18.11.1990

The way to beat the school bullies

The way to beat the school bullies
 
Lynette Burrows says the rod can prevent childhood violence
 
THE RECENT demonstration of French children protesting about poor teaching and intimidation in school should give our educationists pause for thought since the two issues are inextricably linked. The French were ahead of us in liberalising discipline in their schools and were frequently used as an example of enlight­ened practice by people who campaigned a few years ago to outlaw corporal punishment in our schools. In fact, French schools were succumbing to violence, thieving and drug- taking even at the time we were being urged to follow their example, but now their chickens have really come home to roost and our own can­not be far behind.
 
Discipline in a school is the single most important factor for both teachers and pupils. Everything else can be first-rate, but if the atmosphere is disruptive and violent, no-one can teach and no-one can learn. In many famous private schools buildings and furniture are decrepit, but, because order prevails, good teachers stay and the children learn.
 
For a great many teachers the acute disciplinary problem they face every day causes tre­mendous stress and disillu­sionment — something their unions seem unwilling to admit. They have accepted instead what two eminent American psychologists, Marx and Hillix, called "one of the most incredible psychological dogmas of the twentieth cen­tury" — that punishment is ineffective and therefore undesirable.
 
The pervasive violence and indiscipline in school have resulted in the profession's
"low morale", which teachers' leaders have sought to explain as being the result of low pay and shortage of teachers. Their explanation, however, does not take into account the fact that there are now more trained teachers outside the profession than in it and that three-quarters of the teachers who left state schools last year did so in order to take jobs in private schools, where they often earned up to £4,000 less a year.
 
Much of the blame for this disastrous state of affairs must go to Peter Newall, who led the campaign to end corporal pun­ishment in schools and has been associated with many radical, left-wing causes through his connection with the publicly funded Children's Legal Centre. Not being a teacher himself, he is not suf­fering the effects of his innova­tion. He has now gone on to head the associated pressure group Epoch, which is work­ing, still on public funds, for the widely unpopular cause of imposing a legal ban on par­ents' right to smack their chil­dren at home.
 
In evaluating a mass of research material produced by American psychologists on the subject of punishment, Dr Robert E. Larzelere of Biola University, California, com­ments that most of it can be represented in different ways and that fashions of thought play a part in its interpreta­tion. On the question of corpo­ral punishment, Dr Larzelere notes that the major investiga­tors of alternative methods of punishment, Forehand and McMahon (1981), while "basi­cally opposed to physical pun­ishment" used spanking as a back-up to "time out" punish­ment, and he concludes that if moderate corporal punishment is found to be necessary as a back-up for parents, it is wrong that teachers should invariably be required to do without it.
 
The question will have to be faced soon whether public authorities have the right to compel children to attend places where they will not be safe. Presumably the alternatives to corporal punishment — for example, detention and suspension — which we heard so much about at one time, have been used but they have not proved adequate to contain the extreme violence of some youths.
 
The truly heart-rending case recently of the 17-year-old boy who hanged himself whilst on remand, because of consistent bullying, focuses on the prob­lem. There are many children at present who go in daily fear of more aggressive children in schools and children's homes all over the country, and their misery is a monument to the conceit and indifference of those professionals who en­couraged their tormentors at the same time as they dis­armed their proper protectors. A school without discipline is not worthy of the name, as the revolt of the French children shows.
 
Are we to wait until our own children rise up in the same way to ask for help?
 
Peter Simple is back next week.