From the rich and varied programme on offer this year, I've opted for the following:
As one of the first events of the Woordfees in Stellenbosch (2007 March 05, 18:00, Conserve, U.Stellenbosch), a discussion around corporal punishment in schools was held. Some 50 folk attended and I took some rough notes.
The most able compére, Rudi Buys (pictured on the right) introduced the speakers and framed the debate. (Only my inept note-taking ability is to blame for incorrect names and affiliations in what follows.) Interestingly, the discussion was to be broader than corporal punishment (CP) in schools, but was to include issues around CP in the home. The three speakers were all against the use of CP; I gathered that a fourth speaker, Mr Naidoo, who was in favour of CP, had a mishap and could not attend.
The first of three speakers, Albertus Duba, chairman of the RLC (Western Cape) made several points, including that being exposed to violence as a youth correlates with violent behaviour as an adult, and that when a learner sees a teacher using violence, the learner is taught that violence is an appropriate response.
The second speaker, Lungisa, a representative of South African Students Congress (SASCO), noted that he had grown up in a school system where CP was employed, and that he was glad that CP was no longer allowed at schools, but noted that learners need to be taught what their responsibilities are. That we have violence in society is not because of a lack of CP in school, but because young people are not taught the responsibilities that follow having certain rights.
The third speaker, Judith, a member of the Human Rights Commission (HRC), noted that the definition of CP includes both a physical and a psychological component. Beyond the obvious pain & discomfort dimension, the definition includes actions that belittle, humiliate, threaten or scare a person. She noted that in South Africa, all forms of CP in the public arena are forbidden, yet CP is legal in the sanctity of the home. She pointed out that in South African law, the "reasonable chastisement" defence can be employed to validate such violent behaviour, and that this has been used to justify, for example, a husband "reasonably chastising" his wife.
She quoted inter-national research which found that violence against children was condemned universally, and noted that one often hears a parent hits their child out of love, but questioned if the child perceived it in the same fashion.
The meeting coordinator then invited comments from the audience. A Dutch gentleman noted that, after being a teacher in Holland for over 40 years, his recent experience as a teacher in South Africa shocked him when he witnessed the liberal use of CP in schools. "Die riet kan niet", he said.
Comments were heard from teachers in the audience; one lady described the situation in SA schools as havoc. Another noted that in her 25 years as principal, she had never needed to use CP to maintain discipline. The telling point was made that, in the past, while it was perfectly OK to hit boys in high school, it was taboo to hit similarly-aged girls. A teaching student noted that when she graduates and goes into teaching, if she were to be in a system where CP was allowed she would not use it, simply because she does not believe it is appropriate.
After the open comments, the three speakers were given a second round to comment. The first speaker made several comments, one of which was that bullies have low self-esteem. The second speaker (from SASCO) noted that while it was good the government has banned CP, this was not enough. He called for government research into what alternatives should be implemented. The HRC lady noted recent statistics that 56% of schools still use CP. She also noted education is highly valued by parents, and is seen as a facilitative right.
The meeting was ended off by the fourth speaker, Die Burger political correspondent Jan-Jan Joubert, whose task as moderator was to comment on how we argued around this issue, and his thoughts on what we did not address. He noted that every debate has to have two sides, and that everyone who spoke here was against CP.
The proponent of CP, Paster Naidoo, could not attend because of a personal mishap, Joubert noted, adding that in 2002 a ruling of the Constitutional Court held that CP was not allowed at the schools run by the His People Church, of which Pastor Naidoo is the head.
Joubert noted that in a recent parliamentary debate the leader of Inkatha, Mr Buthelezi, said that the reason we have a society in which crime is rife, is because we do not hit out kids.
Joubert quoted a letter by Prof Jonathan Jansen, dean of Education at U.Pretoria, to Die Burger newspaper, "I am always surprised when parents quote from the holy scriptures to justify assaulting their own children, but not the stoning of adulterers. This boils down to primitive behaviour and has no place in a civilized society."
Joubert noted that from a Biblical perspective, we have Proverbs 22:15 "Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him", but with the added reminder (Prov. 19:18) "chasten thy son, seeing there is hope; and set not thy heart on his destruction."
During Joubert's efficient summary of the speakers arguments, he noted contrast to the 56% statistic quoted by Judith of the HRC, that in Gauteng, according to a survey by the Education Dept., some 81% of school children are still exposed to CP, incidents occurring on a weekly basis.
The bulk of Joubert's contribution was commentary of the various speaker's points of view, noting such aspects as he found lacking.
The meeting coordinator then wrapped up the discussion, noting that it was indeed a pity that Pastor Naidoo could not attend. After a few closing thoughts, the meeting ended with a round of applause.
Three main thoughts: (a) great meeting format – ample opportunity for the audience to participate, excellent meeting coordinator, and great idea to have a moderator comment on the proceedings.
(b) pity that Naidoo didn't attend. I had no idea who he was, nor that he would attend. However, having the leader of a fundamentalist church within a stone's throw would have been so exciting. It has to be asked, why his religious rubbish should have any relevance to a real-world problem. There is no shortage of strife in the world due to supernatural bullshit, thank you. School discipline and the use of CP is not, after all, a problem created by religion, so why include him? However, what I didn't know is that Naidoo has expressed the view, "quite strongly, that not only should CP be left to the family, but also that it should be a definite measure in education", to quote the meeting coordinator. Aha. How naive of me to think that a religious leader (and a fundamentalist, to boot) would not have strong, God-inspired, Bible-based, divinely-revealed opinions about this. What rubbish.
(c) Naidoo's religious delusions aside, what really surprised me was the apparent ignorance of what we've learn about human psychology. The discussion was about CP in the school context. Within that context, the function of CP is to modify behaviour. Just maybe, then, you should knock on the door of those who study the modification of behaviour (and certainly not those who believe in spooks, fairies and demons). Yet, I heard no mention at the meeting of what behavioural scientists have learnt from decades of study.
A behavioural psychologist will tell you that amongst the many ways of shaping behaviour, negative reinforcement and punishment can be distinguished. Algebraically, the former is the subtraction of a positive, the latter is the addition of a negative. Both balance the equation and are conceptually equivalent but differ markedly in practice and efficacy.
Through negative reinforcement, an unwanted behaviour is followed by taking away a thing regarded as positive – chocolate, TV, play time, etc. In punishment, the response to unwanted behaviour is doing something negative – hitting the child, verbally abusing her, etc. And, hello, negative reinforcement has been shown experimentally to be more effective in shaping behaviour.
To caricature the extensive findings about punishment vs. negative reinforcement, just go and actually talk to a high-school learner. Or even better, go and talk to any adult who was at high school when CP, or caning, was regularly employed. Go along with me as I tell a not entirely fictional tale of a transgressing schoolboy.
The teacher bliksems you, it hurts, you go back to your desk walking funny and sitting carefully, knowing that your approval rating amongst your peers has just shot up to an all-time high. With your new-found social status, while your friends crowd around, you proudly make two or three or however many pen marks on the back of your school tie, a badge of honour, a tally of how many times you've been hit. The more, the macho-er. How, exactly, has this taught you to be well-behaved? What, exactly, has been the lesson learnt from this? For certain, some children learn a very clear message: fear.
Contrast this with the understanding that, if I talk in class, or don't do my homework, I will have certain freedoms taken away. Such as not being allowed to play in the next three rugby games, or being banned from the library for a month (depending on how testosterone-laden the child is), or having to spend next Saturday, from 09:00 until 14:00, sitting silently watching back-to-back episodes of The Learning Channel (or Oprah, if you're feeling mean). Yes, Saturday, and in your school clothes, so that mom and dad have to make special effort to bring me to school and fetch me, perhaps cancelling the week-end getaway. Or even better, on a Sunday, so that the child is spared having to go to Church.
Whatever the specifics, the in-the-moment angst of, for a period, not having a thing regarded as positive, is a powerful shaper. Freedom is such a positive asset. Ask any naught boy that's been caught out: you want me to smack you over the head with this here cricket bat and then you can go play, or do you want to sit indoors writing out the Old Testament for three hours?
I might just add that, in the school context, such committed negative reinforcement shouldn't be administered by a teacher or principal, at least in my opinion. Enlist the help of (other) parents perhaps, or better yet pay an ex-Marine, hire a pair of spinsters, or bribe your Mafia-looking cousin Vinny – employ whatever your culture defines as the "Bad Cop". It takes a village to raise a child, but when the child acts out and over-tests his or her boundaries, die "kwaai tannie om die draai" is just the thing.
A minor note: One speaker noted that bullies have low self-esteem. This is nonsense. This assertion has been made over and over and has become accepted as true, yet there is no evidence that low self-esteem causes violence. Two items of interest in this regard are: Baumeister, R.F. et al. (1996) "Relation of threatened egotism to violence and aggression: The dark side of high self-esteem", Psychol. Review, 103(1), 5-33 and Bushman, J. & Baumeister, R.F. (1998) "Threatened egotism, narcissism, self-esteem and direct and displaced aggression: Does self-love or self-hate lead to violence?" J. Pers. Soc. Psy., 75(1), 219-299.
The venue, the restaurant at Oude Libertas. Delicious food, of course, but not the best choice if you want to hear somebody give a speech. Sitting near the back, the background noise of the bar and food service was most distracting. Bleh.
The winning team – first time ever – The Writers, incl. Herman Wasserman, Louis Esterhuizen, Marius Crous & Danie Marais.
The Philosophers – Willie van der Merwe, Vasti Roodt, Johann Hattingh, Anton van Niekerk & Paul Cilliers.
Singing philosophers are nothing new. A literature study reveals, for example, Bruces' Song (M. Python, c. 1970?; Video at YouTube, Text at Univ. Adelaide) but it is controversial if the Bruces were indeed bona fide philosophers. Prof Willie van der Merwe, however, is a proper philosopher (see here or here), and he can sing. For your listening pleasure, download and enjoy Prof Willie van der Merwe performing a tribute to former Playboy model (and Playmate of the Year 1993) Anna Nicole Smith.
"Nicoley, Nicoley" (MP3, 264 KB) mp3 download.
nothing more to see. please move along.