What common feature binds the childhoods of Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein and Charles Manson? Each was punished physically -- relentlessly and severely. Defenders of corporal punishment in schools may argue that this is an exaggerated example, but a mountain of psychological studies bear out the connection between the violent treatment of children, whether at the hands of teachers or parents, and their propensity for violence and aggression in later life.
The more violence they suffered as a child, the more violence-prone they become as adults. Not everyone who has been caned or smacked at school will become a Pol Pot, but there is no escaping the fact that violence begets violence. The difference is only a matter of degree.
With that thought in mind it is highly welcome news that from Nov 1, teachers will no longer be allowed to resort to caning as a method of disciplining their pupils. The Education Ministry has made the right decision to ban this archaic practice which does more harm than good to the development of children. Caning may be effective in stopping pupils from doing what the teachers forbids. But it is a short term solution. After being caned, children will behave... until the next time. More importantly, the lesson that they learned will be a highly negative one. It is that human interaction is based on force, that might is right. The more they are exposed to such treatment, the more likely they are to deal with others, not by reason, but by force.
Discipline by the cane is also at the expense of learning, particularly with young children. Being hit by teachers, whom they are supposed to bond with and form a trusting relationship, throws children into a state of powerful emotional confusion, making it difficult for them to learn the lessons adults claim they are trying to teach. Talking and reasoning with them is a much better avenue of establishing discipline. Studies have shown that the cognitive ability of children-that is, the ability to learn and to recognise things-is higher in those who are never hit by teachers or parents than in those who frequently get smacked. This is because responsible adults spend more time talking to them and reasoning with them, the basic method of developing cognitive intelligence.
Most teachers in Thailand, however, seem to feel that they will lose control of their classrooms without the cane. Largely this fear is because of their lack of skills in using verbal forms of persuasion. In most cases, it has been a long time since their last class in child psychology, whose lessons they had not put into practice since starting their teaching careers.
It is here that the Education Ministry can step in to provide them with the necessary skills. It is not enough for the ministry to issue its five-point guideline on non-corporal punishment; verbal warning, punishment by chores such as having to clean the classroom or the bathroom, being placed on probation, suspension and finally dismissal from school (the first three are for primary school pupils and the last two are reserved for high school pupils only). Teachers are now at a loss as to what to do and their confidence in handling children intelligently must be built up. The ministry, as well as individual schools, could assist the teachers greatly by organising seminars, training classes and refresher courses.
It is ironic that the use of corporal punishment is not sanctioned any where else in society. No adult can be hit by anyone because that would be considered assault. Workers cannot be caned if they fail at their jobs, and it is not allowed even in the military to punish an offending soldier in this way. Why should it be all right to treat youngsters in our schools in this way then? It is no wonder that abusive adults, if not outright monsters, have come out of such a system of corporal discipline.