“Children begin by loving their parents; as they grow older they judge them; sometimes they forgive them.” - Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray
There are subjectivities in life. Subjectivities are not distortions, but beauties which the Creator has lent to this world so that we may enjoy it in myriad ways, with no scope of monotony. Our great misfortune, however, lies in the fact that we standardize life. We think our way of thinking supreme. And once convinced, we seek to impose our way on the rest of the world. One category which always emerges at the receiving end of this order is that of minors. Their innocence breaks our heart, but more often than not, we come across cases where the same innocence, or lack of worldly knowledge and etiquettes, becomes a reason for them being subjected to rigorous and cruel castigation. Corporal punishment, of which we have gotten used to reading in papers, is perhaps the worst way employed to shape a child’s psyche or to do the so called good deed of disciplining him.
In a leading national daily, I recently read a horrifying account of what the cane-approach to disciplining a child can do. It can lead to his death. Yes. And the death of a child is an enormously saddening loss of potential and possibilities. A stray incident of callousness enraged a hapless child’s father so much that he dealt a quick blow at the back of the child’s tender head. The father, of course, by being a stickler and allowing no room for inconsistencies, was in his way, ‘disciplining’ his child. The only loophole which emerged in the whole exercise was that the child died. At this is the kind of incident which does not gain media mileage like instances of corporal punishment inflicted on students in large public schools do. Mass memory is short lived, yes, but can we really forget those many cases in which a teacher’s short temper led him to physically abuse a child and in the process severely dent his psychological well-being as well?
Our educational set up follows the dogma of in loco parentis, whereby the school authorities have the same rights over a child as their parents. In a bid to mentor and shape future of children with similar zeal, teachers have been known to use infliction of pain as a tool to make them follow rules absolutely. A slap on the cheek and cane-blows on fists are thought to be miraculous devices which can, with minimum effort, reform a minor and make him a good student all of a sudden. These physical assaults are many a times reflexes of a teacher who prides himself for his no-nonsense attitude. At other times, public shaming is also employed as a pre-meditated and rationalized method to set right what could have in actuality been simple acts of naughtiness. The effects of ignominy are not entirely unknown to school or parental authorities. Rather than reform, they cause a child to withdraw, to be distrustful and to lose faith in himself. Incomplete homework, talking while lecture, inability to answer in class, low scores or committing mischief – any of these can invite severe retributions, disproportionately higher than the supposed ‘crime’. Yes, plain naughtiness or intrinsic incapabilities are crime for today’s students who are expected to ace the break-neck competition with their peers. Besides inflicting obvious punishments, I personally feel it is a great folly on the part of teachers when they establish gradations in their batch of students. Yes, it is good to set examples from within students, but not to the extent that it fosters disharmony and ill-will. There is some talent inherently present in each student; a teacher (and even parents) are responsible for helping their pupil realize and nurture it.
I was lucky to have studied in one of the best public schools in Delhi, which honored tradition as much as it endeavored to keep pace with the racing times. I, personally, have not witnessed any incident where my teachers resorted to corporal punishment of any sort to ensure compliance. In fact, my school was the kind where talents were given a fecund climate to prosper and each child identified for his merit. However, I have known friends whose teachers have left no stone unturned to make them feel like they are a liability on this planet. I also know parents for whom red chilli paste is the formula for ensuring highest grades. At other places, in the name of tradition, students/minors are not allowed to embrace changing weather of the day. They are curbed, controlled, shamed and two firm deductions which I can draw from all the above is –
1. Using reprimands, coercion, imposition, control, etc as devices to curb students from treading down the road deemed harmful for them is almost like making sure they go there. Nascent brains are supple and obdurate at the same time. Yes, they can be and should be molded, but putting them under sudden pressure just makes them go on the defensive, eventually closing them to any contradictory (and right) opinions.
2. Even when he indulges in a wrongful deed, for once trying to understand why a child did it, using forgiveness in place of rebukes opens up an opportunity for an elder to mentor him for better actions in the future. When he sees concern and not anger, a young adult would feel secure, and then not just listen to your advice, but may be seek it too.
This is not to say that elders are always right, but as far as I go, I feel they have an exclusive responsibility towards understanding the psyche of the generation they are nurturing towards maturity. A child can do wrong. He will do wrong. He has to do wrong – otherwise, how will he learn, grow and mature?
Are you all aware of a helpline (1098) dedicated to protecting children against abuse, which includes harassment by his teacher? And here I was thinking that it is school is supposed to be that protective environment in which a child may explore his infinite possibilities. Ironical, isn’t it?
A child has often been likened to clay. He is like putty which bears and impression of everything it comes in touch with. He sees and observes and derives conclusions for himself. He trusts easily; but when chastised without explanation he can be confused and disoriented and can end up hating the very forces which are in a position to shape his future. The impressions a child’s mind forms in his early years of life are carried on throughout life. They go on to shape the person he eventually becomes. The responsibility on the shoulders of parents, thus, is superlative. This responsibility is not to control – which is what it is mostly misconstrued as – but to allow blossoming of a child’s potential. Given the present scenario, I do not think it is a child, but his mentors who need to be set right.
(Originally written for Scroll360.in )