In the nineteenth century, poet William Wordsworth lamented the growing materialism of modern age in his sonnet, ‘The World is too much with Us’. “Late and soon, getting and spending we lay waste our powers,” he asserted. Today we may speak of intellectual materialism in our school campuses which give undue stress to intellectual achievement, relegating to the dustbin all other aspects of education. This turns the educative system of ours schools anemic and school campuses into a heady cocktail of violence, corruption, rat race, irreverence and impoverished values.
If in the days of Charles Dickens and Oliver Goldsmith students quaked before headmasters and teachers, today educators flinch from the daggers and guns carried by students. Recently a teachers’ association in a Tamil Nadu district demanded from the government support, like doctors and physical security, in the discharge of their duties. The hoary guru-shishya relationship has vanished from school atmosphere and the commercial model of service providers and consumers has taken over. Students attacking teachers in classrooms or assaulting principals in school assemblies is no more rare.
Some factors which could have led to this explosive situation could be the absence of prayer and of moral science classes, the business model of education, profiteering, emotional illiteracy, neglect of physical education, the exclusive focus on scoring high marks, extended school hours both before and after class, blanking out of co-curricular activities, bankruptcy of human values etc. This unhealthy campus atmosphere results from pressure exerted by overambitious parents.
Discipline and punishment is an area which needs a close scrutiny today. In an age when discipline is undervalued it has to be all the more reasonable. Harsh punishments harden the young and make them rebellious and revengeful. Punishments should be curative rather than punitive. They must aim at correction and reform rather than crushing and deforming. Where there is a moral atmosphere reasonable discipline will be accepted without resentment. When an educator is seen as a good and reliable friend an adolescent would eagerly comply with his wishes.
There is an edifying incident from the boyhood of Don Bosco in this context. One day when his mother Mamma Margaret was out in the fields little Bosco and his brother explored the cookies kept on a high shelf. In their attempt to lay their hands on a jar it crashed and broke into pieces. Little Johnny met his mother before she could enter the house and make the discovery, and giving her the cane asked for punishment. When the puzzled mother asked him for an explanation he narrated the misadventure and held out his hand for the cane lash. The proud mother refrained from using the cane and hugged her little boy.
Don Bosco, the great educator, has repeatedly warned against humiliating adolescents in public. Corrections should be in private and done in a calm manner, not with frayed temper. An adolescent has a very touchy ego which is easily pricked. Any demeaning act in public registers deep in his memory and he is likely to take revenge without thinking of the consequences or caring about them. This explains why some students even carry a knife or a gun in their school bags waiting for a suitable opportunity to strike at their target.
Today it has become dangerous even to ask the youngster to bring the parent to the school. In some such cases neither parent nor student will ever return to the school. This seems to be more common among girls who either drop out of school or take their lives. In these days of easy electronic communication it would be far more prudent for the teacher or principal to communicate directly with the parent and summon him rather than ask the student to bring him. Physical education teachers need to exercise discretion in exacting discipline. Grueling tasks and punishments may have disastrous consequences like injury to health or worse in today’s low stamina student population. And headmasters need to monitor the happenings in physical education activities.
St. Francis de Sales, the doctor of meekness and gentleness, is a shining example of effective correction. The learned bishop had a cook who was a habitual drunkard. Repeated words of advice and admonition had no effect on him. He would be profuse in making promises but would as easily forget them.
One day the gentleman bishop hit upon a novel strategy. On a day the cook was heavily drunk, the bishop carried him and put him in his own bed and tucked the sheets snugly around him. Then he lay down on the floor and slept on a mat. The cook woke up late in the morning and upon opening his hazy eyes was flabbergasted at seeing himself in a great bed and in most unfamiliar surroundings. Still under his hangover he looked closer and realized that he was in the bishop’s bed and the bishop had slept on the floor. Promptly he knelt before the bishop covered with embarrassment and shame and solemnly promised never to touch the bottle again. And he was as good as his word.
As Don Bosco said time and again, the educator must never punish in anger, in a fit of passion or wounded pride. The uncontrolled explosion of emotion on such occasions would make it impossible for the student to realize his mistake and he would fault the educator for lack of emotional control. Some parents have the mistaken notion that unless they use bad words in scolding they would not be taken seriously. Naturally in such cases the children would pick up reprehensible bad language from the parents themselves.
Some simple forms of punishments can work wonders. Not smiling back at the student, not returning a greeting, denial of some small privileges etc. would be sufficient. Finally we could train our wards to have emotional resilience and stamina which makes them take punishments in their stride or even creatively work around them like the resourceful Tom Sawyer in Mark Twain. He was able to turn Aunt Polly’s Saturday morning work punishment into a wall painting carnival shrewdly turning scoffers into willing volunteers for his tedious work.(Published on 26th February 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 09)