Spare the rod and spoil the child?

Posted: June 22, 2010 in Education

When we were in school, the day we had our class test results or had not done our homework, most of us would reach school wearing plastic bags, rubber sheets and even note books inside our pants! That wasn’t because we feared soiling ourselves, but because slackers invariably got “six of the best” and it reduced the agony of resting on our laurels for the rest of the day. The trick was to wear reinforced underwear in a way that it was never detected. It was a part of the growing up process in a boy’s school.

“Six of the best” was the ultimate pain we suffered in school and we accepted it as punishment for not doing our homework or messing up our class tests. Some of the teachers used something called a “Flat” which was shaped like a cricket bat, but with dimensions of a table tennis bat. It hurt a lot less than a cane because it covered a larger area but it still hurt.

It was hilarious watching peers sticking their bottoms out to get six of the best and walk away smiling. That was a mistake some students made. The smart ones pretended to be hurt and made painful faces, so the teacher in a rare moment of pity reduced the caning! Quite a few of our teachers never figured out how we could walk away unconcerned after a caning, till someone ‘snitched’! Then it was back to the drawing board, devising new ways to escape the punishment.

I remember two teachers in particular under whom a lot of us ‘suffered’. There was a Mr Dawson who had a cane that was carved. One on the bottom with that piece of furniture and the mark remained engraved for a week. The other was Mr Wright who tonked any part of your body within reach. The folklore is that one day Mr Dawson’s cane broke as he was using it on a student, and it was given a befitting burial under the school building which was then being constructed.

Sure, we didn’t like it. No one likes getting caned in all those sensitive places but it was part of the growing up process in a boy’s school and no one complained – unless in an extreme (and rare) case the teacher went overboard. At the most we shed a few tears in the toilet but I don’ think suicide ever crossed our minds.

Remember the Jungle Jim in school where we would all think we were Tarzan and leap from one bar to another? Well it lay in the open ground ravaged by the elements day after day and it was never cleaned. Every day we would be up there playing on it. The thought that it could cause lead poisoning or rust poisoning never crossed our minds. If we did hurt ourselves on it, off we went to the school infirmary or the family doctor and got our shots of anti-tetanus. It was the most normal thing in the world. Most of my peers are healthy and kicking today, even after inadvertently swallowing all the lead.

When we were kids, my mother, maybe once a week or on special occasions, asked my brother and I what we would like to eat. On most other days we ate what was put in front of us without questioning and if we did ask, we were told “it is good for health!” In other words, just eat what is on your plate!

My wife taught in a well-known school in Lucknow and every year around the time the results were due, parents would drop in home with sweets and gifts or accost her in school, with demands to improve the grades of their wards! She told me about the time a parent pleaded with her to increase seven marks in his son’s examination aggregate so he could be first in class. The reason – the kid had “NEVER come second in his life and would not be able to take it!”

When the school refused because it would not be fair to the student who was first, the parent pleaded that they could then at least ensure that both students stood first! When that didn’t work, entreaties turned to threats. He said he would withdraw his son from school if the impossible was not done. The school still refused and the parent did pull his son out! The boy was then in the 6th Standard. I wondered how this kid would ever go through life if he ever came second in anything!

Another student of the same school, who was in 4th Standard told his parents not to send the driver with their Maruti 800 to pick him up after school. He got an inferiority complex because the other kids came and left in much more expensive cars!

I tease my wife about following Dr Benjamim Spock’s methods on bringing up children. She will ask our son what he would like for lunch or dinner. So the kid now believes he has the right of refusal if he doesn’t like something! So how have things changed in the past so many years?

I don’t think we ever considered leaping off the terrace of the school building as the ultimate solution. I’m sorry if I sound callous here but I do think that, to a large extent, as parents we are to blame for the situation our kids find themselves in today. Have we become extra-protective and over-sensitized to things? Is it also the single child syndrome, where parents bend over backwards to do anything for their child? You tell me…

  1. candice says:

    Wield the rod and kill the child? Don’t think so…. Most of the world’s problems are caused by people who either weren’t smacked enough or were smacked too much, as kids! A little corporal punishment cannot be the cause of a child’s suicide, tragic as that is. Obviously, there was something worse going on…

  2. rema says:

    I agree in toto with this. A few whacks never hurt anyone. But let’s get it straight that a whack has to stay just that and not outright child abuse and excessive use of violence. Disciplining does a WORLD of good for children.

  3. Thank you so much for this piece. I finished my schooling from La Martiniere, Calcutta two years ago and it’s a shame that things such as these are happening. More than uncalled for, its more of a joke now. A joke that the media hand in hand with the parents is playing on the teachers and the school. If so was the case, I would have ended my life a few times over back in boarding school in Nainital. And, Vir Sanghvi’s piece two days ago, was dismal and shameful. And, to call them leading journalists of our country takes a lot out of me. Even respect. Let the boy’s soul rest in peace.

  4. Pradeep Menon says:

    It really is absolutely unbelievable how kids today are. I mean, I was a school kid not so long ago, but there is a huge difference between the way me and my peers were treated back then, and how school children are treated now. I guess the older generation were just far more sensible than we people are today. Objectively speaking, I absolutely love my parents for the way they brought up their kids. They experimented with me, perfected the art, and then did a wonderful job with my little brother.

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