Mar 15, 2010


My thoughts on corporal punishment have coalesced a little more over the last week or so. Like my last post on international aid, I think the main problem with corporal punishment as practiced here is implementation. I might sound like a brute for saying this (let's face it, I am a brute), but I don't believe there is something intrinsically wrong with inflicting mild pain on a child, so long as it's done correctly. Punishment like that must not be brutal (i.e., spanking vs. flogging), it must be carefully and conservatively dispensed according to a rigidly followed code, it must not be indiscriminate, and it must never be done in anger.

Of course, corporal punishment at my school is none of those things. It's used as an omnipresent and first-resort punishment to quiet the classroom, and the immediate effect there is to create a culture of hitting, where the appropriate response to a grievance with someone is to hit him. This makes my theoretical position detailed above rather silly--with all the downside, there's very little upside, in the sense that there are dozens of different successful methods to manage a classroom, none involving violence. Clearly the best default position given the hazards would be no corporal punishment in any school.

Yet corporal punishment is already firmly established in my school. This leads me to the question of what to do as a teacher that doesn't hit. As a classroom management technique, it works very well, but if one is the only nonparticipant, the students quickly lose most of their respect for you. I suppose the best solution would be to phase out violence throughout the school, but I don't think I could force that down my school's throat, and I'm not willing to try anyway. Who am I to show them how to manage a class full of 9-year-olds without hitting them? I certainly can't do it myself worth a damn. "I know you've been teaching for 26 years, but I have a chemistry degree. Gimme the sjambok."

I could go the other direction and hit the kids myself. As horrible as this sounds I don't think it would be that big a deal--most of them are already hit every day at school and at home; it wouldn't be a sea change. But a) it's against the law--I don't want to cause an international incident, b) the whole legacy of apartheid--a white guy whaling away on some tiny black children just seems horrible and c) I don't think I could stomach it in any case. (Perhaps I'm actually afraid I could stomach it, who knows. Not gonna happen in any case.)

Ruling that out, I'm left with fumbling along as before. I'll just keep going in circles.


  1. hi! facing long established methods that dont allign with your own personal or cultural morals is difficult. although not as extreme of a different culture, i teach at a family shelter in one of the worst parts of a major american city. my children range in age from 6-12 and a all sorts of behavior issues. the reaction they are used to and expect is one of yelling, degradation and belittlement. The smart kids under perform and the class as a whole under achieves. With no support for change coming from the majority of the families I have worked to create an environment in my class that is separate from the world they know. The establishment I work for is all for change in the abstract but offers little support in the practical. I started by implementing a positive reward system. My kids receive so little of what I would call positive interaction that they are screaming out for it in all the wrong ways. Using only positive reinforcement and positive punishment (tangible rewards for good behavior) I finally have mixed age group of kids at a point where they can learn. At first a met a lot of resistance - testing and pushing from the kids and tons of snickering and frowns from my coworkers, but overall I feel that once it was established that ‘good behavior’ is rewarded and ‘bad behavior’ gets you nothing the kids all started to cooperate more with me and with each other. A few of the other teachers have started trying to increase positive behavior instead of disrupting and discouraging negative behavior. My method doesn’t get immediate results, but it seems to get results that last – or at least last longer than a yard sticks reach. Remember that no matter how you proceed, children (and adults) can never emulate what they have never known.

    ~B, from Philadelphia PA - 22 and also no teaching degree

  2. Thanks for your comment! I think you're probably right. Managing a classroom seems like growing a particularly troublesome plant--it must be religiously monitored and supported. Good for you for implementing your system, it sounds reasonable and effective.

    I, however, basically just gave up. I've found other things to do that don't involve children. I'm not sure where exactly I belong, but in the middle school classroom is definitely not one of them.