Posted by: jmark | February 6, 2007

Food for thought – Spare the Rod

Corporal punishment in schools has been banned for 25 years, according to a report on last Friday’s RTE news. Are we the better for it being gone?

The reporter interviewed a series of older people who had experience of the ruler or the strap at school. Every one affirmed that it wasn’t pleasant but it hadn’t done them any real harm. The reporter then spoke to a group of school children and asked, “Would you like to have been hit for doing something wrong?” – understandably none were terribly enthused with the idea.

I find it interesting the way reporters reveal their bias by the way they ask their questions and to whom they ask them. Who in their right mind asks anyone if they would like to be disciplined? Also choice of the word ‘hit’ has a far wider range of connotations than getting a smack with a ruler. It could mean a solid blow to the head. This loads the issue even further. As for “something wrong” – the impression given is that you could get a battering for not being able to spell antidisestablishmentarianism, rather than for misbehaving and disrupting class.

Now I would accept that there were teachers who were cruel, violent and sadistic and who abused the power they had. I accept that corporal punishment may have been used unfairly on those who had learning difficulties. But the solution is not to remove the power to discipline; instead it is to remove the teacher who abuses the power, and to see that punishment is used appropriately and sparingly.

The report then went on to talk about the new and improved ways of enforcing discipline and finished with the telling line, “In the absence of corporal punishment, schools have had to find other ways of enforcing discipline, which is an even bigger issue now than it was 25 years ago.”

So discipline is an even bigger problem 25 years after the abolishing of corporal punishment than it was when we had corporal punishment – I wonder what has caused this?

Could it possibly be the abolition of corporal punishment?

There is an “emperor’s new clothes” mentality about all this. We go on and on about what a wonderfully advanced society we have here in Ireland, and all the while discipline in schools, behaviour in our towns and respect for law and order are going to the dogs.

Can we not see the connection – we have removed the power of the state to discipline and punish criminals properly, we have removed the power of educators to discipline pupils effectively, and we are pursuing the path of preventing parents from disciplining their own children effectively – and we wonder why we have problems with discipline at every level?

Like the two little boys in Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tale of the emperor, the Bible points out the obvious. It says, “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid” (Proverbs 12:1). That applies not just to those who don’t like being disciplined, but to all who would seek to remove and forbid proper discipline. The well-known adage, “Spare the rod and spoil the child” is from the book of Proverbs (13:24), which also says, “The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother.” (Proverbs 29:15).

The reason we have discipline problems in society at large is because we have ignored God’s word on the issue. First we ignored his guidelines for how discipline should be done. Now we are ignoring his commands for discipline altogether.

The conclusion? When we fail to build our lives around the maker’s instruction manual we shouldn’t then wonder why everything seems to fall apart.

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