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School CP - May 1998

Cape Times, 5 May 1998

How to discipline school hooligans

WHILE corporal punishment has been banned in schools, some principals and teachers continue to use it as a sanction on the basis that tough kids require tough treatment. In fact, if conditions at township schools are as bad as described, teachers who beat pupils or in other ways physically abuse them are running a grave risk of retaliation after school hours.

They report finding firearms and knives in the classroom. Gangs attacking schools in search of rival gangsters. Threats by senior boys against teachers and their families. Open defiance in class. In such circumstances the cane is viewed by some teachers as the only way to maintain authority.

Even if hooligans submit to corporal punishment, however, it will not make them change their ways. They form part of a larger culture where, for various reasons, violence is a way of life. If their parents cannot control them, it is grossly unfair to expect the teaching profession to act as parental surrogates and effectively control their behaviour.

No wonder many teachers are at their wit's end, and some are suffering from post-traumatic stress and depression. They are officially prohibited from resorting to old-fashioned methods of chastisement, but cannot think of any other means of enforcing order in the classroom.

The Western Cape Education Department says corporal punishment will not be tolerated and insists on "alternative" disciplinary methods being found. Many teachers would like to know of all the alternatives the department has in mind. They would also need to be persuaded that such alternatives work in real-life school situations where teaching staff are often justifiably afraid of the young gangsters in whom they are expected to inculcate some education but who have little interest in learning anything.

Like capital punishment, corporal punishment has been ruled to be unconstitutional. Violence, even that which is officially sanctioned, has no place in the culture of learning. It also contributes towards the brutalisation of society no matter what the spare-the-rod-and-spoil-the-child brigade claim. There are many documented cases of the humiliation and loss of self-esteem it causes among more sensitive children. And once you permit its use for the die-hard delinquents at school, you cannot start making exceptions for other pupils and exempting them from the same penalty for bad behaviour.

But meanwhile those teachers operating in what are virtually criminal war zones need official help in resolving a daily dilemma.

All Material copyright Independent Newspapers 1998.

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