From Sir/Miss with Love
It is not often that we publish two editorials in the same week on the same issue. But the subject of how we discipline our children in our schools (and in our homes for that matter) is important enough for traditions to be tweaked.
In its latest consultations on the use of corporal punishment as a means of instilling discipline on schoolchildren, it was reported that the Minister of Education was exhorted by teachers and a principal not to outlaw the practice.
Even its controlled and limited use at present, according to the interlocutors, has encouraged a breakdown of discipline and an emerging chaos. Poignant and at the same time frightening, anecdotes were recited to illustrate their caution. But it is very clear that while the Ministry has evidently been gradually easing our educational system into a ‘no corporal punishment’ mode, it has not introduced an alternative method to ensure that discipline is inculcated into our children.
We seem to be throwing out the baby with the bathwater. No one has ever said that children must not imbibe discipline; the point being made is that we must not use corporal punishment as the instrument for delivering the same. Its effects are more harmful than beneficial. The purpose of discipline is “to encourage moral, physical, and intellectual development and a sense of responsibility in children. Ultimately, older children will do the right thing, not because they fear external reprisal, but because they have internalized a standard initially presented by parents and other caretakers. In learning to rely on their own resources rather than their parents or teachers, children gain self-confidence and a positive self-image”.
As part of their natural development, children sometimes challenge or test parental and adult expectations and authority. Oftentimes, children simply choose to misbehave in order to gain something (e.g. attention, an object, power, peer approval). This is a significant part of the growth process of children, yet it should not be without consequence. Discipline is how children learn right from wrong, acceptable from unacceptable.
From the comments of teachers, educators and other commentators, it would appear that the choice that confronts us in the instilling of discipline is either corporal punishment or nothing. This is not so. In our editorial “Corporal Punishment” from last Monday, we suggested that, “Physical and psychological punishment can be replaced by techniques of positive discipline”.
We would like to expand on one technique of positive discipline that was beautifully described by a famous Guyanese, ER Braithwaite, in his book, “To Sir with Love”. Braithwaite described his experience of being thrown into an inner city school with students as tough as nails. Braithwaite, however, succeeded against all the odds predicted by other more ‘experienced” and jaded teachers in getting his students to learn without corporal punishment. Ironically, Braithwaite is presently visiting Guyana but we do not think he has been asked to share his methodology with the teaching profession. We believe that the movie of the same name, based on Braithwaite’s book, starring Sidney Pointer, should be required viewing at Cyril Potter College and should be revisited every semester by teachers in the field.
Braithwaite used a technique that appears foreign in our pedagogical repertoire: love and caring for students as a tool for instilling discipline in children. To accomplish this, teachers must listen and communicate while focusing on the behaviour and not the child. They must set boundaries yet be realistic while relating disciplinary measures such as ‘writing lines” to the offending behaviour in duration and severity. In making every interaction a learning opportunity, teachers must respond immediately to infractions, but be calm and be absolutely fair in response.
Most importantly, teachers have to become role models. Children are watching us – all the time – and they will grow up to be like us – whether we want them to or not. Teachers have to practice the “Demonstrate Respect Principle”: Treat the child the same way they do other important people; the way they want students to treat them. Students must be validated by showing them we expect them to be successful.