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Weighing in on the spare the rod, spoil the child debate

umm Abdillah, Radio Islam Programming – 2014.08.20 | 24 Shawaal 1435

The CEFUPS Academy, a private boarding school, was established in 1992 with an aim of making a remarkable impact in the lives of young South Africans. Situated on a farm 11 kilometres outside Nelspruit, and surrounded by macadamia trees, “far from the prevailing scourges and disturbances from the intruders, thugs and uninvited guests from the nearby locations” it was intended to be a safe place for learning. Since 1992 however, it seems the only impact they’ve been noted to make is of assaulting pupils, right up to their death. The Mpumalanga Education Department is set to close them down pending investigation. Though many parents have complained about the severe beating of their children at the school since 1992, the department’s response has been to backpedal: it could not enforce compliance with the South African Schools Act in private institutions. Since March 2013 regulations force private schools to adhere to the Schools Act – hence the death of one pupil, 19-year-old Paballo Seane, has been changed from an inquest into murder.

Though abolished in 1997, corporal punishment to the point of abuse is a daily occurrence in South Africa. SAHRC commissioner Lindiwe Mokate, says figures from 2012 indicated that 2.2 million children were subjected to corporal punishment in South Africa. The SA Human Rights Commission is currently investigating whether eight-year-old Zolani Gwala’s right to life was violated when he was allegedly punched in the chest by his teacher. Gwala, a pupil of Mnamatha Primary School, Kwa Zulu Natal died in hospital. His crime: causing a disturbance in class this April.

“During the apartheid years the system of ‘Bantu Education’ and ‘Christian National Education’ was designed to support apartheid by schooling children to become passive citizens who would accept authority, social injustice, and inequity unquestioningly. Educators were encouraged and supported in the use of caning children during the apartheid regime as a means of subjugating them. Beating children in a society so familiar with oppression and violence was taken for granted. Over time, the practice of corporal punishment became deeply embedded in the fabric of our society.” [Corporal Punishment and Bullying: The Rights of Learners]

In schools where corporal punishment was previously heavily relied upon and where teaching conditions are bad, teachers have been left feeling frustrated and disempowered and many continue to use corporal and humiliating forms of punishment. Conversely schools that previously had good systems of discipline were more able to incorporate the ban on corporal punishment with little difference on the levels of discipline in the school.

Corporal and humiliating punishment tends to be used to release the frustrations and anger of the adults. Teachers in South Africa have repeatedly voiced their frustration at poor infrastructure, overcrowded classes, unfamiliar curriculum and lack of support from parents and communities with regard to discipline of children. It is suggested that the lack of arts, music and sports programmes in schools contributes to high levels of frustration in learners who are not as strong in academic subjects and who are left feeling like failures and as if they have nothing to contribute. These children are more likely to act out their frustration by misbehaving. The removal of the use of corporal punishment is only one element of the situation that exists in the schools today.

A few comments from our listeners:

Ismail Kathrada Most of us who were born pre-1990 were recipients of this horrid crime by our schoolteachers and more so by madressa ustaads. We all want to know why we have lost the youth to drugs, crime and violence? The answer is glaring.

 

‪Faheem Seedat I feel that many times the really unruly or rude, or the class clown child always has a problem – a deeper problem. That they act out because they are confused or have no choice. Instead of implementing corporal punishment. I think we in such tricky times that it must be an absolute requirement for each school to have an in house psychologist. Corporal punishment will not stop divorces and the drug industry, just to name a few. Remember also, it takes a village to raise a child. Society itself needs a wake up.

 

‪Tasneem Bismilla Sayed I can’t help but laugh at some of these comments. As a teacher, it is EXTREMELY frustrating having NO rights. While I’m against ‘beating’ children, I do think that the odd slap on the wrist is very necessary at times. Kids know that teachers have no rights and they take full advantage of this. Not all, but majority of the learners are extremely lazy and disrespectful. When we were in school, we feared teachers, which resulted in us respecting older ppl, completing projects, homework, etc. To this day I respect my elders. Kids today are lacking respect. They don’t do tasks or homework, as they know that they can get away with it. And 40 learners in one class is ridiculous! Doesn’t benefit anyone.

 

Parenting – One who spares his rod hates his child…

The issue of corporal punishment and whether it is acceptable or not, or an acceptable practice for parents to use with their children has become a contested and controversial one in our day and age. The Biblical or Hebrew axiom“One who spares his rod hates his child, but he who loves him, disciplines him in his youth,” is reflective of Quraanic wisdom too.

The premise is that a rod, stick or staff is solid and used for support. To successfully show our children that we are trying to build them in ways that are good for them, straight rules, like the straight staff or rod must be solid and consistent; they must support the growth of the children on their paths. Adults who themselves have solid, consistent and straight principles will be able to measure the behaviour of their children in a predictable and safe way, and respond to inappropriate behaviour in ways that don’t undermine their parental authority or just blow off anger and frustration.

The Prophetic teaching to “command your children to pray when they are seven” is wholly reflective of the responsibility of parenthood, a duty that involves starting when they are young. “One who loves (his child) disciplines him in his youth.” If you love your child you will help him to develop himself in a disciplined way in his youth, before things get out of hand. You will make time to explain to your child, not in the heat of anger, but in a moment of warmth and understanding, why you expect him or her to behave in a particular way, and why that is important to you, and ultimately to him. ‘’Aisha (ra) said: “Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) never hit anything with his hand ever, except when fighting in the path of Allah. Nor did he ever hit a servant or a woman.” (Recorded by Ibn Maajah)

Islam has given a certain step-by-step method for disciplining which begins with kind advice. If that doesn’t work after considerable effort, it’s followed by time out, and if that doesn’t work, it can be followed by a smack under the conditions that it is light, not on the face, doesn’t leave bruises and is beneficial (has a good effect). If light hitting causes harm to the child and is not effective, it should be avoided. If the above steps are not followed and the conditions are not met, light hitting causes more harm than good.

In the same booklet quoted above with regards South African schools, a distinction is drawn between Punishmentand Discipline. The ultimate goal is for the child or young adult to develop self-discipline through his or her own efforts rather than through the efforts of another by means of monitoring, threats, fear, and force. Here are some examples:

  • Punishment is a one-time occurrence while Discipline is an ongoing process.
  • Punishment insists on obedience while Discipline sets an example to follow.
  • Punishment is an adult release and about their power. It is also about displaced anger. This is when adults are angry about something but take their anger out on children while Discipline helps children change.
  • Punishment thinks for children while Discipline encourages children’s ability to think for themselves.
  • Punishment defeats self esteem while Discipline encourages self-esteem.
  • Punishment condemns misbehaviour while Discipline encourages self- disciplined behaviour.

May Allah grant us kind, loving parents, well disciplined children and obedience to His laws, above all. Aameen.

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