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Feb. 15, 2008

Distant discipline

by Emily Hsiao, Online Managing Editor
Sitting in a third-grade classroom in India eight years ago, junior Srinivas Vasudevan watched two children as they were forced to squat in front of the class and shake their feet from side to side while pulling on each other's earlobes. Vasudevan's teacher was punishing the students for stealing his pencil sharpener. Not only was this humiliating treatment a form of physical punishment, but also a form of demeaning degradation, which has been shown to leave emotional scars.
Senior Doris Tawiah wears her school uniform and poses with her lunch box in Ghana. 
<i>Photo courtesy of Doris Tawiah.</i>
Senior Doris Tawiah wears her school uniform and poses with her lunch box in Ghana. Photo courtesy of Doris Tawiah.


Although many students in the United States cannot imagine being physically punished for misbehaving, Vasudevan's story is not unique, even in America. Maryland banned corporal punishment, or physical punishment, in 1993, but is only one of 29 states to do so, according to the National Coalition to Abolish Corporal Punishment in Schools web site. School officials worldwide use corporal punishment to maintain order and punish poor academic performance on a daily basis, according to the Human Rights Watch web site. Blair students who come from foreign schools where such punishment is common face adapting to a new culture while leaving behind strict and oftentimes emotionally scarring discipline.

Teaching a lesson

Until she moved to the United States in 2002, senior Doris Tawiah attended a public school in Takoradi, the third-largest city in Ghana, where corporal punishment was common. Tawiah says students were motivated to learn because of the strict environment. "In school, everybody tried their best because nobody wanted to get beaten," Tawiah explains. "If the teacher felt you weren't doing your best, they'd beat you with a cane."

Freshman Mala Singh observed similar punishments in Trinidad's public schools for reasons such as wearing the wrong school uniform or not completing homework. "If you do something wrong, the teachers either slap or beat you with a ruler on your hand or anywhere," she says.

In China, teachers used violent threats as well as physical punishment to motivate and scare students into obedience, according to senior Ginny Lee, who attended school in the Guangdong Province. When Lee was five or six years old, she saw a teacher aggressively threaten a student with a pocket knife. "The kid wasn't paying attention so the teacher took a pocket knife and was holding the student's ear and like threatening to cut if off or something," Lee says with shock. "Everyone was silent and just looking at it."

Senior Doris Tawiah has grown accustomed to life in American schools.  
<i>Photo courtesy of Doris Tawiah.</i>
Senior Doris Tawiah has grown accustomed to life in American schools. Photo courtesy of Doris Tawiah.
In addition to discipline from teachers, upperclassmen in some countries also took it upon themselves to keep younger children in line. Sophomore Chonnipa Hongjaisee, who moved from Thailand in 2005, recalls that older students commonly abused freshmen in high school. "In Thailand, the freshmen have to be really respectful to the seniors or they were punished by the seniors," Hongjaisee says with wide eyes.

Students have been expelled for bullying, but usually administrators have a hard time getting victims to admit they were bullied, according to Hongjaisee. "They're scared that if they speak out they'll be punished another time," she says. "I have a friend who acted badly so the seniors beat him up. But when the administrator asked, he just said he fell down the stairs."

Some students who grow up observing and experiencing physical punishment may come to accept this kind of discipline, but may feel strong mental after effects.

Deserved discipline?

Professionals and victims find that physical punishment can cause more than temporary pain, as punitive measures may harm students' mental well-being and self-esteem. Christine Yeh, an Associate Professor from the Counseling Psychology Department at the University of San Francisco, researches cross-cultural issues related to counseling psychology. Yeh believes that because of the prominent role school plays in a young adult's life, corporal chastisement can leave a lasting impression and be emotionally detrimental. "Children and teens spend the majority of their time in school," she says. "It's a major socializing factor. It's not just about what you're learning academically."

Yeh points out that repeated abusive reprimands can actually cause students to withdraw from school, feel uncomfortable and even rebel against society ó proof that mental after-effects of physical punishment last longer than the pain of the punishment itself. Singh is just one child who felt the mental wounds of the fear instilled by inhumane disciplinary techniques. "It made me shy because you were scared to say something wrong," Singh says. "There was a fear."

Sophomore Chonnipa Hongjaisee stands at the far left with a group of friends from Thailand in seventh grade.  In her school, the girls were required to wear knee-length or longer skirts, white socks and blue ribbons to tie up their hair.  They were also forbidden from wearing jewelry.  
<i>Photo courtesy of Chonnipa Hongjaisee.</i>
Sophomore Chonnipa Hongjaisee stands at the far left with a group of friends from Thailand in seventh grade. In her school, the girls were required to wear knee-length or longer skirts, white socks and blue ribbons to tie up their hair. They were also forbidden from wearing jewelry. Photo courtesy of Chonnipa Hongjaisee.
Psychiatrist Gustavo Goldstein, member of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, explains how ridicule can be even more disastrous for children than the physical punishment itself. "There is nothing more important to a growing child than how his peers look upon him," he says. "More than the physical punishment itself, sometimes the psychological and emotional issues would have to be a cause of concern."

Vasudevan feels that his teacher's punishment for his fellow classmates was meant to be cruelly humiliating. "It was kind of scary because you could see the teacher laughing and the kids were crying," he says. "She was encouraging us to laugh too."

It was clear to Vasudevan that his teacher did not give his peers any respect. In the United States, the situation is reversed, and many foreign students wonder whether education and teachers are valued enough.

A little respect

Leaving behind the harsh retribution of schools in their native countries, immigrant students are shocked by drastically different student-teacher relationships in the United States. While education and teachers are viewed with more respect in several other countries, the United States seems to have fallen a bit short, according to Goldstein. He says the United States only pretends to care about education. "America has consistently been rated at the bottom of civilized countries in the role of education," he claims. "Everybody will pay lip service to education but no one will support it."

Upon entering seventh grade at Silver Spring International Middle School, Tawiah experienced America's "lip service" and reduced rigidity in the classroom. "When my teacher asked me questions in my first class, I stood up and answered the questions because that's what you do in Ghana, but all the students started laughing at me and the teacher told me it was okay to sit down when I answered questions," Tawiah recollects.

Sophomore Chonnipa Hongjaisee, front center, poses with her seventh grade friends and their homeroom teacher in front of a library in Thailand.  
<i>Photo courtesy of Chonnipa Hongjaisee.</i>
Sophomore Chonnipa Hongjaisee, front center, poses with her seventh grade friends and their homeroom teacher in front of a library in Thailand. Photo courtesy of Chonnipa Hongjaisee.
Junior Jagpreet Kaur, a student who moved from India six years ago, relates to Tawiah's experience of culture shock. Coming from a society that highly respects education, Kaur is still astonished about how Americans seem to take their schooling for granted. "Over there, education is a big thing. If you drop a book, you have to kiss a book to show respect," Kaur explains. "Over here, people throw books on the floor on purpose because they don't respect education because they are getting it for free. In India, you have to pay."

Just as educational values differ with different cultures, views on corporal punishment vary as well. Kaur's belief in the respect for academics is so strong that she thinks U.S. schools are not harsh enough with students. "Kids over here basically don't have respect for anything and there's no discipline," she says. "I think that they should be allowed to hit kids when they get really out of control."

Kaur's point of view reveals that not everyone believes physical discipline is harmful for students. While many human rights organizations advocate the banning of corporal punishment, people cannot forget that everyone's views on discipline are dependent on their cultures. Foreign students may be used to the emotionally scarring discipline in their countries because the punishments were a part of their daily lives. "If students are expecting the punishment, it will not affect them," says Goldstein. "Students can be accepting of this kind of culture."



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  • wow on February 16, 2008 at 3:32 PM
    great story
  • Ben Flom on February 16, 2008 at 3:45 PM
    I think if teachers beat students, we wouldn't have many of the problems we do today in schools.
  • hah on February 16, 2008 at 11:34 PM
    Flom, I totally agree.
  • Beat Kid (View Email) on February 19, 2008 at 9:52 AM
    I was beaten black and blue at home and at school, and the only thing it ever taught me was to hate and mistrust authority. I dropped out of school and ran away from home the day I turned fifteen and was old enough to work.

    Corporal punishment didnít work thirty years ago and it still doesnít work today. If it did, then we would expect the twenty-one states which still allow it to have the best academic performance and the best behaved children in the nation. Unfortunately, exactly the opposite is true. The two worst performing districts in North Carolina, based on measures such as high-school drop outs, teen pregnancy, and juvenile delinquency are the two counties which paddle the most students. On the other hand the school boards in the top five performing districts in the state have all banned corporal punishment. The same is true in Florida and all around the nation.

    Why should that be? Well, itís not just that corporal punishment doesnít work Ė itís the fact that experienced educators KNOW that it doesnít work and refuse to work in schools where it is in use. Consider that educators who favor paddling have half as much education on average as those who oppose it. They also tend to be younger than age thirty, to have never been parents, and to have less than five years of teaching experience.

    What should truly terrify parents is that many teachers and administrators in paddling districts actually enjoy beating students so much that they passed on better paying jobs in higher performing districts, choosing instead to move to a poor county in another state where they were allowed to beat other peoples kids. Scary.

    By: BeatKid
  • Rigel on February 20, 2008 at 1:16 PM
    Wow what a cool article
  • Student on February 20, 2008 at 5:13 PM
    Respect and fear are two completely different ways of getting a student to listen to a teacher. Fear does not contribute to the learning environment. I am pretty sure none of the children like being beat. If a teacher is unable to convince a student to learn by pointing out the materialís intrinsic value, the teacher does not understand the material well enough and is not fit to be a teacher. If fear is the only motivation to a studentís learning, then the student is not getting an education no matter how well the student does on tests.

    Our school systemís method of punishing students is troubled as well. A schoolís chief purpose is to provide an education to the students. When a student gets suspended, the student wastes a few days and the school is not meeting its chief purpose. Both sides lose. Instead, why does the school not provide support for these students who obviously need help? Help them see the value of an education; these students are not so corrupted and so stupid as to be without hope.
  • (View Email) on February 21, 2008 at 2:20 PM
    really good article! and important stories too
  • Alex (View Email) on March 10, 2008 at 2:40 PM
    I disagree with peopole saying that corporal punishment is bad. When i was a toddler in Russia, my parents spanked be, and i became civilized and obedient. I do not feel any emotional scarring, and neither do any of my friends who experienced corporal punishment. I know a toddler whose parents never punish her, and she is disiobedient and out of control. My Russian school did not punish students phisically, but I am certain that their parents did, and asa a result, we had a good learning atmosphere. In addition, I would like to say that the curriculunm in the U.S. is very weak compared to my old school. I am certain that the language barrier is the only thing that stood in me getting into a Magnet middle school. This is considering the fact that i skipped a grade when i came here.
  • Alex (View Email) on March 10, 2008 at 2:46 PM
    After reading the comments, I realized that i was wrong in my last statement. While teachers need to punish students physically, they cannot overdo it. Such teachers need to be fired immediatly. THis will ensure a better learning enviroment. In addition, schools are too focused on bullying. I don't think teens are old enough to get depression, and those who commited suicide are odd cases. For example, my friend said i'll kill you to someone. That someone knew it was a joke. My friend knew it was a joke. My friend got suspended.
  • Ben Flom on March 19, 2008 at 8:14 AM
    Nobody should get emotional scarring from getting beat by a teacher as a PUNISHMENT. If they DO, it's because they are SPOILED. That's a huge problem in our society, too many kids are too spoiled.

    Plus, let's look at like this. Think about how much time teachers spend yelling at kids. That time could be cut in half with beatings and the other half could be used to actually teach.

    And with regards to why North Carolina has bad schools, I think that may have more to do with the funding those schools get than how their teachers discipline their students. Schools in poorer areas do worse. It's correlation not causation.
  • Smart Student on March 19, 2008 at 2:44 PM
    In a recent study, people who were punished physically as children were determined to be more likely into forcing their partner to have sex with them. This was immidiately seen as a bad side for corpral punishment. Hiwever, ask yourself this: Could it not be possible that the people who were not beaten simply lying. I know the surveys are anonymous, but would you really tell the truth? For all we know, physical punishment may have just made these people more honest.
  • Jon Phoenix Brookstone on May 8, 2008 at 4:20 AM
    Ben Flom, I think you are a flat out idiot. And if you think corporal punishment is such a good thing, go enroll yourself in a school somewhere where hitting students and collective punishment is the norm, get hit a couple dozen times, and tell me whether you better like learning in a climate of fear or nurturing. Students should be thought a love of learning and how to think critically when they're in school. Hitting them does the exact opposite ~ it teaches them to hate school and (oftentimes) accept whatever some authority figure tells them to do blindly. Everyone I met who supports corporal punishment always seems to have anecdotal evidence about the kid they knew who got hit and turned out fine and the kid they knew who didn't get hit and didn't turn out fine. But if you want to prove anything whatsoever about corporal punishment being good, show me your numbers. Show me your research, prove to me that its valid, and then try and make an argument that physical punishment isn't harmful, or scarring. When people say that spanking their kids or students or using corporal punishment makes them more obedient, what they are basing their judgment on is very much an illusion. Physical punishment creates short term physical pain and short term fear. Out of that fear, the student or kid will not do whatever they were hit for doing ~ basic psychological response to avoid pain. But as time from the punishment elapses, the pain and fear go away, and given how the punishment did absolutely nothing to solve whatever caused the problem in the first place, the problem will likely come up again in one form or another. Thus, hitting someone doesn't have much of any long term effect, meaning that it often ends up repeated, and all it does is teach kids and teens, both of whom are still going through significant psychological and cognitive development, that causing physical pain to someone else is ok, that using fear to get your way is ok, and that dominating someone else is what's best when it comes to interpersonal relationships (at least ones between teachers). And it is true that kids who were hit are far more likely to hit their wives, husbands, and kids too. And teachers who yell at their kids are just as bad in many ways as teachers who physically abuse their kids. They both don't teach effectively, teach kids to hate learning instead of enjoy it, and I think are just letting out frustrations with life on whoever they have power to get mad at and get away with making miserable. A decent learning atmosphere is one where students learn because they want to learn, not one where everyone's terrified of pain. As for the North Carolina school data, a question that can be asked is whether the differences between school districts where spanking is\is not allowed is significantly different. You can run certain statistical tests on the data controlling for other factors such as funding levels to see whether the differences are solely because of luck or something else. To Alex: If you think teens or people younger than teens can't get depression, try telling that to my nine year old self when I was staring at a highway and seriously considering running into the traffic. Not everyone grows up with decent parents or a decent family. And growing up with abusive parents, I did not remotely become more honest. I instead learned how to lie, because only through lying and living a lie while I was staying with my parents could I avoid a large amount of pain and salvage some type of normal life when I wasn't around them. And through lying an ongoing campaign of deception that lasted over two years was I finally to escape out of a really abusive, dangerous family situation. I left home and I never looked back. And if you want your students or kids hating you like I hate my parents, go ahead. Hit them. But I'd rather not see the pain I suffered get repeated.
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