A thinking classroom


The teacher grabbed the heater and threw it across the room.

Then he grabbed Robert, 14, who was sitting in the front row, and threw him out the door, kicking him on the way.

This is a scene of violence I witnessed decades ago as a high school learner. It stayed with me, as I had never before seen someone turn violent in such an uncontrolled way. But like my contemporaries I was used to seeing officially sanctioned violence in the classroom, as the cane was seen as the main way to control difficult learners, especially boys.

Fast forward to the new millennium, and the reported results of an HSRC study, which shows that the only 51% of respondents believe in corporal punishment, as opposed to the 91% who believe in “reasoning and discussion”.

A large majority (81%) also favoured giving more learning tasks as a punishment, while only 31% supported physical tasks like sweeping.

Extra learning seems a positive and constructive approach, although I pity the teacher who has to read through 15 “academic” essays written by reluctant denizens of detention. As for sweeping, perhaps it’s not a bad option if not abused, especially for those caught vandalising school property.

Controlling a classroom filled, often to overflowing, with moody teenagers, takes a special kind of heart and courage. I don’t believe that anyone who didn’t see teaching as a calling could take on this daunting task successfully. But this study does give hope that we are now in an era where people are beginning to understand that talking isn’t a sign of weakness, but a sign of respect.

Some mixture of most of these might be the way to go. But if no child ever has to witness the scary sight of an out-of-control teacher physically assaulting a learner again, I believe we will have moved a step closer to a classroom where thinking, reasoning and learning is revered.

Do you agree with reasoning as a discipline tool?

Read more by Adele Hamilton
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