Monday, March 14, 2016

Brutalise the child, brutalise the future

I have no idea how pain or fear are supposed to "educate" a child about respect, responsibility and the ABCs. I may have suffered the wrath of my teachers when I was a boy and I may have turned out reasonably respectful, responsible and fully aware of much of my ABCs, but what stays with me of that period is the fear that some teachers evoked (that means you, Ms Jane) and the shame I felt when I was bent over a desk and that fan-belt imprinted fresh welts on my gluteus maximus. Yet I was quite fortunate; the welts faded and I never suffered broken skin or broken bones. It may have been painful, but it was never life-threatening.

That seems to be no longer the case. Over the past month, schoolchildren have been gravely injured at the hands of their teachers and some have died. This is not even counting the number of children who have been sexually abused by their teachers or by older children right under the noses of their teachers. It doesn't seem to matter whether these offences are taking place in state-funded or private schools; children seem to be in increasing danger from their own schools.

When the Government intervened and outlawed corporal punishment, it was because the violence against children had reached crisis levels. More and more children were being hospitalised because of the violence they suffered at the hands of their teachers and fellow students. There were increasing cases of permanent disability and death because of the violence. Parents were at a loss and the pressure on the Government to do something was intense. Something had to give. What we got was a blanket ban on corporal punishment. Or so we thought.

The Government, the Teachers Service Commission that is, is not as feared as it once was. Videos and eye-witness testimony remind us everyday that children continue to be at risk of systemic violence in their schools. The Government and the TSC continue to ignore what is being normalised: the brutalisation of children and the inculcation of the lesson that violence solves all problems. It is no surprise, really, when children seek, then, to find ways to decompress through high-risk, low-reward acts like under-age alcohol and drugs use, unprotected, casual sexual encounters and other acts of rebellion and incorrigibility. Incidences of children being detained by police in dens of vice are on the increase as are cases not only of teen pregnancies but also teen STIs.

It isn't enough to blame parents for not being available to their children anymore; most parents trust that the adults in charge at their children's schools are well-trained and capable of treating the ankle-biters as the curious and rebellious beings they are, instead of problems to be smashed into submission. Well-trained teachers know never to take out their frustrations in life on children. We seem to be living in a world full of mediocre teachers with poor social skills and terrible child-management training. In this world, male teachers see nothing wrong in caning the bottoms of young girls, female teachers are OK with breaking arm and cracking heads, and heads of institutions are overwhelmed and worried about budget shortfalls and other administrative headaches. No one seems to care that by brutalising children we are brutalising our world too.

There will come a time when we will egret standing idly by as things went to hell in a handbasket. I have a feeling we are on the threshold of a monumental shift in the way children are socialised and how they socialise each other. Mediation of the conflicts inherent in hormonal teenagers will be through the prism of a violence-first psyche. When they become young adults, theirs will be a dystopian adulthood: hit first, hit fast and hit hard in order to just not survive, but prevail. Or you think the violence that mars student elections at universities is bred of the political atmosphere of the country?

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