“Discipline was very strict in Roman schools and students would be beaten for making mistakes.”
The line came from the history textbook. Part of this morning’s lesson, it brought an unexpected response from some of the students.
“That would be good, ” said one.
The student concerned had not excelled at the Christmas test. “So, if you get a bad mark, you should be beaten?”
“Yes,” he said, “then I would do better next time.”
It was strange to encounter such a primitive behaviorist approach in a classroom in 2022.
“What about those unable to learn?” I asked.
“They would learn,” he said.
“They would not,” I replied. “Violence doesn’t work.”
It brought memories of one day when my son was was about five years old. I was so angry and frustrated with him that I smacked him. Smacks were few and far between and this one was not appreciated.
He looked at me through tears and said, “Big people shouldn’t hit little people.”
It was a simple and powerful argument, something presumably picked up at nursery school or primary school. Resorting to violence wasn’t about trying to change things, it was about an admission of failure to change things. Our house remained a strict one without the need to slap. Shouts and sanctions were far more effective than smacks.
Even at the fundamentalist Christian school I attended it was apparent that their “spare the rod and spoil the child” philosophy simply did not work. The same boys were caned again and again, it never changed their behaviour.
The fact that they were being punished owed more to the fact that they were be caught, than to the fact that they were the only people guilty of these wrongs. When an attempt was made to burn down one of the classroom blocks in January 1977, the culprit list included the frequent visitors to the principal’s office – the use of the rod had simply hardened them in their attitudes
Violence is about big and strong people dominating smaller and weaker people; whether it was a teacher in times bast beating his pupils, or me slapping Michael, or even governments using force to suppress groups they don’t like, it is not a solution to anything.
Anyone familiar with the sad history of relations between Ireland and Britain will know that violence never brought solutions, whether in the centuries of British repression or in the Twentieth Century Republican philosophy that embraced bullets and bombs.
Violence was never an effective tool for education, it just builds a huge storehouse of resentment.