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IN THE CANDID CORNER: Flawed flogging discourse


Matthew Farley

IN THE CANDID CORNER: Flawed flogging discourse

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“The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.” Proverbs 29:15 (King James Version)

In the September 28 edition of the SUNDAY SUN, two fellow columnists tackled the issue of corporal punishment and to a lesser extent its pros and cons. Political scientist Peter Wickham and fellow educator Esther Phillips attempted an examination of this topic that often evokes much public response and controversy.

While I respect their right to their views I must say much of the discourse was flawed and weak. The strength of Wickham’s argument is in its tail. I could dismiss all else he said and acknowledge that he seems to have softened somewhat in appearing to lean toward the need for regulation rather than the abolition of corporal punishment.

In the first instance, he makes the mistake and cites the United Nations Committee’s definition on the Rights of the Child. It is my contention that Mr Wickham deliberately chose this definition whose tone is emotive and barbaric. There is an almost onomatopoeic ring through words like smacking, slapping, scratching and spanking. It is a debating strategy that I would have used in a high school debate for the primary purpose of appealing to the emotion of my audience.

With respect to the definition, the corporal punishment that I received as a child at my grandparents’ and teachers’ hands and what I administered to my own daughters and to my students does not fit into that definition which is clearly anathema to our culture.

I challenge the political scientist to bring the empirical data to support the notion that this definition is apt for what Barbadian teachers and parents do under the umbrella of corporal punishment. I remind Mr Wickham that my rationale for its prudent and perhaps sparing use is for behavioural and not cognitive failure.

If there are parents who take discipline to the level where it means scalding, kicking, scratching and burning as the norm, not as the exception, then I would join Mr Wickham as an abolitionist. If it is the exception, then they should be prosecuted.

In Proverbs 22:6, we are admonished to “train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it”. While this verse does not necessarily allude to punishment, in verse 16, “the rod of correction is the tool of training that will drive away the foolishness that is bound up in the heart of a child”.

It may be, as Esther Phillips contends, that the “rod” need not be the literal “rod” but simply refers to the absolute need for discipline. For some children, the literal rod will be necessary while for others it may simply be an environment which conduces to discipline whatever “reasonable” form it may take.

My challenge with Ms Phillips’ argument is that it is undergirded by the notion that changing times changes everything.

While I do admit that many children live in an environment in which violence pervades, I am befuddled by Ms Phillips’ argument that the delineation between the authority figure and the person to be disciplined is now blurred. It is my contention that herein lies part of our problem. Too many parents treat their children as if they are on the same level; many daughters are their mother’s buddies and may even fete in the same nightclub as they compete for the same fashion and styles.

It is interesting that CADRES’ director makes the same error. He queries how is it that it is illegal to beat adults but it is legal to beat children. But Mr Wickham, a child is not an adult and an adult is not a child. While the child is still in the process of being trained and reared, the adult is already a mature human being.

Finally, Mr Wickham, the word “reasonableness” is the lynchpin of the whole argument. Punishment that goes overboard or as you put it, “parents who get carried away”, are engaging in child abuse and should be prosecuted. Where you and I might agree Mr Wickham is in relation the need for some guidelines in order to minimise the likelihood of parents or teachers going beyond the bounds of “reasonableness”.  

In conclusion, I insist that UNICEF, the United Kingdom and North America cannot teach us anything about how to school or raise our children.

• Matthew Farley is a former secondary school principal, chairman of the National Forum on Education and a social commentator.

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