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School CP - March 2003

Daily Nation, Nairobi, 25 March 2003

Bleeding Hearts Ruining Our Kids

By Magesha Ngwiri

Nairobi, Mar 23, 2003 (The Nation/All Africa Global Media via COMTEX) -- In only one way do I agree with "the Little Bush": Miscreants must be chastised if they are to change their evil ways. Be they as big as Saddam, or as small as a Standard 7 bully, they must be shown the folly of their ways. Nothing works like force.

Crime (perceived or real), and punishment, which is only too real, are part of the human condition. Whether it is Jehovah exacting terrible retribution as happened to the inhabitants of Sodom and Gommorah, or whether it is a heartless schoolteacher raining blows on the head of a little tot because he forgot his pencil at home, punishment has always been with us. It is not the concept of punishment per se which brings about aberrant behaviour but the execution.

Most teachers, as far as I know, are not sadists; they do not enjoy inflicting pain just because they are in a position to do so. And as a rule, most youngsters, due to their inexperience, curiosity and uninformed enthusiasm, will always stray from the thin and the narrow. But this is not to say they are congenital criminals.

Unfortunately, grotesque cases of heavy and indiscriminate flogging are, even now, being reported. They are caused by teachers who are emotionally disturbed - those who do not feel fulfilled unless they wield the cane. There are others who vent their personal frustrations on children. And then there are those really sick individuals to whom causing pain is an alternative for sex, whether they know it or not.

Sadism is derived from the works of Marquis de Sade, an 18th century French nobleman who was notorious for writing about all the options available for gratifying sexual fantasies with the common denominator being the pleasure derived from causing pain. The man died in an insane asylum, but in a sense, some of the things he wrote are quite right. How else do you explain the vile proclivities of rapists who can only be aroused by violence?

But this is a digression. All the categories described above are aberrations, and do not explain why many normal schoolteachers - and most parents - are forced to pick up the rod and flex their biceps. They do so because discipline is not only inevitable but mandatory. Ask any parent with a brood of recalcitrant juveniles.

Corporal punishment was banned in 2000 by the then Education Minister Kalonzo Musyoka in a Gazette notice. The ban did not sit well with educators and even with the majority of parents, and the dust raised was amazing. How, the teachers asked, do you expect us to discipline children if the threat or the actual use of the cane as a deterrent is banned?

Seek alternative methods, they were told, since caning is a crime. Don't expel students either, unless the school board meets and the children are given a chance to defend themselves. Don't even suspend them. Counsel and guide them to become responsible citizens, instead.

This ban, and the nonsensical advice that followed - nonsensical because impracticable - was in response to the demands of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which Kenya ratified in 1990, a year after it had been promulgated.

But it was to be given the force of law by the Children's Act which came into being in March 2001. Section 13 (1) says: "A child shall be entitled to protection from physical and psychological abuse, neglect and any other form of exploitation."

Quite so. But how do all these laws and conventions help a child to grow up into a responsible, law-abiding adult? Protecting a child is one thing; mollycoddling him even when he is wrong, quite another, and utterly imbecilic, if you ask me.

My argument is based on two points: One, you cannot tie the hands of teachers and still expect them to fulfil their primary obligation -- moulding a disciplined and responsible future adult.

Two, caning is not the only way to instil discipline. In fact, it should be the last resort, and the cane handled by a mature, balanced senior teacher whose primary motive is not to inflict pain but to correct.

The idea of sparing the rod and making a poor pupil kneel for hours on concrete is obscene. The ridiculous notion of making an errant student copy the Book of Job without rest as a form of punishment is, to me, sacrilegious. Menial labour as punishment is counter-productive.

In primary school, I was caned now and then for this or other misdemeanour, and I never held it against my teachers. In secondary school, I was caned only once for doing something I will not, now or ever, disclose, but I was cured of the habit forever.

These canings may not have cured me of any other bad habits I might have acquired later in life, but they certainly didn't kill me. Whoever came up with this bleeding-heart philosophy that caning is a crime should be put on the rack.

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Copyright Colin Farrell 2003
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