Reconsidering the use of violence as a disciplinary tool

At Form 2, my teacher was a burly Indian man, likely in his 30s. I was 14. We sat in neat rows of two. Behind me, was a boy, at least two years older than me. He liked making the class laugh. On that day, we were solving a Maths problem, and there was utter silence. Minds were at work. Our teacher was sitting at his desk, waiting for allocated time to expire.

He sported a dark moustache, that reminded me of the chinese Kung Fu masters I had seen in the films at the village cinema. The boys joked, the moustache made him look like a cat.

Something happened, that would make me hate Maths for years. Concealed behind me, the lad, released a loud, “meeeewwwww”, in imitation of a cat. The teacher picked it. When he advanced in my direction, I could not have known what was to follow. I was, by all counts, an unlikely culprit. A graduate of my mothers university of good manners, I was well behaved. The only vice I ever had, was holding my ground in argument. And I did it, with respect.

With each step, I knew my classmate was in trouble. When he locked his eyes onto mine, he was barely a meter away. An open palm covered my face. It took me completely by surprise. I was innocent and whole class knew that. I was a victim of mistaken identity.

Tears stung my eyes. I had never disobeyed a teacher, in my life. Pain changed to rage. I stood up to leave class. He grabbed my shirt. I pulled to get away. I never hit back and never talked back. I just wanted to leave. He was pressing me to the chair. I tore off his grip. Buttons flew off my school shirt. I left class. At that point, nothing mattered. I hated Maths. I hated him.

Later in the afternoon, he saw me around the school. My shirt was still torn and I made no mistake to hide it. My classmates had told him he had been wrong. But he was too proud to apologise. He was trying to placate me, without losing face. He was a teacher after all.

I told him I demanded my shirt fixed and walked away from him. I cared not, what further violence he could mete. It didn’t matter anymore. My mother would have dealt with the matter, rather quickly. She would have blown a gasket. But that thunderous slap echoed in my ears. It brought me of age, in an instant. I was done having my parents fight my wars. Other boys were fighting, for themselves. My innocence was lost. I enrolled at the local Mahalapye Railways Karate Club. Any bully would find me ready. Any. At the club they taught me not to use violence. I took the instruction, but the new rebel in me remained. I was still respectful to teachers, but wasn’t afraid of them anymore.

I became overly conscious of all violence. I was ready to fight my way to adulthood. At a local shop, I bought a nail clipper.

The manufacturer must have had me in mind. They came with a knife that folded neatly back in which I sharpened against a stone. It became a permanent feature of my school bag, until I finished junior high. I never fought a fellow student at Junior High. I never fought a teacher and never answered back. I just kept passing and making my teachers and my parents happy. I passed every test and every exam.

But, I was just ready. I had newfound potential for violence. Ready for further abuse to be meted on me. I would defend myself. By any means necessary. The palm strike was only the proverbial straw that broke the camels back.

Primary school had been abusive too. At Standard 4 at Mahalapye Primary School, we had an abusive teacher. He had our desks lined up along the wall of the classroom, leaving an open space at the centre, which he called a Freedom Square. All sadism happened there.

It was specifically the place where we were beaten for anything and everything. From noise making to giving a wrong answer to a bad handwriting. When he died, I was at Senior Secondary School. My mother heard, and asked me if I had any intention to attend his funeral. It was an emphatic, NO! She talked me into it. I attended, purely because she felt it was the right thing to do. She tried hard to make me forgive, God bless her soul.

At the end of Standard 4, I was failing badly. The classroom environment was just too violent, and too inhospitable for learning. I was hitting the high numbers in terms of my class position. At some point I was position 24 in class. Prior to Standard 4, I was almost always, competing for class honours. My parents transferred me and my late sister to Tamocha Primary School. Ms. Mmolawa was my new teacher. My parents got more that they thought. She was a parent. I remember her only ever using the stick once, in the three years I was under her tutelage. From the first term, of Standard 5, I was acing them straight through Standard 7. My case is not of lack of gratitude to teachers. It is about gratitude to teachers who saved my life. It wasn’t just her. She is simply the most notable. Fair enough, I was chastised with the stick at home, for such things as turning the food plate over when I wasn’t happy with my serving, or getting into fights with my sisters. My father only ever chastised me once. I had lost the fight with my sister and had chased her with a table knife. I would not have stabbed her. I thought it was a deterrent.

Yesterday, I put up a post on Facebook on the scars we carry from the classroom. Then, I went to bed. I challenge you to visit my page and read through it. Many have not healed. They are hurting. After decades, they carry deep scars, and openly swear hatred, and revenge. Some scars resulted from physical violence. Some from painful words that hurt their self esteem.

We need to review the Education Act, on the use of violence in the schoolyard. We need experts around the table, to help us determine how the raging delinquency amongst our children can be dealt with. True, it all starts at home. I have no doubt that will be looked into, too. To openly preach corporal punishment, without more, is irresponsible. The Sir Seretse Khama JSS video is a clarion call to all of us to give more thought to this subject.

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