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Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Flogging is a form of torture. Don't pretend that it is otherwise.

I suspect that on this subject I will find that my views do not coincide with some (or even many) in Barbados, or elsewhere in the Caribbean.

As a parent, I do not see that beating my child is part of what I will use to discipline my child, and I do not accept that anyone should beat my child to discipline her. I do not see beating as anything else but a lazy way to try to 'correct' behaviour, and it may work in that sense because fear of pain is very simply a strong deterrent--not total, as we see worldwide where death penalties exist and crimes are still high, including crimes that involve the killing or violent assault of people.

I was recently in Washington DC for the Presidential Inauguration. A few days after I left I read an article by Matthew Farley in the Nation (see report). For those who cannot see the link, I reprint the article:

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In The Candid Corner – For God and the rod in schools

BY MATTHEW D. FARLEY

ON WEDNESDAY , I shared a podium with my professional head Chief Education Officer Dr Wendy Griffith-Watson. The Deacon's Parent-Teacher Association mounted a forum which queried Is it Time To Put The Brakes On Flogging In Schools? Given our professional relationship, I guess many people expected Matthew D. Farley and his Chief Education Officer to lock horns, but we are more professional than that.

It is not too long to recall that when I was president of the Association of Public Primary School Principals, we locked horns on many occasions in public on educational issues on which we held views that were diametrically opposed. We never got personal. We simply dealt with the issues.

I was strident in my view that primary schools were deprived of much needed funds. There were times when she told me bluntly that I was wrong on some issues and I often challenged the stances she took on a range of others, respectfully, of course!

Education in Barbados is a literal hot spot when it comes to issues. The Chief Education Officer and I share a common passion for the sector which has been at the centre of our human resource development. This sector needs people with passion. People who believe in the fundamental principles of education and who will not fall prey to the intrigues of whims and fancies that threaten to undermine the core values of our system.

The liberals among us will have us believe we must embrace methods and practices that have left other school systems in shambles and have produced nothing but criminals, incendiaries, and madmen. There is a sense in which we see schools as certificate factories. In the process we have carved the soul out of our educational system.

Successive governments in Barbados have invested no less than 20 per cent of annual expenditure on education. I am concerned that this investment is under threat by an anti-intellectual culture and storm clouds of indiscipline that have engulfed our schools across the board. I received an email from Patrick Porter, a Barbadian living in Canada in which he laments: "Crime in schools has jumped beyond reason . . . children have total control of the schools and if a teacher or principal says anything . . . they talk about suing and the law courts."

After concluding that the Canadian system of education is in shambles, he ends by praying and hoping that as a Bajan "we do not follow this terrible path".

The Ministry of Education and Human Resource Development in very recent times has appeared to be in a state of confusion in terms of the direction in which it wishes to take education. Earlier in the year, the minister indicated that consideration is being given to banning the use of corporal punishment in schools and homes. After endorsing the common dress code for schools, mixed signals emanated from the halls of central administration in Constitution Road.

Two secondary schools with well-known and outstanding track records of success in athletics and foreign languages were given a bad public image when certain comments seemed to have relegated them to the bottom of the educational totem pole.

At the same time, a measure of student empowerment came from an official podium in one of those same schools evoking rousing applause which seem to have encouraged the flouting of the authority of principals rather than urging compliance from their charges.

Schools in 27 of the states in America have outlawed corporal punishment. The other 24 states retain the practice. Britain and many countries in Europe have criminalised both teachers and parents and have reaped the whirlwind of chaos and indiscipline both in schools and the wider society.

Canada retains some measure of protection for parents and school officials. The lobby for Barbados to follow this pattern of pedagogical and parental recklessness is strengthening.

Dr Griffith-Watson's public assertion that corporal punishment will be retained as one of a range of options available to a limited number of school personnel is reassuring, especially in the light of the rising tide of violence and indiscipline that continues to wash our educational shores. Like my Chief Education Officer, I am vehemently opposed to any attempt to throw the rod and God out of our schools.

Matthew D. Farley is an educator, a secondary school principal, chairman of the National Forum On Education, and a social commentator.

Email laceyprinci@yahoo@com.

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I am always wary when religion is put alongside an idea, because part of the intent is to give it 'God's blessing', and it gets hard to rebut because the twinning then makes it hard to argue that one is not going against a religious tenet. But, even if there is support for this idea in The Bible I do not accept that it is the right way to go.

After I read the article, I thought about the impending Inauguration of the 44th president of the United States of America, and that president-elect Obama wanted to close Guantanamo ("war on terror") prison as one of his first acts. Yesterday, President Obama signed three Executive orders toward that end. Among the things that happened at Guantanamo are a series of acts that have been regarded as tantamount to torture. According to a revised version of the US Army Field Manual, released in 2006, it explicitly banned controversial techniques such as beating, using dogs to intimidate [prisoners], electric shocks and waterboarding, which critics of the prison say are tantamount to torture.

If one is advocating flogging in schools then I suggest one thinks about what flogging really is. It is a form of torture. I have never seen a public flogging, as occurs in countries such as Iran. I have seen boys flogged at school. I know what I saw. I did not feel the pain directly, but I winced and sensed the pain that was being inflicted. I saw the faces of the floggers: never neutral and often somewhat angry. I saw the faces of the flogged: never smiling, often tearful and fearful. I saw the faces of the onlookers: few were smiling; most were wincing.

A dictionary definition of torture includes 'anguish of body or mind', 'something that causes agony or pain', and 'the infliction of intense pain...to punish, coerce, [or afford sadistic pleasure]. I am not going to the sadism aspect, but wonder where the real difference is between flogging and what is seen as torture. Of course, flogging can change behaviour, so can pouring boiling oil on someone. But I have a hard time seeing flogging as something right, and which should be retained in of all places a school, when it is not acceptable in a prison.

When I think back to the historic significance of President Obama's rise I think back to slavery, as many black people will, even though he did not come directly from a slavery background. I think back to days when my ancestors and the ancestors of many people now living in the US, UK, Canada, and the Caribbean knew a lot about flogging, being the offspring of floggers and flogged. I think about my ancestors possibly being flogged--in the fields, in the workhouse, etc. We have reports of adults and children being flogged and we know that there were many cases where that flogging went to the point of killing some (if not many) slaves. To me, these thoughts do not evoke pretty images, and I wonder what place such acts have in a school.

I hear people talk of a 'good' beating. For me, that is a contradiction in terms. I asked a friend to let me see film of a 'good' beating so that I would know what it looked like. I would also like to hear what the person being flogged thought, so that I get the real sense of 'good'. These things should be shared if they are for our good, like in a public information broadcast. Without being facetious, we should see regularly 'good' floggings so that we do not forget what they look like. If it is to be done then let's make sure that it is done right and well.

As far as schools are concerned, I asked myself whether flogging is part of the teacher training curriculum or if it is something that teachers are expected to learn on the job. If the flogging is the sole prerogative of the school's principal (head teacher), and he/she is not trained, from when and where does the experience come? Perhaps there is a manual and someone can illuminate me. I recall from my school days guidance to teachers on things like number of strokes of a cane, and places on the body to be beaten, but not much on the amount of force. If a child says while being beaten, "Enough teacher" will the teacher stop? If not, why not? In my mind, schools and teachers may be asked to do too much; teacher are trained to teach and I am not sure that they should be expected to be good at child care in all its forms.

But why do we think that beating people can possibly right? We abhor an act of physical violence and think that another act of violence is warranted? If the flogging is for anything other than to 'discipline' a violent act what is the real lesson being taught?

1 comment:

Diane said...

Hitting someone to prove a point or discipline has never made any sense to me. It just proves you are bigger or more powerful and can get by with it for now. It doesn't change the heart of person being hit - except to build resentment on top of maybe bad behavior. (although I have at times wished I had beat the crap out of my 18 year old when he was younger! and at times even thought I might enjoy it) Deep in my soul I don't believe in inflicting physical pain to guide. The shepherd used the rod to guide the sheep not beat the sheep. Also, if you go by that same standard of bruising your children when they do wrong. . . then you must also believe you should stone those committing adultry. So, if one applies so does the second. Today, there would be a lot of rocks being thrown around if that's the case!