Making a case for discipline without corporal punishment

An issue that should concern educators in this country is the fact that the list of cases in which teachers physically abuse students gets longer every year. Although in many cases the perpetrators argue that what they did was punishment for a students’ misbehavior, the actions themselves often go far beyond the definition of so-called corporal punishment – the infliction of physical force on the body.

The idea of corporal punishment probably has its roots in the work of B.F. Skinner. His theory maintains that our behavior will weaken or even vanish if the stimuli and the consequences we receive are not pleasant. The reverse is also true, we repeat our behavior when the stimuli and the consequences are pleasant.

By imposing physical force on the body, which is experienced as an adverse stimulus by the wrongdoer, those teachers believe the undesirable behavior will stop. The problem is, are they aware of the many negative consequences of corporal punishment?

Research indicates that corporal punishment may cause psychological damage, lead to child abuse, or trigger aggressive and anti-social behavior.

Corporal punishment is also often used to an extreme. Just like any other form of punishment, it has the potential to be abused by teachers as an instant remedy for misbehavior. Teachers may use it without necessarily considering its adverse consequences or the roots of the behavioral problems.

Another weakness is the nature of punishment in general. It can be easily and quickly administered and often produces a rapid suppression of the undesired behavior, but teachers may fall into the habit of resulting to punishment when it may not be entirely necessary.

Another important question that rises is this: Is there another method of punishment that is as effective in ensuring students are well-behaved but less damaging? This question requires teachers to use an entirely different approach to discipline. One common misconception of schools and teachers is that students will automatically know and understand what behavior expected of them without explanation, and as a result, they do not find it necessary to communicate and teach them the rules.

But this might not be the case. Students may not understand what the school expects of them. The school must clearly communicate and teach desired behaviors to them. This is one approach that many schools use and research shows it is effective in drastically reducing misbehavior.

Another possible approach is creating a caring and respectful environment that relies on teachers to serve as role models, provide effective instruction and create an enjoyable classroom focused on positive reinforcement for students.

Caring teachers are living examples from whom students can learn respect and care for one another. If teachers have respect for students, the likelihood is that students will also have respect for others. Herein lies a teachers power to set an example for students and build a school culture of care and respect.

Effective instruction and an enjoyable classroom environment, in addition, keep students focused on their study. Every minute of their interaction with the teacher and their classmates will be such a wonderful experience for them that there would be little room left for them to misbehave.

Schools really need to start to think of implementing a combination of the approaches to discipline illustrated above in order to gradually reduce the use of corporal punishment. The large number of cases in which corporal punishment has led teachers to commit acts of violence is a good reason for schools to ban it for good. The government can help schools stop the use of corporal punishment by making a law against it.

(Written by Benedictus Widi Nugroho, posted in The Jakarta Post, Saturday, 27 June 2009)


~ oleh berbagiasa pada 11 Agustus 2010.

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