Two weeks ago, I wrote an article tackling corporal punishment and what it said about society’s engagement with children.
In his Sunday piece ‘The days of true corporal punishment’, Ingina y’igihanga deployed his usual eloquence and barbed wit to argue that we children of the eighties had not had it anywhere near as bad as our parents’ generation.
His memories of sadistic teachers and savagely impromptu punishments gave me a very interesting-and chilling-insight into how his generation had suffered at the hands of teachers who made ours look like hand-wringing pacifists. Consider your humble correspondent duly chastened.
That said, my piece was not really meant to convey a competitive element in relation to the beatings and humiliations that our parents had to go through.
Evidently such things are relative, and our generation did have it better even though we witnessed fairly similar sadism. Although Ingina was right to put our punishment in context of what was happening all those decades ago, what also struck me was how worryingly identical our situations were.
The frequency and methods of punishment may have varied, but the same principles applied. There was a complete disregard for fairness or proportionality, a concerted attempt to humiliate as much as possible and a worldview that suggested that children were nothing but pests or inconveniences- almost beneath contempt.
There was also a kind of macho outlook that implied that what didn’t kill us made us stronger- we had to take it like men (boys and girls alike).
In fact it was horrifyingly similar to being in the army- methods more befitting preparation for warfare were employed to ensure that children got good grades.
There was also a complete disregard for what this might do to us emotionally. I was lucky enough to be a very timid and quiet student, which meant I was lucky enough to dodge the cane most of the time.
But how much different could things have been had I not had that particular quirk? What does it say about the education system in the region that decade after decade, academic success and military-style discipline have been valued at the expense of everything else?
One of my social studies teachers used to make offending students kneel before her and then she would gleefully aim savage kicks at their bodies while wearing high heels. How exactly was that supposed to be character-forming?
And perhaps what our teachers did not give enough thought was that good scores in school were not a guarantee for future success. Education should be about more than just cramming names of people and places as we were forced to do.
The excessive energy used to smack the bejesus out of us would have been better employed in giving us a more rounded education. For example, we were never taught to analyze things or apply curiosity or even generally see learning as fun. Learning by rote and by stick is a horribly outdated concept.
And ultimately what my article and Ingina’s response show is that what both generations experienced as primary school students was a very unenlightened way of dealing with children.
I certainly don’t think all corporal punishment is bad- I will always retain it as the ‘nuclear option’ against my children should other forms of deterrence prove ineffective. And as I argued in my piece, mollycoddling children is certainly not the answer.
But I do hope that in the future, our children will have an education system in which they are seen as being of value and not abstract entities being used to reach certain targets.
Minega Isibo is a lawyer