Dhaka, Thu, Aug 2017

Opinion

New study declares corporal punishment ineffective and inappropriate

28 November 2016,Monday, 10:08



SIR FRANK PETERS

Anyone who believes corporal punishment to children in schools is counter-productive to classroom discipline and potentially damaging – psychologically and physically – to students, are not alone.

Dr. Elizabeth Gershoff, a developmental psychologist at the University of Texas at Austin, together with Sarah Font, assistant professor of psychology at Pennsylvania State University, recently completed a study that analysed data from the U.S. Department of Education Civil Rights Office.

They set out to pinpoint the prevalence of corporal punishment in schools, and were shocked by the results.

The blaring racial disparities in how corporal punishment is meted out in the USA alarmed them most. African American boys are on the receiving end of the inhuman cruelty more often than their white counterparts.

“More than half the school districts in Mississippi, Arkansas, and Alabama, use corporal punishment, a level that surprised me,” said Dr. Gershoff.

“I had assumed it would be only a few pockets of districts within each state that still used corporal punishment, but the district-level data we analysed made clear the practice is much more widespread,” she said.

Shockingly, children with disabilities are also at greater risk, her study revealed. These students are more than 50% more likely to be subjected to corporal punishment than their counterparts without disabilities in 67% of districts in Alabama, 44% in Arkansas, 46% in Mississippi, and 36% in Tennessee.

“The extent of the disparities by gender, race, and particularly disability status were quite surprising and very troubling,” says Dr. Gershoff.

The American National Education Association is opposed to corporal punishment, calling it “ineffective” and “harmful” and is actively seeking a national ban.

The use of physical force (corporal punishment) on a student intended to correct misbehaviour has long been proved by literally thousands of studies worldwide to be an ineffective and inappropriate school disciplinemeasure.

If corporal punishment is ineffective and harmful, one wonders why it’s still employed in schools, especially in remote rural areas?

Dr. Gershoff contributes this to the ignorance of the school headmasters.

“They permit corporal punishment in schools because they think it is effective. They do this purely on gut feeling, without hard evidence,” she says.

“For many, the appeal of corporal punishment is that it almost always gets a reaction from children, which sends an immediate signal to parents or educators that they were able to get their point across, but that’s not true.

“What the adult cannot see is that either the child did not internalize how they should behave in the future, or they are resentful of being physically harmed and emotionally shamed, and days or weeks later they repeat or even escalate their misbehaviour,” said Gershoff.

“Corporal punishment is totally ineffective in changing a child’s behaviour, but in the process it may cause great damage to the child physically and psychologically,” she added.

In 2011 Supreme Court justices Md. Imman Ali and Md. Sheikh Hasan Arif introduced a law in Bangladesh to protect the school children from such outmoded ignorant practices. They declared corporal punishment to be “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and a clear violation of a child’s fundamental right to life, liberty and freedom”. Unfortunately – like in the USA – there are still lawbreakers here within the noble teaching profession who are unable to shake off their beliefs founded on ignorance.

If corporal punishment is totally ineffective and damages the child, as thousands of comprehensive studies have concluded, what’s the benefit of its use except, perhaps, appeasing the sadistically minded perpetrators?

The ignorance of some should not domineer and dictate the physical and mental health of the children; it stands to commonsense that corporal punishment must stop. And if that means summarily discharging the perpetrators from the school system, so be it.

Sir Frank Peters is a former newspaper and magazine publisher and editor, a humanitarian, and foreign friend of Bangladesh.

 

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