Spare the rod and save the child

Seetha Anand Vaidyam

While the intelligentsia is debating on the Right to Education Act, there is a news report of a school that has publicly confessed to having caned a child “for his mischief” – which has cost the life of the 13 year- old child. We as adults need to realize that children first have a right to live, before they have a right to education! And more importantly they need to live life ultimately and not perform in life. Schools and educationists who are so focused on performance and public display of discipline often forget that children are individuals, each one unique, and need not follow a pre-determined path.

For a short while after such incidents committees are set up and the issue is investigated, but the pity is little is done to preserve the dignity of children in schools. While cases of corporal punishment at least get reported, the emotional torture of students by teachers and other adults in schools is not even thought of as a practice that needs to be checked.

My five year-old son (now 16) one day, got out of his school bus wearing only one of his shoes. Naturally concerned, I asked him about his other shoe, to which he replied that the teacher had taken away one of his shoes in order to punish him for not tying his shoe lace! Throughout the day, till he reached home, he had just one shoe on. I was shattered to say the least. The very next day I went to his school to speak to the teacher about this matter. The teacher, very unemotionally, told me that the school believed in discipline and would not tolerate clumsiness of any kind. She also went on to add that by taking away one of his shoes, she hoped that he would never again go without tying his shoe laces and that they would have returned the other shoe if he had cried and pleaded with them to give it back to him. I was aghast and numb with pain. Not just due to the humiliation that my son underwent(which he bore with great dignity), but due to the attitude of the teacher, her indifference to the plight of the child, the irrationality of the action taken, the callousness of the school management that endorsed the actions of such teachers…

Subsequently, over the years, I have come across many instances when teachers/school authorities have verbally and physically abused students for trivial reasons such as not having covered their books with brown paper, not brought the right textbook, not completed homework, not worn the school badge … the list is long. And more importantly, there are better ways of instilling discipline and better performance than by way of verbal and physical violence.

Do teachers and schools even understand the consequences of such violence (verbal humiliation is also a form of violence)? Should not teacher training devote sufficient time for teachers to be trained to ‘correct the behavior and not dislike the child’?

Research and studies have shown how stress can lead to far reaching physical and emotional difficulties which may be irreparable. While some amount of stress is inevitable, children need to be protected against excessive and unjustified forms of stress.

Is behavior and performance in school such an important yardstick of success? Autobiographies of writers like R.K.Narayan, Gandhiji, Winston Churchill, Edison, to name just a few, show that given the time and space, an individual will blossom to the level of his abilities.
This is not an attempt to belittle the role of schools but a fervent plea to view the child as a whole entity and give children the due dignity. This is a plea to banish inhuman punishment.

What right do we have to humiliate and violate the dignity of a child? Who are we to set standards of what a child of a particular age might or might not be expected to do? To what lengths can teachers/school authorities go to make the students adhere to what they believe is right conduct? Where can children who are victims of adult oppression go for redressal? How can we ensure the sensitivity of teachers/schools towards children? – Until we have the answers to these questions we certainly do not have the right to talk about the right to education. Our children are better off without going to “such” schools!

The author is a kindergarten consultant, trainer and remedial therapist. She can be reached at [email protected].

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