It’s hard not to be overwhelmed by the barrage of brutality. How many times in the past few days have I felt my stomach turn from the news bombarding us? Rage roars in our space, so free that we can’t help but feel that here and now, everything is collapsing.
Unfortunately, the roots go back far and deep, forged by the multitude of stories that accompany us in our dark moments. Trauma, trauma, everywhere, at all levels; scratch any surface and you’re bound to find horror stories, sometimes stuck and buried, sometimes foaming at the mouth. In one form or another, we come from a culture of violence.
One aspect, derived from the concept of corporal punishment, has been a perpetual obstacle to the existence of mankind. Some time ago, writing about the death penalty, I wrote that: “This planet has always practiced retributive punishment. Some of the sadistic methods suggest that the punishers were quite deranged themselves. People were burned and boiled; buried alive or buried with their heads exposed for animals to feast on; lynched; quartered; thrown to the lions; chased by dogs; crucified; crushed, decapitated; dismembered; drowned; stoned, all in the name of the laws.
I can’t help but remember it now.
The very idea of corporal punishment is based on inflicting physical harm on others. It has been used wildly and regularly in schools, homes and the penal system. Flogging, whipping, caning, those brutal “beatings” were activities that accompanied visits to the dens of directors; teachers were also often vigorous enforcers of “disciplinary” measures. Parents and guardians used all the tools at hand; the licks flowed with anger, and no restraint was needed. The nine-tailed cat, described as a piece of braided rope with nine straps designed to lacerate skin, was commonly used in prisons around the world.
The violence came from all places meant to protect and nurture; churches were insidious spaces for sexual abuse. Nowhere was sacrosanct. Worse, it was ingrained and routine, institutionalized and sanctified as the path to morality.
Beat them into submission. And the righteous complied.
When my daughter was a student at the Center for Specialized Learning, perhaps around 2001, the school sent a circular to the parents, asking them if they gave their consent to corporal punishment. I replied that I definitely disagreed, and furthermore, I found it very disturbing that the school could not offer further disciplinary action. About a year later, while I was doing the evening pick-up, her classmates came en masse to inform me that the teacher had pelted her with a chalkboard duster and hit her repeatedly ( six slaps, according to one) for not paying attention. That was the end of that. I would like to think that the school has evolved since then.
At home, we had worked out house rules, nothing onerous or rigid; it’s just about establishing agreed codes of conduct. I encouraged her to devise penalties for infractions. It was very fun for me. She was a very tough taskmaster. I remember asking her once why she didn’t watch Samurai X, one of her favorite TV shows, and she calmly replied that she had been banned from it for two weeks. I had forgotten about it, but she was diligently applying the punishment she had invented.
There are many ways to teach consequences. It seems to me that by engaging children in such discussions, they can better understand our responsibilities as human beings living within a society. The problem is that generations have grown up under the tyranny of the rod; have learned to attribute their “success” to the number of times their parents have straightened them out with a good beating. Look at me, they say, I’m doing fine. If you hold that to be true, why would you bother to think of imparting another way of learning?
People say the reason there is so much violence in schools is that corporal punishment is no longer on the curriculum. We imbibed this idea that physically hurting someone is an effective way to inflict disciplinary measures, when it only teaches that violence is a solution.
Violence – physical, mental, emotional, sexual – destroys every element of what we call our humanity. It disfigures us, leaving lifelong scars that can rupture at the slightest trigger. Children, dropped into a school system that is sadly unprepared to feed them, carry the residual stains of months and months in confined confinement spaces that have been contaminated with frustration, rage and dysfunction.
Do we know what they had to endure within the walls of their houses? Can we imagine how common abusive environments are? You arrive at school with your ears ringing, your stomach growling, your rage festering, and even a strong breeze could knock you into a killing frenzy.
As appalling as it is to see what is happening in schools, we need to step back and examine the nature of the environments we have provided for our children. We disappointed them.
The nationwide abuse scandal in children’s homes is not new; we think it only appears now, but we must know that too many people knew and did nothing, said nothing. It is mind-boggling to imagine such criminal negligence. A disgrace and a disgrace.
• Author Vaneisa Baksh is an editor, writer and cricket historian.
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