The following was submitted to and printed in the local press in response to questions about corporal punishment in the classroom: Is corporal punishment on its way in again? And does it really work? Or are we taking a step backward in the discipline of our children? In what situations is corporal punishment appropriate, if at all?
The goals and challenges of teaching our children are timeless and universal. As much as children have a natural curiosity about the world, they also have limited attention spans and, even within the same age group, can have hugely differing cognitive abilities.
For many teachers finding creative ways to meaningfully connect with these children, passing on the accumulated wisdom and values of our time, is what teaching is all about. However, that goal has clearly become increasingly challenging.
Some say the challenge has to do with recent generations’ expectations of immediate gratification (afforded through TV/internet), that diminish the capacity for patience when struggling with new concepts or assignments.
Others say the challenge has to do with inconsistency within and among our homes regarding the importance of cultivating “authentic thought in our children, versus the importance of “obedience”.
And then there are those who point to the demoralizingly low status (and salary) granted those entrusted with energizing and expanding the minds of our children.
What is clear to me is that learning and teaching are incompatible with the kind of power struggles that manifest, for example, in corporal punishment. When a teacher’s frustration and demand for obedience is remedied through violence of any kind (corporal, verbal, etc.), violence becomes “the lesson.”
As a Unitarian Universalist, I believe that “respect” is central in all human interaction.
Clearly it would be most helpful for all children to arrive in the classroom having had instilled in them, via the modeling of their parents, respect for learning and for those who teach!
Then, once they get to school, their teachers should focus on modeling respect not only for the subject, but for the students’ natural curiosity, ability to learn and motivation for doing so (even, or especially if these are “disguised”).
I’m not saying that’s easy!
Along those lines, it seems most appropriate to assure that teachers are afforded the training, support, compensation and status befitting their influence on this country’s future leaders.