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GET REAL: Whipless and so confused

Adrian Green

GET REAL: Whipless and so confused

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ONE TIME I saw some teenagers liming at Browne’s Beach. They threw their garbage on the ground right next to the bin. I walked over to them smiling, while bracing for a possible cussing and said, “Hello, wunnuh look like wunnuh enjoying de beach. Please tuh put de garbage in de bin and lewwe keep it clean.” Without fuss or hesitation, they did.

Just as I was assuming that they were likely to respond to me negatively, they probably assume that adults in authority will approach them in a certain way as well. From experience, we learn that authority is an aggressor. It does not smile, it does not say, “Please” and it does not approach with hands empty. It must come with a carrot or a stick.

With this image of authority in mind, we become employees who will not work unless threatened; who resent the very notion of work and take out our frustrations on the customer, in the form of bad service. Maybe we become managers who expect that employees can be spoken to in any manner and expect to get the best out of them by intimidation; voters who will not vote unless bribed, or politicians who enact policy without adequate consultation.

The debate over corporal punishment is largely a debate over authoritative style.

Since the last Get Real column, many were itching to share some licks to protect the right to put children right by lighting into them. Spare the rod and spoil the child, they argue. Others have gotten past their romance with the rod. One emailer confirmed that in 15 years of parenting he had never used lashes to discipline his daughter, with whom he is well pleased.

Somewhere a parent is confused. “Should I hit my child or not?”  She stands somewhere between picking up a shoe and throwing it, and throwing her hands up in exasperation. He shares lashes like how the rain falls nowadays – now and again, unexpectedly, heavy one time, light the next, inconsistently. She works hard, does not have the support of the extended family. 

Somewhere a teacher stands at the head of a class of pop kites in school uniform, at the tail end of his patience. Stripped of his whip, he is naked and lost, prey in the classroom jungle. Underpaid and underequipped, he will flee the school system as soon as a less stressful opportunity comes along. 

It does not. She continues to draw her salary and gets better at not letting the job stress her out. No flogging, no discipline, no problem. Just send them to the ones who have the authority to flog, though not enough time nor energy to touch every child sent.

Internet psychology articles have almost convinced the confused parent that corporal punishment will cause her child to become a serial killer or at least have emotional issues. They would have completely convinced him if he did not know that The Bible says, “Spare the rod and spoil the child”. She does not know that it doesn’t say that. That phrase comes from a 17th century English poem by Samuel Butler.

Proverbs 13:24 does say, however, that “He who spares the rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes”. Even if she knew what chasteneth meant, it would not be enough to clarify this verse. The confused parent is not aware of the debate over the word translated as “rod”. The Hebrew word is “shebet”. It is translated elsewhere in The Bible as “authority”. One could then interpret the verse as “He who does not exercise authority over his son hateth him”. If one wanted to.

She doesn’t hateth her child; she loves him. But she doesn’t want him to become a serial killer either. She feels like her arms are being ripped from her torso as she is pulled in two directions by competing ideologies. She does what many confused people do: nothing. Not exactly nothing. She sends her child, who she can do nothing with, to school, to see if they can do something with him.

One of the reasons that the American Psychological Association opposes the use of corporal punishment in institutions where children are cared for is because, according to them, it tends to reduce the use of more effective, humane and creative ways of interacting with children. Mum is in limbo because she got the message not to lash, but is at a loss as to what the more effective, humane and creative methods are.

At school the toothless teacher barks but the children know he has no bite. The school has taken the power to hit them away from him but has not empowered him with the replacement skills. To her it is a travesty.

Many students in the past have come under his rod and come up better for it; no severe emotional issues and definitely not serial killers. Unable to do what he knows best, he passes the buck again, this time to the senior teacher, and finally to the principal, who finds it simpler to share out suspensions than sore backsides. Students are sent home as a form of discipline, to be disciplined by parents who sent their children to school to be disciplined.

Adrian Green is a Bajan communications specialist. Email: [email protected]