The missed opportunity — Derrick Lim

JUNE 26 — A recent case of school caning made headlines around the nation and sparked raucous debates on social media. In the story, a high school student was heavily caned by her teacher for calling him “Ah Gua” (meaning a homosexual male), subsequently the student’s mom (single mom) went to the school to demand an explanation. The school took no immediate action to remedy the situation and the mom and daughter ended up lodging a police report against the teacher.

This occurrence brings to light several disturbing aspects of disciplining in our country. The school sided with the teacher, justifying the punishment of heavy caning as a result of insulting the school teacher. Secondly, there appears to be no further attempt to reprimand the student in light of the incident when the mother stepped up to defend her child. Meanwhile, on social media, outrage was directed towards the mother who did not “teach her child properly”. The mother was also ridiculed and the heavy caning was supported as a means of punishment.

Central to this issue is not the parents, the teacher, nor the student, it is the sadly lost opportunity to truly provide a lesson for the student. But before we discuss that, let us address the question, is caning an appropriate form of punishment? Let us first consider the hidden meaning of caning or physical punishment, it is a means of teaching someone by programming the person to experience negative results (physical pain) for doing something. For example, we might spank our kids for persistently playing with an electrical socket outlet. The spanking provides a negative reinforcement in the form of “play with electrical socket, feel pain”. Which is not far from the truth. The question is the applicability of this form of punishment.

To take it a step further, justifying physical pain as a response to undesirable behavior, especially among adolescents only lead to an environment where for instance, road rage ends with someone getting hurt. There are too many cases of physical confrontations in our country that exemplifies this culture of justifying physical hurt as a form of punishment. And the worst thing is, the ability to inflict physical harm is biased heavily towards the physically large and strong or armed, I don’t have to go further for examples.

 So back to caning, we all have heard about Pavlov’s Dog study, it is a classical conditioning experiment where a dog is conditioned to salivate when it hears a bell. Perhaps the reader may already know where I’m going with this. Caning is a similar classical conditioning exercise applied to disciplining our children by instilling fear and exerting control over undesirable behavior. It is therefore clear that the use of the rotan has to stop at a certain age, especially an age where the child is already capable of understanding the consequences of their actions.

Which brings us back to our story and that lost opportunity of learning. A well researched study by the American National Institute of Health suggests that teaching adolescents accountability is the best form of discipline. Therefore the solution is perhaps as easy as making the student deliver an apology speech  (including why is it important to respect our teachers) in class or during the school’s weekly assembly, the mom could teach the student to bake a cake or cookies for the teacher as a means to apologize for her behavior etc. The list goes on and on. But now we are left to deal with the aftermath of a police report, a caring teacher probably being suspended or reassigned, a student perhaps still not learning the lesson and a whole bunch of social media rage.

*This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

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