Spare the Child and Spoil the Rod
Is punishment an essential part of teaching?
Education without pain is the mode the modern world has accepted. This is supported by psychological considerations and the necessity of keeping the creative capability of the child intact.
But what is called for if a child needs emotional correction? It is alright if the ‘texts’ are taught as and how the child can take them and at a pace the child can cope with. It is essential that the ‘topics’ are made interesting by all and every means imaginable. However, emotional correction is a different cup of tea. It is not very easy to carry out.
Here again physical punishment is of course to be done away with. But can one think of banning emotional punishment too?
I am reminded of two of my teachers, one at the primary level and the other at the secondary.
The former taught mathematics. One day, he gave us a problem to work out as soon as he came after lunch and went into siesta. We were not to do anything in a hurry. If anyone solved the problem and woke him up with it one was inviting a couple of lashes irrespective of whether the answer was right or wrong!
The latter who never wielded a cane commanded respect and obedience with his impeccable behaviour. His body language, gestures, voice and facial expression together with the furrows on his forehead indicated whether he liked or not what anyone did.
We wanted to please him. Not that he gave us any presents. He didn’t. But his approval was precious to us. I don’t know how he managed it but he invariably did. The most important fact was he was always just. He frowned about things that we had already found bad.
I remember the day I was asked to fetch a spirit lamp from the science lab and happened to falter and fall on the steps in front of the class. Glass splintered and spirit spluttered on his spotless dress covering it with splotches of yellow.
It wasn’t physical pain that hurt me; it was the tidal wave of the sense of failure.
He got me up holding my arm and smiled.
“It’s all right,” he said, “if you are fine!”
He took me to the lab, swabbed the scratches on my knees with antiseptic tincture and declared: ‘To fall is human.’
A classmate of mine used to bite his nails. One day the teacher took him to the staff room. He got free of the habit as if by magic!
Later it was revealed that he was told: “I love my students but I don’t think I can stand them biting their nails or using bad language.”
Another classmate used to ask permission to go to the comfort room, enter the student dining room instead and eat whatever he found convenient from any lunch box deposited there by whosoever.
He was caught by the school watchman and brought to the class teacher.
The teacher conducted the trial in private inside the lab. There was no punishment meted out but there was no theft of any food thereafter. Lunch for the child was brought from the teacher’s house there on. It seems he had no means to bring any on his own and was going hungry.
I had the good fortune to interview this teacher of mine for a TV channel on his 100th birthday.
I asked him what he thought made him the kind of teacher he was.
Pat came the answer: “I love my students.”
So there we are.
Teachers can spare anything and everything except their
love for the taught and the sacrosanct profession.