Broadcast from Radio France Internationale on the Subject of Corporal Punishment in Schools
September 23, 2003
Today on RFI...RFI, the radio of the world.The School of Knowledge
Emmanuelle Bastide: Good day, and welcome to The School of Knowledge. Schools, very often, don’t conform to our dreams, and the classroom is still too often the stage of clashes between teacher and student. In France, it’s true that violence toward teachers by students is often spoken of, but today we are interested in the opposite: corporal punishment at school. “Ancient history!” you will tell me—don’t be too sure—in many countries there are still debates on this question. In this “reactionary school,” we travel to the United States, to Lebanon, to Benin, and right now to Great Britain, to an establishment where one suspects that corporal punishment hasn’t totally disappeared, despite the English law which prohibits, since 1998, all physical punishment in private schools. It’s an investigation by Morgane du Liège.
Morgane: Ann Pendray, you are a French teacher at Christian Fellowship School which is a private establishment in Liverpool. According to you, why is it necessary to apply corporal punishment to the students?
Ann: First of all, I think that it’s a question of...obedience to...to...God. I think that it’s in the bible. It’s a Jewish tradition as well as a Christian one. It’s necessary to chastise children with...corporally.
Morgane: What does that teach children?
Ann: If a student...lies, or if a student bullies another child, it teaches that there are consequences to their behavior. That there are limits, yes...and, at our school, they know the limits well.
Morgane: And what are the types of punishment?
Ann: For the little ones, they might slap their hands, or legs, with the hand...and for the bigger ones, they use a stick. It’s a...a very wide ruler.
Morgane: And yourself, have you ever punished any students?
Ann: No, not myself, the director of the school.
Morgane: The director, Mr. Phil Williamson?
Ann: Yes, yes, that’s who.
Morgane: He’s the one who punishes...the students.
Ann: Yes, the boys. It’s rare for the girls to be punished...the big ones.
Morgane: Are the parents concerned about this?
Ann: Yes, but the parents must...it’s a private school anyway. The parents sign, on paper, that they agree with it.
Morgane: They sign a written agreement at the beginning of the school year?
Ann: Yes, that’s it, yes.
Morgane: And how do the parents react to the prohibition, now, from using corporal punishment in learning institutions?
Ann: Well, there are some parents like me, because I, I’m a parent as well as a teacher, there are some parents like me who would really like corporal punishment to be used.
Morgane: Ann Pendray, according to you, what are the consequences of this prohibition, that has existed since 1998?
Ann: I, I think that...yes, I think that children are naughtier these days. I think that there are other possible corrections, but when corporal discipline has been used, there was also repentance.
Ann: Yes. And also the attempt was always made to re-establish good rapport with the students, after the punishment. One can isolate children, or give them a lot of homework...or...
Morgane: ...keep them after school?
Ann: Something like that, but...I think that it’s not fair punishment, then limits are rather flexible, because, when corporal punishment was used it was always something...a child, you know, has a certain immorality, so it’s necessary to establish limits of morality, isn’t it.
Emmanuelle: That was Ann Pendray, French teacher at the Christian Fellowship School at Liverpool – a private, protestant establishment. She was interviewed by Morgane du Liège. Remember that physical punishment has been prohibited in Great Britain at educational establishments since 1986 for public schools, and since 1998, only, for private schools. It must be stated that, the English have never really shown themselves to be very against this type of practice. The Christian Fellowship School, with 40 other private schools, have therefore taken the position against this law by continuing their system of punishment without really saying so, and they are comforted by the European Court of Human Rights which recognized in 1999 their right to chastise children as long as the parents sign a written agreement. For now, these schools are pursued by the English Court of Justice, and the affair should be brought to the Court of Lords next October.
In Africa, the debate is very lively as well. Here you have the life of Mathurin Assogba; he is from Benin. He is the founder and director of a small private school, The College of Pyramids, on the outskirts of Cotonou, and he is responding to a growing demand among parents, that is to say, a return to “true values,” as they say, an allusion to a public school system that is judged a little bit delinquent.
Mathurin: I must first of all, a little bit...school law prohibits corporal punishment...only, it has been in existence a long time...but another decree has again restated the prohibition of corporal punishments. Well, corporal punishment, it’s practically a fact of society, and education, in Africa, rests more and more...well, has always consisted of giving some spankings to children and it is found in the area of the educational system as well. So, some raps on the hands, some spankings, it’s limited to that. It’s only for repeat offenders who are stubborn, so, one ends up resorting to this means of repression.
Morgane: In which cases, for example, do you use this type of punishment?
Mathurin: Well...a student who just punched his classmate in class, since that’s forbidden...which can lead to bodily injury...so, there, one tries to make him understand that he’s just gone beyond one of the _?_ of self-control which forbids these forms of violence. There are even some times when students’ parents, from the house, because the child has committed some fault, they bring him to the school and insist that the school inflict on him some corporal punishment. Some parents of students ask that the establishment...get involved in the thrashing by giving it priority. It is said that they’re just dumping the lashes at our level for such a child, well, we try to avoid that, by refusing to fall into this game, but it happens sometimes, where, well, once in a while, if only to intimidate, if only to keep everyone in order, well, we do it.
Morgane: But, isn’t that responding to violence with violence, Mathurin Assogba?
Mathurin: Well, it’s not beating the child up, and giving him blows in an exaggerated manner—no—they do a...a...a little slap, if you’ll permit the expression. Anyway, corporal punishment from the beginning has been made to be more of a sword of Damocles, especially since it is not allowed by the law, so we must be very careful in the use of this means of repression.
Morgane: Who has the responsibility of applying the corporal punishments? You, have you ever given a “little slap” to a child?
Mathurin: Yes, well, from time...from time to time they are given. And we recommend that these corporal punishments be administered by members of the administration, not by the teachers. Because we have some children who have illnesses, well, rheumatism, sickle cell anemia, maybe epilepsy, so if the classroom teachers themselves inflict corporal punishment, it could create enormous problems. Therefore we ask the teachers to send us the children, to the administration level if it’s necessary, we say, to intervene at this level, we try to see.
Emmanuelle: In Lebanon, the blows rain as well in the principal’s office. An interview by Cécile Evrard in Saïda, south of Beirut, in a school for Palestinian refugees, where the world of violence doesn’t stop at the school door, and the teachers, in fact, are totally deprived from responding otherwise. We are at “The Rock” school.
Cécile: He causes a lot of problems. He wasn’t hit on...he’s lucky because we are here. What’s going on with this student?
Woman Teacher: He screams in the street...and that upsets many people over there...that’s why...he’s a very very very disturbed student, really. He upsets the class, the whole class, the classmates, I, we don’t know. We don’t know what we should do, what should be done with this student. The principal, he always hits him. What should be done with him this time? He’s a student in my 5th class, well, really, he’s very very very disturbed.
Cécile: Do you think hitting him on the fingers is a good solution?
Woman Teacher: Me, no, I can’t, maybe he would hit me...that’s why...I can’t hit him, it’s true, really, because he could hit me, that’s why, really.
Cécile: You would do it otherwise, you would do it?
Woman Teacher: No, no (laughing), really no (laughing).
Sandrine Vuillet (aside): They are trying to put a somewhat less traditional and above all less authoritarian type of teaching in place. It isn’t rare, I’m not going to generalize, but in the end it isn’t rare anyway in schools to have teachers who hit students. So, our French teachers are asked to refrain from hitting students. That was a little difficult to establish in the beginning, since the teachers tell us, and even the students request, as punishment, for them it’s completely normal to be hit.
Emmanuelle: You just heard Sandrine Vuillet, Education Counselor of the United Nations on the question of Palestinian refugees.
No culture is spared muscular sanctions in education. In the United States, while there are the most modern teaching methods, even so one perceives that the discussion is still incredibly animated on the subject. Morgane du Liège contacted Sue Lawrence, a woman who fights for the abolition of physical punishment in the United States.
Sue: There are 22 states in the United States, mostly in the south, where students are hit with wooden paddles. These paddles are 18 to 24 inches long, about 3 to 4 inches wide and up to one inch thick. Teachers hit students, sometimes 5 or 6 years old, with these paddles, on the buttocks, when the students are late, when they talk too much, etc. 340,000 students are hit like this every year in the United States. The president, Mr. Bush, wanted to protect teachers who hit students from lawsuits, with the Teacher Protection Act.
Morgane: For you, what does corporal punishment in school represent?
Sue: It’s disgusting. It’s violence against children. There’s ignorance, and our presidents don’t do anything about it. There are also some Christians, the fundamentalists, who believe it’s necessary to hit their children, because of some verses in the bible. Fundamentalist families are very punitive. They spank a lot. It’s a big problem.
Morgane: What have you done, Sue Lawrence, to combat corporal punishment in learning institutions?
Sue: Yes, I have a website called “Parenting in Jesus’ Footsteps.” I started this website after having seen an ad in a Christian magazine. This ad was for a whip. It’s called “The Rod.” It’s made of nylon, 22” long. It’s for “chastising children,” citing a verse from Proverbs in the bible. I was completely bowled over—I discovered that a couple in Oklahoma made these whips, these instruments of torture. They make them, they sell them, and they use them at their church. On my website I concentrate on the problem of Christians who believe that they must be harsh with their children. I have articles, a list of recommended books, and a petition against corporal punishment to sign. Above all I stress the importance, for Christians, of following the example and teachings of Jesus. Mercy, forgiveness, humility, and non-violence. Teach children—don’t hit them any more. Children are gifts from God—not curses.
Emmanuelle: For your information, if you wish to consult Sue Lawrence’s website against physical violence in teaching, I’ll give you the address: www.parentinginjesusfootsteps.org. among other addresses in the United States on the Internet where the debate rages. You can write us at RFI for more details. I’ll give you our home address at the end of the program.
For your information, the first country in the world to have forbidden physical punishment in schools, well, it’s Sweden, in 1979 (translator’s note: Sweden actually prohibited corporal punishment in schools in 1960). But France, also, for a long time has forbidden all physical chastisement in public educational institutions, as well as private, of course. The road was long, several centuries, but totally passionate, when the history of ideas crosses that of education. Erick Prairat, teaching researcher at Nancy II University, at the microphone of Morgane du Liège:
Erick: One can locate four great moments. The first moment, is the critique from the humanists during the Renaissance of the 16th century, then, with Montaigne, Rabelais, and of course Erasmus. And the humanists denounce abuse, the systematic use of blows in the work of education. They point to a sort of counterproductive effect, that is of hitting too much, of creating brutes rather than peaceful, polite beings. So, contrary to what one would think, the humanists didn’t plead for the abolition of corporal punishment, but for more gentleness and moderation in educational rapport. The second moment, is Rousseau and more widely the “Luminaries,” in the second half of the 18th century, and that is called the reversal of the perception of children, in which the child is no longer perceived as a twisted, perverse, vicious little being that must be straightened out, but becomes a promise, a...a being who is rich in humanity to come, and thus it matters less to straighten out than... rather than helping the child, to accompany, to guide the child in...in the path of human evolution. And the 3rd moment, around 1850, 1880, is the critique from health professionals who make a medical/moral judgment of corporal punishment, that is, that not only does corporal punishment make a person degraded and humiliated, but also it can wound and handicap longterm, so corporal punishment represents both a moral and physical danger. And then, the last moment, is the advent of new teachings at the end of World War I in the 1920’s, challenging the use of restraint, revisiting the question of exercising authority, the role of master, the appropriateness of force, and calls for more place for creativity, for children’s free initiative and therefore, it is a critique not only of corporal punishment but more widely, of the use of sanction in educative work. There, in a nutshell, the four great moments which scan the history of corporal punishment.
Morgane: Erick Prairat, when one speaks of corporal punishment, is one also making reference to a certain loss of self-control?
Erick: Yes, but, but not only that, I would say. One can find some cases of adults who resort to corporal violence simply because they don’t know how to resolve conflict other than by violence. And generally these are adults who carry in themselves a history of being battered children. One can also find other cases which would be the opposite of a lack of self control, punishers who exact corporal punishment according to a veritable system, and who punish coldly and in a methodical manner. If you wish, this relation between hitter and the one who is being hit is very complex. That is to say that while there is something about domination going on, a moral humiliation, there can also be some erotic elements in this relationship. And one thinks here of the confession that Rousseau was able to make, when he told us of finding himself getting an erection while being spanked by Miss Lambercier. So, it’s an extremely complex relationship that doesn’t explain itself, in my opinion, simply by a lack of self control.
Emmanuelle: That was Erick Prairat, Professor of Science of Education at Nancy II University, and who published a “What Do I Know?” by the Presse Universitaire of France, “Sanction in Education,” a small, inexpensive booklet like all the books of the collection “What Do I Know?,” a must-have if you are a teacher.
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Translation by Susan Lawrence and Peggy Quéant