Guest Column

Why teachers hitting kids give all of us a free pass

2019-03-11 05:00
Paarl Boys' High School (Jenni Evans)

Paarl Boys' High School (Jenni Evans)

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If you are allowing your children to be hit, you are part of South Africa's problem, writes Helena Wasserman.

There was a wave of support for teachers hitting children after allegations of corporal punishment emerged at Paarl Boys' High this week.

Supporters argued that it entrenches discipline, turns sissies into resilient young men and contributed to making Paarl Boys' High a top school.

None of them, to my mind, addressed a major societal problem caused by corporal punishment in our schools.

So, for argument's sake, let's accept for a moment that supporters are right about the benefits of hitting children. Let's ignore the extensive body of academic research that links it with aggression later in kids' adult lives, psychological problems, lower IQ scores, poorer school marks, depression and partner abuse.  

Also, say we accept that the deputy head of Paarl Boys' High may have had to hit the boys to maintain a strong culture of discipline in the school. As one mom of a 13-year-old in the school put it to me: "How else are they supposed to control hundreds of teenaged boys?"

Even then, I can't help wondering how other boys' schools are getting it right without resorting to violence.

Perhaps the teachers at the other schools are instilling respect and discipline by setting an example of calm, orderly moral behaviour. Perhaps they are resolving misconduct through trying to understand the behaviour and the situation of every child, addressing problems, and coming up with solutions – equipping the kids with skills they will need later in the workplace, where hitting someone with a plank may be frowned upon.

Violence is the response of the lazy and the stupid. People who don't have the necessary brain power to make clear why bad behaviour is counterproductive. But, then, perhaps there's something in the Paarl drinking water that makes their children especially unruly.

So let's move right along, and accept the contention, as made by many of its 'old boys', that hitting children contributed to making Paarl Boys' High a top school. After all, as the school's official response to the allegations of corporal punishment put it – using a telling metaphor – parents "fight tooth and nail" to get their kids into Paarl Boys.

There is no evidence that corporal punishment is giving the school an edge. In fact, Paarl Boys' High is lagging behind its peers.

A recent analysis by the SchoolBoy Rugby blog measured the academic performance of South Africa's rugby-playing schools last year. It ranked the schools' academic performance, giving special weightings to university degree passes as well as maths and physics achievement. Paarl Boys' High was almost right at the bottom of the top 25 schools.

It ranked far behind other boys' schools that presumably don't allow corporal punishment – including Rondebosch Boys, Bishops, Paul Roos, SACS, Michaelhouse, Hilton, St Andrews, Affies, Grey and Wynberg Boys. Paarl Gimnasium, a neighbouring school, also performed better. (Note to self: Scrap the Paarl water theory.)

Even when it comes to rugby, depending on which rankings you look at, Paarl Boys' High's first team was either placed fourth or eighth in the country – consistently behind other boys' schools like Grey College, Glenwood and Paul Roos.

Perhaps Mr Visagie should. Have. Hit. That. Little. Bit. Harder.

Then, let's accept that hitting boys turns sissies into resilient young men. Being a biological sussie myself, I can't possibly comment on that (or why being female is associated with cowardice). I can however tell you something about being hit straight through primary school – once through the face, sometimes on the hand, sometimes on the bum. Mostly, these were for getting maths answers wrong. I can't say for sure whether it made me stronger, but it most certainly didn't make me more eager about school, nor did it give me more respect for those who meted out the punishment. In fact, it humiliated me and gave grown men control over my body.

Discarding all of this, let's focus on why corporal punishment at Paarl Boys' High should concern all of us.

Hitting children in school is illegal. It has been since 1996.

You may not agree with it – and judging from a News24 poll last week, most South Africans don't – but when a teacher hits your child, they are breaking the law.

Schools like Paarl Boys' High are showing kids that you don't have to respect all laws – only the ones you agree with. They are entrenching an already frightening culture of lawlessness in South Africa.

And if you are allowing your children to get hit, you are saying to the rest of us that we, too, can break the laws we don't like.

Don't agree with the 120km speed limit or those stupid rules that bar you from driving within the yellow line?

Don't like the law that requires you to declare all your income for tax purposes? Or the one that wants you to pay for the electricity you use?

Don't support the legal regulations that govern state tenders, or the fact that you really shouldn't abuse taxpayers' money?

No problem. You too, can be a Boytjie.

- Wasserman is editor of Business Insider SA.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. 

Read more on:    paarl boys high  |  corporal punishment
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