24 Jan 2008

Discipline - and challenges

How many of us Trinidadian natives, attending primary school were fortunate enough to learn things such as the pledge of allegiance, the three 'watch words' of the country, and other such sundry bits?

Now it may not count for much in today's world, but somehow I like to think that by instilling these little lessons in my skull, my teachers help to shape me into the man I am today.

I am not sure if they teach these in schools any more; maybe if any of my readers in Trinidad are teachers, one can enlighten us all.

I started thinking about how school life, children, and society differed 30 years ago, to what it is now. Today I saw an article about a boy, a schoolboy in school, beating a fellow student and her pregnant mother! In my day, he'd have the skin peeled off his behind by both teachers and also his parents at home, if they were the responsible type. And trust me, he would learn not to do it again.

Now I am not advocating beating children - I've never had a reason to raise my hand to Punks. I've always been one to negotiate, and to point out the error of her ways. And because she is mature enough to understand what I want and how it benefits her, we do get to a mutually agreeable solution. She is quite well behaved, as anyone who knows her can attest.

One reason this came about is the reason I disagree with beating children - when they are young, between the ages of, let's say, 1 to about 7 or 8, there is no point in beating a child - s/he simply is not old enough to understand why s/he is being punished. I see this as more confusing at this age.

That started my trend of looking for alternatives... I came up with unique solutions. If Punks wanted to play with her toys she had to learn to put them away after - else she lost them. I showed her I put them in the bin (later I would retrieve them) and so she learnt there were consequences to her inaction. For her to see a movie, she has to read for 1 hour... And yes, I do indulge her more than most.

But I have always thought that if I do have to physically punish a child, then after 8 or 9 would be the age... that's when the ability to reason and learn is being developed and a connection can be made from a wrong deed and subsequent punishment or rewards.

I now work with English school children, mainly Asian and Black. And I can safely say I have never, ever seen this level of indiscipline and bad behaviour ever, in my entire life.

The challenge is, how do we instil values in them? At age 12 and above, these kids are past the nurturing stage I went through with Punks. They have fixed habits of getting into trouble - I see the same faces everyday in detention. Their parents are irresponsible - calls to the home go unanswered, they refuse to come in and even when they do, they refuse to discipline the child. It is easier to blame the school, the teacher and then sue us for seeking to make their little hooligan into a respected member of society.

(In this respect, parents in Trinidad and Tobago are still more responsible.)

Detention does not work. When you are this age, what's a few hours out of your time? You have a whole lifetime ahead. Copying lines? No problem. Miss classes? Cool! This challenge has no easy solution, I know.

You can't beat them anymore - chances are they'd come back in a gang anyway and knife or shoot you.

I am baffled though - how and when did society 'tief' our children, and their innocence? And how did we let them get away with it, without even a murmur of protest?