might be schools where it could be justifiable under certain circumstances."
After she brought up a discussion in her class on whether to allow corporal punishment, the students surprisingly didn't oppose it -- at first. "But later they agreed that some teachers could misuse it," Tomášková adds.
There also appears to be a generation gap in terms of who favors school spankings and who doesn't. According to the poll, most supporters were between 45 and 50 years old, while younger people who have school-age kids were mostly against it.
"Although I can quite understand that a teacher can explode and slap a child, I still would not accept it. A teacher is not a parent and, on the top of that, being slapped in front of the class is a humiliating experience," says Lenka Lorencová, who is the mother of two schoolchildren.
She recalls a friend who withdrew her daughter from school because her teacher slapped her. "I would react the same way," Lorencová says.
Kajuk, for his part, says corporal punishment usually amounts to an emotional failure on the part of the teacher or parent. He says studies show that kids who are beaten by their parents are also aggressive when they are adults.
"My summary is that children have the same human rights as adults do," the psychologist concludes. "So why use corporal punishment on kids if we don't use it on adults?"
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