Stronger Indo-Sri Lanka cultural relations sought – The Island

by Goolbai Gunasekera

This seems a silly question since all punishments are supposed to ‘teach’ or to teach discipline at any rate. But does a school child always understand all this? Do present day punishments ensure that the student does not repeat the same little misdeed again?

They do not. I speak from experience when I say this. Let me explain. All schools have rules governing poor behaviour. But given the many areas of `sinning’ these days, modern schools are unable to foresee all the varied sins that students commit. Fifty years ago, falls from grace were minor affairs and did not have the undertones of real crime that is unfortunately found in schools nowadays.

School children 50 years ago had nothing of great value to steal. Perhaps a wristwatch. Perhaps a pen. But no one thought of stealing our shoes because they were all from shops like `Batas’,’ Majestic Boot Works’ and other local shoe shops. Ballet slippers were all from Union Boot Works. You can see what I mean. Rarely, if ever, did children have anything too special. No one was envious of the “haves.”

But now! Mobiles phones range from Rs. 4000/ to Rs. 100, 000/ and I am told such expensive items are the norm rather than the exception among Colombo’s students. Nike, Adidas and other Sport’s attire likewise. Nobody bothers about plain old wristwatches these days. Very few International School kids wear Bata. And nobody yearns for a Parker pen as I did all my school life.

I eventually got my first Parker pen from my Dearly Beloved at a time when he was still a hopeful Dearly Beloved. My parents had no intention of supplying me with expensive paraphernalia. My tennis racquet was a hand me down from my Mom’s University days and I managed to comfortably win the occasional match with it.

Today no serious tennis player would be seen dead with just one racquet. All hopeful champions have name brands in duplicate or triplicate which they twirl with panache and style. Parents go overboard with equipment.

Jealousy is natural. Now all good students, good sportsmen or good student performers seem to afford the earth. Those who cannot may resort to theft. In schools kids change their shoes for basketball games, for PE classes, for ballet lessons etc. Expensive equipment and gear are left lying all over the place.

One child lost two pairs of Nike Sports shoes within a fortnight. In spite of immediate searches, they were never found. Their cost? Rs. 25,000/ each pair. I asked the angry mother why she was teaching her son the wrong values by sending him to school with such expensive equipment. Her answer is worth repeating. You and I do not have the same values Mrs. G. I can afford such things and I see no reason not to buy them.”

Such skewed thinking only adds to the rate of theft. Young kids give in to feelings of envy and steal. Of course, if caught they face grave punishments. Suspension – or even expulsion for repeated offences.

An unfortunate problem now raises its ugly head. How do parents take the punishment of their light-fingered child? They take it in the most appalling fashion.

Far from correcting their child they blame the school for over-reacting. They whisk the young miscreant off to another school. The punishment has not taught anyone in that family anything. In fact, I have watched disbelievingly while one mother comforted her sobbing son (who continued to deny a proven fact) saying “Never mind Putha. Don’t cry. You don’t have to come back to this school”.

“Mrs. Bhanu,” I tried to reason. “Don’t take that attitude. Help him to realize he has done something disgraceful. Take him away if you wish but at least YOU must punish him in some way,” Of course nothing was done and the young `criminal’ will certainly steal again, albeit, elsewhere. The suspension was never felt by the arrogant young man as his parents refused to accept he had done anything wrong. So I cast around in my mind and recalled this story which proves that worthwhile correction can be given to junior wrongdoers.

A group of cousins were playing cricket on one of those spacious lawns commonly seen in Colombo 60- years ago. They were told to stop play by six pm. My friend, Rohini, the only girl in the group, was a real tomboy and her parents openly despaired of turning her into a lady. It was just her bad luck that one day the group continued playing till well after six pm and while making a run, Rohini tripped and hurt her ankle. She was immobilized for a week. Parents of the two youngsters took counsel, how best could they punish both children for breaking the rules and I still applaud their creativity in meting out punishment.

Rohini’s cousin, Nihal, had to give up every evening’s play that week and sit by Rohini’s bed and read to her for an hour. The books were of his father’s choosing. Both Rohini and Nihal benefitted from the chastisement in that the reading was interesting and actually taught them something. The cricket never carried on till after six again.

Now THERE is the sort punishment I wish I could use. Obviously, theft of shoes will not be cured by enforced reading. But I wonder. Cannot such civilized punishments somehow work in today’s atmosphere of junior violence? Perhaps we should seriously give it some thought.

(From Gunasekara’s recently published book The ‘Principal’ Factor. It was first published some years ago in Lanka Monthly Digest).

Thank you

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