Neither Punishment nor Rewards
Message from a Montessori school director
February 3, 2001
Thank you for your informative site. I run a Montessori school in East London, South Africa. Despite our Constitution and Bill of Rights which are intended to protect children against abuse in the disguise of discipline, "smacking" is as rife among all sectors of our society as it was in the dark days of apartheid. I believe that this is the major cause of the high level of violent crime in this country.

I have been prompted to send this e-mail as a result of a meeting I had yesterday with the grandmother of a child in my school. Two weeks ago her grandson started in my school. We have a policy of promoting non-violent conflict resolution among the children, and never use punishments or rewards of any sort. The child concerned is developmentally behind age norms, and appears fearful and timid. I was told by his mother that he had sustained brain-damage at birth. Generally well behaved, this little boy has also shown some indications of aggressive behaviour (he pushed another, smaller child off a climbing frame) and has deliberately pulled up plants and damaged equipment (mostly of a minor nature). I asked for a meeting with his Granny who is his guardian to gently raise these issues and enrol her support in re-inforcing appropriate behaviours.

I was shocked when this outwardly gentle and dignified old lady said that I should "take out a belt and beat him" whenever her grandchild committed any "offense." She then stared in disbelief as I explained that I never, under any circumstance, inflict any physical pain on a child - EVER. I tried to help her understand how this sort of treatment leads to anger and an escalation of violence. She was so surprised that there was any alternative to beating. She felt that as this child "had a problem," that he would not understand reason and had to be beaten. I then learned that this six year old would be "beaten" for refusing to wash the family's laundry!

I do not know whether "granny" has understood my explanations - she seems to genuinely love her grandchild and expressed extreme gratitude that I had agreed to accept this "retarded" child from the township into my school.

We are so far away from an understanding of the issues surrounding child-abuse in this country that it is terrifying. Your site helps me to remember that I am sane and that the people who beat their children are the ones out of line!

S. C.

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