COLUMN – Right on, Minister Jones!
On my left wrist, close to the radial artery used for measuring the pulse rate, sits a 46-year-old scar. It serves as a permanent reminder of a flogging –– that went terribly wrong –– which I received at the hands of a headmaster. I was almost nine years old at the time, and in primary school.
The leather strap, which the gentleman reportedly used to soak in oil to deliver a stinging blow, ripped the flesh on contact. After taking two lashes, I had raised my left hand to block the rest. It was a cruel injustice. I had done nothing wrong to deserve the punishment.
My grievous sin, which stemmed more from childhood innocence than deliberate wickedness, was revealing what I had seen that apparently was not meant for my eyes. The headmaster, as I subsequently figured out, was apparently trying to make a move on a female teacher.
He did not live in the parish and this reason explained why I had seen him several times during the school vacation. At the start of the new term, as any eager child would, I excitedly told him where I had seen him, not realizing it was within the earshot of others. He immediately carried me on the platform and started beating.
Had this happened today, he most likely would have faced a lawsuit. My great-grandfather, however, paid the headmaster a visit after I explained how I got the cut. He calmly expressed his displeasure, making it clear that if he had to visit the school again under similar circumstances, it would not be to the headmaster’s liking.
I knew exactly what “Pa” meant. It would have been trouble. Serious trouble!
The headmaster clearly got the message because he never laid hands on me again. Nor did I give him reason to have to summon my great-grandfather or great-grandmother to discuss anything negative related to me.
It is against this backdrop that I applaud Minister of Education Ronald Jones for having the courage to call a spade a spade, specifically in relation to the ineffectiveness of flogging in our school system. He’s not going to be the most popular person for his stance. Our society, despite the reality of a brutal slavery past, maintains a hearty but ghoulish appetite for inflicting cruel punishment.
A few pedagogic dinosaurs, whose perspective on contemporary issues is clouded by Stone Age thinking about discipline, will be among the first to raise strong objection. However, Jones, himself a former teacher, is keeping it real. He is simply seeking to bring Barbados in line with international norms which our country has freely embraced in the exercise of its sovereignty.
Flogging is contrary to the provisions of the United Nations Convention On The Rights Of The Child which the Government of Barbados signed on April 19, 1990, and ratified on October 9 the same year. Article 19 states that signatories “shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence . . .”.
Article 28 further commits countries to “take all appropriate measures to ensure that school discipline is administered in a manner consistent with the child’s human dignity and in conformity with the present convention”. The continued use of flogging in our schools means Barbados is not living up to its international obligations.
As a child growing up, beating was the norm both at school and at home. It was justified by the saying “spare the rod and spoil the child”. Lots of boys were brutalized by teachers who had a free hand to beat for almost any reason. It was done in the name of discipline and the promotion of learning. Some teachers took pride in pointing students’ attention
to their strap, piece of bamboo or tamarind rod which sometimes had a nickname.
Except for driving fear in the hearts of children, some of whom would wet themselves at the mere thought of receiving a flogging, what did widespread corporal punishment in our schools really achieve? For sure, some boys I knew who were wayward, remained that way. And in the case of those who had obvious learning difficulties but were derogatively labelled “duncy”, the floggings did not improve their performance.
There are more effective alternatives to flogging. I accept that a parent sometimes may lash a child to make a point after talking may have failed to emphasize the seriousness of an issue or generate desired behaviour changes. However, at the end of the day, every child, like every adult, is divinely blessed with the freedom to make choices that will determine the course of his or her life.
This human characteristic underscores the validity of the old saying that “you can take a horse to water but you cannot make it drink”. What parents and teachers need to acquire, to engage children more effectively, are persuasive communication skills which are sorely lacking in so many areas of Barbadian life. It is an assignment for the Ministry of Education to take on.
Through story-telling, especially about her own experiences and life in general, my great-grandmother practised persuasion when she was bringing me up. These stories, which also drew on ancient wisdom teachings found in The Bible and Barbadian folklore, emphasized the importance of making good choices. As an adult, I have done the same with my two children, now young adults, with whom I am generally well pleased.
Great-gran’s stories included sharing what she observed at the Government Industrial School (Dodds) where, as a young woman, she had worked as a maid. Painstakingly explaining the process, she told me about witnessing boys being severely beaten as part of their punishment.
“I used to feel so sorry for them,” she would say. “I want you to make sure that never happens to you.”
Despite the beatings, she noted some still went on to become hardened criminals. In this enlightened age when information on just about every subject is readily accessible, a better approach would be reasoning with children, as my great-grandmother did. I guess that is why she hardly ever flogged me.
She focused instead on making me feel good about myself and filling me with confidence that I could take on anything and win.
Violence breeds violence. Exposed to violence in the form of floggings at any early age, why are we so surprised at the widespread violence –– both physical and verbal –– in our society? Aren’t we practising as adults what we learned as children?
Minister of Education Ronald Jones is simply saying, with his trademark passion and conviction, that if we want a better society, there is a better, non-violent way.
Why chastise him for telling the truth? Is it because the truth hurts?
(Reudon Eversley is a political strategist, strategic communication specialist and journalist. Email: email@example.com)