Saturday, July 19, 2014

Corporal Punishment in Our Schools: Should we blame the victim?

In my last blog, 'Equity - the real issue in falling education standards.' I proposed that as our society becomes more unequal we can expect that the standards in education will continue to fall. One simple but ill informed approach is to blame the teachers or the quality of teacher training. An even worse tendency is to blame the learner for the failings in the education system. For example, often a failing student will be labelled as being 'unmotivated', 'lazy' or even 'uninterested'. Many of these students quickly become frustrated and give up trying to achieve in school. They develop self-protective behaviours: they learn that it is better not to expend effort when failure is the expected result. Some students misbehave in class to avoid doing activities that they believe will lead to failure. The disruptive behaviour not only helps them avoid failure but it also protects their self esteem by gaining inappropriate attention from other students. Traditionally a common response was to use corporal punishment in the form of the cane or the strap. Another typical response for continued disruptive behaviour is suspension from school. 

Recently Kevin Donnelly, the co-chair of the Australian Federal Government's national curriculum review has suggested the use of corporal punishment for disruptive students as long as the local school and community support it. This view by a prominent educationalist has sent shock waves throughout the community. Most people understand that using the cane does not address root causes or problems and will more than likely reinforce inappropriate behaviours. Donnelly's statement  seems to indicate some very outdated views which are not in line with current thinking and research findings. According to Jacqueline Maley, (parliamentary sketch writer for the Sydney Morning Herald) in her newspaper article 'Kevin Donnelly on hiding to nothing' (19th July, 14) Donnelly  is "... a critic of political correctness in schools, and he advocates the restoration of more traditional ways of learning and curricular subject matter; he is big fan of Shakespeare, the classic novels and phonics. He is a strong critic of the post-modern, theory-based lens through which literature and history is sometimes taught in modern schools." Read more:

In terms of suspension, Linda J. Graham, in her commentary in The Conversation entitled"Help disruptive students, don't just suspend them." proposed .".. that academic difficulties lead to task avoidance which leads to teacher-student conflict which leads to the use of time-out, which is followed by an escalation in disruptive behaviour, which is met by repeat long-suspension, leading to further escalation, and eventually referral to special educational settings." Read more:

Simple responses such as corporal punishment or suspensions tend to blame the victim rather than addressing their complex academic, social and emotional needs. Good teachers who know, understand and spend time interacting with their students can make a difference. Trevor Cairney, in his recent blog Thursday, July 17, 2014), stated that, "Good teachers change children as they develop love and respect for their students and want the best for them. It seems to me that this is the starting point for effective teaching and parenting not corporal punishment. Read more: