“Reasonable force under reasonable circumstance” could kill a student

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

The issue of corporal punishment is back on the agenda. And with it comes the need to be careful that we don’t take half a step forward and five steps back. 

We say this being mindful that today’s challenges are unique and they need today’s solutions. What worked in the past might work again today but then it might not. You see, we live in a different time with complex challenges. 

Now on yesterday’s front page, the Minister of Education, Sports and Culture Loau Keneti Sio had issued a stern warning to teachers regarding a bill tabled before Parliament that will allow them to use “reasonable force” as a discipline tool in school.

The proposal will apparently give permission to a secondary school teacher to use “reasonable force in a reasonable circumstance”.

Right away, we must warn the government that they need to proceed with caution. 

We accept that the issue of dealing with problematic students is complex and there is no one-size-fits-all kind of solution, but we caution that greater care is needed to ensure that in our haste to fix a problem, we do not unknowingly create more problems. 

The question is how does one measure reasonable force? What is reasonable force anyway? 

Reasonable force in the eyes of an abusive teacher could kill a student? And what is a reasonable circumstance? Who is the judge on what is a reasonable circumstance and what is not?

 “There is a fine line between reasonable force and assault,” Loau said yesterday.

 “However this does not mean the teacher can assault the student. The law is clear under the Crimes Act that assault is assault.”

Okay then, we understand. But even the Minister concedes that the issue is a sensitive one. A fine line is a very small margin, one that is likely to be crossed without a doubt.

Which raises the point, why are we even opening the door to it? If the use of reasonable force did not work in the past, why are we revisiting it? 

The point is that the Government needs to think carefully and consult widely about its plan to allow teachers to use reasonable force on students again, under the guise of discipline and correction. 

It if it didn’t work in the past, it is unlikely to work now, especially given the time and age we live in.

Come to think of it, the mere fact we are having a conversation about corporal punishment as a solution in 2018 – yes this is the 21st century – is an indictment on the leadership of this country at all levels. 

It’s a diabolical attempt to solve a problem that has many roots – with the main root leading back to what happens within individual families and the relationship between parents and children.

We’ve said this before and we will say it again today. Quite often we hear our leaders praise themselves about how wonderful they have done and talk about how far we have come as a nation on many different fronts.

And yet here we are heading towards the end of 2018 talking about bringing back reasonable force to discipline our students?

This is downright sad. And this comes after all those thousands of Tala spent on workshops, meetings, conferences where our leaders have travelled the world on how to change behaviour and get rid of violence in the community. 

Let’s try and get this right, on one hand you are telling people to stop violence and on the other hand you are encouraging violence by reviving something that had been outlawed because it was found to create more problems?

Who is the “idiot” here? And can you blame people for being confused? Can you see the contradiction in all this? Ridiculous, isn’t it? 

As a community, we have to make up our minds about where we want to go. We cannot go in all directions. We must decide carefully which way we go.

Let us remind you once more that discipline comes from the word disciple. The art of discipleship in a nutshell is to follow the examples set for us. When it comes to children, discipline is not the job of teachers and the education system. That is the job of parents and families at home where attitudes and behaviour should be shaped.

The problem we’ve seen is that when the job of discipline is left to teachers, they do not know where to stop. A slap turns into a whack. A simple cane suddenly changes to a 4x4 piece of wood so that discipline becomes an all out assault. We have seen this happen before and there is no guarantee that it will not happen again.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe, like all Christian parents, that there is a place for discipline. But discipline means a lot more than smacking our children. It means a lot more than the rod and the cane. It means to spend quality moments with them, communicate with them, love them and tell them why we do the things we do. If we have to slap them on the wrist, it’s got to be done with love.

I’ve seen parents whack their young toddlers across the face in the name of love and discipline. That is not discipline, it is assault and they should be held accountable for it by the law.

The fact of the matter is that charity begins at home. If children are brought up in a peaceful environment and taught the right lessons about discipline – including those verses from the Bible about love, respect and good behaviour -they will find it very hard to stray. 

What do you think? Have a wonderful Tuesday Samoa, God bless!

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