Category Archives: Britain

Is it ok for teachers to use corporal punishment? Discuss.

Schoolboy receiving bare bottom birching, from...
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I left the following comment on a blog entry about corporal punishment in (UK) schools (I’ve reposted it here so that I can add stuff and edit the writing).

A succinct summary, with rebuttals, of the various arguments against corporal punishment. The non-aggression axiom provides a principled argument to the responses which blog-author OldAndrew lists as being often made against corporal punishment:
1) that it is wrong in principle to harm students: it is legitimate to use force in retaliation or in self-defence (I would take “retaliation” to include the notion of punishment);
2) the pacifist objection: corporal punishment is wrong because it is violence: see 1);
3) that corporal punishment didn’t work: the notion that “force may be used only in retaliation and only against those who initiate its use” supports OldAndrew’s point that Punishment serves not to eliminate sin but to increase justice by inflicting a penalty on those who deserve it.

In addition, the non-aggression axiom would free teachers to use physical force in self-defence and/or in retaliation, i.e. punishment, an autonomy that seems to me sorely needed (and not just in schools, I might add): even acts of self-defence are likely to see a teacher end up in court and fired.

Some will no doubt argue that this would open the flood gates to abuse of the sanction. OldAndrew has already replied to this argument. I would only add that, if parents disagree with the school’s policies they should be free to not send their children there.

Photo by BaboMike on Flickr
Photo by BaboMike on Flickr

In Japanese public high schools, corporal punishment is allowed, though there is quite a lot of debate about this. Corporal punishment is traditionally the responsibility of the P.E. teachers. They are usually big and tough, accustomed to physical contact and not so easily intimidated by hulking high-schooling boys. I’ve seen such teachers cuff students around the head, either with their bare hands or with clipboards. Other punishment is usually being made to kneel in seiza (see photo), sometimes with arms held aloft for long periods; or push ups, or laps around the sports ground. I think straps, canes, etc., are banned.The only book in English that I have read that discusses punishment in Japanese schools in any detail is The Japanese High School by Shoko Yoneyama. She discusses it in the context of bullying and other violence in schools. She mentions some of the spartan school rules, such as no dyed hair, length of hair (for boys and girls) specified down to the millimetre, colour and size of bags, etc., and punishment for being late. Almost all Japanese schools have a heavy main gate that slides on wheels and looks  like this:

Photo by Junicci on Flickr

Teachers stand by the gate and greet students in the morning, and then close the gate when the bell rings. As you can imagine, there’s sometimes a rush of students squeezing in at the last minute before the gate closes completely. In one infamous incident, an overzealous, careless teacher squashed a girl to death, pinning her between the gate and the wall.

Elementary school gate, Japan
Photo by ykanazawa 1999 on Flickr

The incident was national news, and Yoneyama mentions it in her book as an example of violence from adults to students that, in her opinion, is part of a pattern of violence and power-plays that is then played out by students on other students in bullying. Yoneyama points out that in many cases of bullying, a group of bullies (the lone bully is hardly found in collectivist Japan!) picks on someone for “standing out” in some way, such as having a bag that is not quite the regulation colour, or hair not quite the regulation length. Yoneyama’s point was that children bully others in exactly the same ways that they are “bullied” by the adults in school.

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Phonics or… creativity?

I just re-discovered, a British website (and actual TV programme?) that hosts a host of information about teachers and teaching in British schools. Obviously most of the content is going to be of more interest to people who actually live and teach in Britain, than to people who don’t (like me), but I enjoyed this 45-minute video by children’s author Michael Rosen from the programme School Matters on the subject of phonics and the teaching of reading. Apparently, phonics is now the British government’s official teaching-to-read method. Michael Rosen, though, is in the “whole word” camp. He visits a number of schools and interviews different people, teachers and researchers and people in government. It’s a very well made video. Rosen’s purpose is to examine whether phonics and testing stifles children’s (and teacher’s) creativity.

I don’t think the whole-word argument is convincingly made in this video, and certainly the question of whether it really is an either-or argument goes begging through the entire 45 minutes. Equally unasked is the question of why the government needs to decide on a single approach at all, and then mandate that for the whole country.

Here’s the video blurb:

Author Michael Rosen questions whether the current political enthusiasm for synthetic phonics, designated literacy hours, and league tables is turning off young readers.

Rosen examines the evidence for claims that these devices have led to higher literacy standards, and finds it wanting. Unlike many critics, he suggests ways of encouraging reading, and he’s not afraid of advocating poetry, often one of the most difficult and frightening tasks facing both teachers and their classes.

In his journey to discovering ways of improving literacy Rosen hears from heads, literacy experts, teachers and academics and even Jim Rose; the man whom he holds principally responsible for the imposition of synthetic phonics throughout the land.