Columns 26.9.2013 08:00 am

Hit someone your own size

It is ironic that the recent incident at a Johannesburg high school, where a pupil seemed to attack a teacher with a broom, has led to renewed calls for the reinstatement of corporal punishment in schools.

Surely the pupil in question has already absorbed the only lesson corporal punishment can teach: when someone does something you don’t like, hit him with a stick. There are many problems with corporal punishment, but two stand out.

One is that it simply does not work. The hordes of commentators on Internet news articles may be filled with glee when they imagine someone beating a minor, but they are sorely mistaken if they think it’s going to have any positive effect beyond fulfilling their violent fantasies.

It is a well-known fact that the impotent can find an outlet for their bottled-up rage on the Internet, but it’s still quite depressing to realise just how screwed up these people who openly fantasise about assaulting a child are.

But I digress. The point is that corporal punishment does not have any long-term positive outcomes. It has exactly the opposite effect of what its proponents hope to achieve. It increases the odds that the child in question will display antisocial behaviour and become a violent criminal.

Corporal punishment does not teach morality or respect it only teaches the importance of learning how not to be caught, and that those with physical power over others should abuse it to harm the defenseless.

Proponents are quick to respond to the actual research with anecdotal evidence of how they were beaten by their teachers and parents and turned out just fine. It’s a strange definition of “fine” that includes the desire to physically assault those one quarter your own size.

Which brings us to the second problem with corporal punishment, which is that even if it actually was effective, it would still be simply barbaric. Society readily accepts that assaulting another person is wrong and criminal.

If your boss calls you into his office because he is unhappy with some aspect of your performance, and then proceeds to physically assault you, he would be charged with a crime and you would be able to sue him for damages.

What sort of twisted attempt at logic does it then take to arrive at the conclusion that it’s wrong to hit another fully-grown person capable of defending themselves, but defenseless children are fair game?

The barbaric cruelty and lack of efficacy of corporal punishment has been noted for ages, and opposition to it is not some recent invention, as proponents of the assault of children often claim.

Corporal punishment was widespread in Ancient Rome, but even there it had its critics.

Writing in the first century CE, the rhetorician Quintilian rails against the custom of corporal punishment for boys, describing it as a disgrace and an affront, and also mentions that it is ineffective.

Writing around the same time, the historian Plutarch says that children “ought to be led to honourable practices … and most certainly not by blows or ill-treatment, for it surely is agreed that these are fitting rather for slaves than for the free-born”.

It would seem that people haven’t really gained much more sense in the last 2 000 years, and not for lack of others trying to beat it into them.

 

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