Submitted by William Skinner
The public debate, in Barbados, surrounding the refusal of a student to pick up paper, on the instruction of a teacher, is instructive of the changing norms the society is having in several areas. The days of the teacher being always right are no longer with us. We must come to terms with the simple fact that children do have rights and these rights include asking why they are being punished or being asked to do any particular task. We should be careful not to come down too hard on the teacher but bear in mind that in this case the child probably saw the request as punishment for something that she was not a party to. It is a fine line, in this case, between request and punishment.
Of course there are those who will present many cases of teachers punishing children back in the “good old days”. They are suffering from severe nostalgia, hoping in vain for a Barbados that no longer exists. Hence, well intentioned citizens , such as Mr. Carl Moore, does not stand a chance of convincing others, such as retired principal Mr. Matthew Farley, that corporal punishment, sends a message to impressionable young minds that violence is the only antidote to conflict.
In this case, the teacher probably over reached by actually denying the child the rights to class room instruction by making her just wait outside the counsellor’s door, if press reports are accurate. This matter should have been more delicately handled once the child had refused to execute the order. Since the child had not created the infraction by littering the premises, she responded as many young adults do these days; defending what they now understand as their rights. Rights to which the Barbados government is a signatory. We must learn to accept that modern children will be “seen and heard” and are not like those from the good old days, who were sometimes brutalized for acts they did not commit. It was so bad that they were afraid to even discuss the beatings with their parents for fear of being beaten again. In today’s world such acts are known as violence against children and in more developed societies, will land the teacher and parent in prison!
I can recall quite vividly being beaten with the “whole class” for acts I did not commit. Like Carl Moore, I am convinced that beating children and using corporal punishment is barbaric. This nonsense about “Peter paying for Paul and Paul paying for all” has no place in a democratic society.
I am therefore in sympathy with both the child and the teacher. Teachers are usually unfairly castigated for all that is wrong with society and young people are also being unfairly blame for the falling values. Both groups must therefore work harder to resolve conflict. In this case, the child did nothing wrong by refusing to accept what she perhaps interpreted as an unjust punishment. It could have been the result of the approach used or circumstances of which the public is totally unaware.