Tuesday, 5 July, 2022
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“Discipline Is to Teach, Not to Punish”

Sir Frank Peters

For many years – more than I care to number and more than is justified in a world of mass communications – schoolteachers and parents alike have misrepresented facts. They have been erroneously interchanging ‘discipline’ with ‘corporal punishment’.

It is common knowledge that it’s a lot easier to address a problem, when you know precisely what the problem is. If one doesn’t understand the distinction between discipline and punishment, however, that adds to the problem and not the solution.

Just over a century ago – yes, over 100-years ago! – Bangladeshi Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore (1861–1941), world-acclaimed writing genius, simplified the distinction between both in an eight-word sentence: "To discipline means to teach, not to punish".

Sadly, the wisdom went over the heads of many.

Tagore, the wise man that he was, abhorred corporal punishment in all forms. He said it demeans humanity and those who practice it, whether they pray to God in an act of repentance and beg for forgiveness afterwards or not.

In Bangladesh, not only is the horrific act unlawful and morally wrong, it’s deplorable. One can’t help, but wonder how those who allegedly love and want to appease God can reconcile their conscience when they beat His most vulnerable, cherished, prized ambassadors on earth. The mind boggles.

Bangladesh High Court

When High Court Divisional bench comprising of Justice Md. Imman Ali and Justice Md. Sheikh Hassan Arif outlawed corporal punishment in Bangladesh's schools and madrasas, in 2011 they declared it to be “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and a clear violation of a child's fundamental right to life, liberty and freedom.”

Tagore spoke about the same “cruel, inhuman and degrading” treatment to children a 100-years ago. The noble justices spoke about it 11-years ago, but this is now 2022. One can only wonder how long it will take to sink-in and take effect in Bangladesh.

This week counseling psychologist Sonji Harris-Guppy addressed parents in the Caribbean warning them of the dangers of corporal punishment to children and the need to understand the distinction between discipline and punishment.

Harris-Guppy was speaking at a talkfest hosted by the Faculty of Law, UWI, on Child Abuse or Discipline: An Interdisciplinary Examination of Corporal Punishment. She said:

“We need to understand there is a clear difference between discipline and punishment.

"Punishment is based on control, compliance and aggressive behaviours. Discipline focuses on cause and effect.

"How do I allow my child to understand right and wrong, understand the morals and values of the family and recognise they have a choice in their behaviours?”

Harris-Guppy went on to say extensive research worldwide has shown the long-term effects on children who are beaten and its impact on their future relationships. She added such children often grow up to view violence as a way of solving problems. The Might is Right brigade.

In response to parents who say, ‘I got licks and I am ok.’ She replies: "You’re lucky that you are okay, but what about the unlucky ones who can’t manage their emotions, are unable to function, or grow up with little to no emotional intelligence and, in some cases, have not survived?”

Nadine A. Block

American school psychologist and best-selling author Nadine A. Block, who has spent 25-years campaigning against corporal punishment throughout America, agrees. Her book, Breaking The Paddle: Ending School Corporal Punishment, asserts that children should have the same right that all adults have – the right to be free from physical harm.

“Imagine how happier and healthier you might be if you were given none at all,” Is her stock reply to those who say they were given corporal punishment and it didn’t do them any harm.

It’s preposterous for any victim of corporal punishment to claim that it has not done him or her any harm. It’s a ridiculous statement to make. What they’re really saying is 'I’ve hidden the hurt so well I’m fooled into believing there’s been no harm done'.

Hurt always prefaces forgiveness (of the abuser) and a Band-Aid (one-time) of forgetfulness follows.

Psychologist Sonji Harris-Guppy said, “A child who is beaten might think the parent does not love them. Those of us who got licks learned how to hide and have behaviours that are maladaptive to functioning in society,” she said.

She also said, “How do we define a slap, hit, or punch? If we can’t clearly define what a slap is, then we should not be engaging in this type of behaviour.”

She added that physical punishment is not about the child: a parent who is overwhelmed and unable to manage their own emotions may feel embarrassed by the child’s behaviour in a public setting and release anger, frustration and fear onto the child. In doing so, the child would learn to stop the wrong behaviour, but would not have learned replacement behaviour.

For society to function properly, as we all would wish, respect must be shown to all. There is no distinction between adults and children. All become equal and paid-up members of society at birth; it’s their birthright. In the Holy books we are told to “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

If we want to rid society of violence, it’s absurdly wrong to teach it in the home, in schools and in madrassas. We are morally bound to set high standards on human integrity and protect the dignity of human life. That means respecting the integrity of the child, who by and large depend upon us to defend their rights and teach by example.

Yes, there is a distinct difference between ‘discipline’ and ‘corporal punishment’, but there is no difference between corporal punishment and abuse. Corporal punishment is a mere pseudonym for abuse.

Shakespeare (the British version of Rabindranath Tagore) once wrote: “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”. What you name it doesn’t change its affect.

Corporal punishment must stop for the nation to repair and develop. 

 

The writer is  a human rights activist