‘At this school we slap kids’…

An aside on corporal punishment in Jamaican schools with a quote from Professor Orlando Patterson on the terrors of Jamaican childhood as he experienced it.

I find myself bemused by the latest subject of public discussion in Jamaica–whether corporal punishment is a suitable form of discipline for children or not.  Alas it seems that if a poll were taken there would be overwhelming affirmation for this cruel practice despite there being instances of severe abuse, including a young boy who lost his eyesight after being struck with a teacher’s belt.

The subject hit the airwaves after a parent objected to her nine year old daughter being hit for not performing well enough at a popular Jamaican school. The following report in the Sunday Observer tells it all:

At this school we slap kids

THE administration of Kensington Primary School in St Catherine is coming under fire from the parents of a nine-year-old girl who are taking issue with the school’s use of corporal punishment in its administration of discipline.

However, the leadership of the school, which is arguably the best-performing primary institution in Jamaica, is hitting back, insisting that it has done nothing wrong, as the flogging of students plays a key rule in ensuring that they focus and display the behaviours that are conducive to learning.

What I find disturbing is the number of people i know, talk show hosts, Facebook friends and others, who defend the use of corporal punishment. One friend asked:

Shouldn’t we define corporal punishment  I believe there is a qualitative difference between a slap/hit in your palm as opposed to caning on the backside. When my children consistently do something that is wrong, I slap them with a short belt, not to hurt them, but to remind them that that particular behaviour is not what is expected of them. Over the years it seems to have worked. What is the alternative to correcting bad behaviour away from this physical reminder?

I think what I’m dumbfounded by is the fact that normal, responsible, well-educated adults genuinely don’t seem to know that there are other ways to discipline or teach children right from wrong. Another argument that keeps being repeated is:  WE were all brought up on the strap, the switch and the whip and look how well we’ve turned out.

No bredren, you haven’t turned out well, you’ve grown up into someone who thinks that its absolutely fine to beat a child into submission! You’ve taught that child the lesson that violence is the solution to ignorant behaviour not explanation or reasoning or education but application of pain. No wonder Jamaica is such a violent place. Colin Channer even wrote a story once called How to Beat Your Child the Right and Proper Way.

In fact the whole sorry state of affairs reminded me of an email  I recieved from Orlando Patterson some years ago. He was responding to an interview I had done with Rex Nettleford in Caribbean Beat in which Rex had rhapsodized over his idyllic rural childhood in Western Jamaica. Orlando’s memories of growing up in the Jamaican countryside were altogether darker. I hope he won’t mind if I quote the relevant paragraphs here…

It was interesting to read a bit about Rex’s childhood although it is heavily filtered by him. I grew up in rural Jamaica too– May Pen mainly, (then a small village) and Lionel Town (a couple of horrible years; I can still recall the stench of the hospital which suffocated the entire town) and spent holidays in St. Elizabeth. Rural life at that time had its brutal side: hunger, beatings from parents and grandparents who firmly believed in not sparing the rod and spoiling the child; sexual abuse of young girls (and, possibly young boys, although I was spared that), overcrowding and just mindless boredom. Rex and myself were among the very, very lucky ones who escaped through education. What I recall are the farm kids who never turned up to school on Fridays, then never on Thursdays and Fridays, then by age 10 or 11 never at all. The teachers were nearly all pretty sadistic, all of them armed with heavy leather straps, some with forked ends. I just don’t see how one can romanticize most of that.  It was serious alright, seriously oppressive. Sure there were the good moments– the moist light of the early mornings; the evenings before sleep when the older kids told stories; the rainy days when the teachers briefly rediscovered their humanity and treated us like the children we were; the occasional country fair ( in my case, the early days of the Denbigh Agricultural Show). But they were few and far between, and even the public rituals and fairs had a scary element for a young kid: the Jan Cunu and Horsehead  mummeries were genuinely terrifying; the Hussay festival which the Indians in Vere enacted  annually scared me near to death as I gasped at grown men  flagellating themselves and seeming as if they were about to chop each other to pieces; the crop-over market dances which always had at least one fight or worse. For nearly all but the fortunate few, life for a kid growing up in rural Jamaica (it was a lot better in Kingston, then) during the thirties, forties and fifties, was raw, unhealthy, painful, often hellish, and for far too many, brief.

Sorry if this depresses you. I am still reeling from the shock of  New Orleans and the horrible ineptitude of the federal and local governments here.  In a better mood I might perhaps remember rural Jamaica in terms more like Rex’s, but I doubt it.

One good thing is that beatings are no longer administered in most schools in Jamaica after determined efforts by the Ministry of Education to discourage it. The outcry in the media concerning Kensington Primary’s use and defence of corporal punishment is also encouraging.  Hopefully the number of children living in terror of physical violence will continue to decrease.

Author: Annie Paul

writer, editor and avid tweeter anniepaulose@gmail.com

4 thoughts on “‘At this school we slap kids’…”

  1. An excellent analysis and a brilliant passage by Orlando Patterson on his less-than-idyllic rural childhood. I have visited Kensington more than once in my past job (they have a period once a year where they invite diplomats to visit talk about their countries – it was enormous fun). I was so impressed by its cleanliness, sense of order and the amazing kids there and so I was alarmed and disappointed by Sunday’s front page story. But although there are still many defenders of the “well, I turned out OK” variety who support it, I was also quite encouraged at the generally negative response. We just need to reject violence in all its forms. Like flogging and the buggery laws, I feel that this is another legacy of our colonial past which needs to be thrown out, so that we can become a kinder society.

    1. Yes Petch you’ve said it all…i’m puzzled by the school though, it seems such a model in so many other ways. could this be another instance of ‘it’s part of our culture and we will defend it to the end’ kind of thing? ie beating children is an integral part of Jamaican culture etc.

  2. Thanks for this Annie. Was moved by the passage by Orlando Patterson. I think we have to utterly reject the “I was beaten and I turned out okay” mantra, as well as accept that many Jamaican cultural practices and beliefs are highly problematic. AS far as this case is concerned, it is also worth noting that the parents of the girl were then threatened by a woman who showed up at their gate to rail against their “bringing the school down” and to let this family know that “the war just start…” .

    1. Thanks Diana for adding those ugly but crucial details of follow up threats and repercussions…

      Yes OP’s recollections are shocking and moving…hope things aren’t quite as bad as that anymore…

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