Feature Article of Thursday, 21 February 2013

Columnist: Essien, Frank

Rejoinder: Abuse Mistaken For Discipline

Dr. Frank Essien

Prince Akpah’s article on the above subject brought sad memories to the fore when I read it. I must admit that I do not know what is happening in our schools because I have been away from mother Ghana for a while, but I am in touch with events in the motherland, thanks to Ghanaweb and other web sources of information. However, I hope that the kind of “discipline” of pupils that Mr. Akpah’s article made reference to do not exist any longer in Ghana.

I am writing this rejoinder because I share the same sentiments as Mr. Akpah. Like Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:1 I can say that “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.” I believed, like other Ghanaians, that the kind of abuse of school age children was “discipline”, but now that I am a man I agree with Mr. Akpa that it was a serious abuse of children in our days and is still an abuse if it is going on now in Ghana. As the educationist Maria Montessori rightly said, Discipline must come through liberty…We do not consider an individual disciplined only when he/she has been rendered as artificially silent as a mule and is immovable as paralytic. He/she is an individual annihilated, not disciplined.

At Anglican Middle School in Winneba there was a male teacher, who eventually became an Art instructor in a High School in Cape Coast, and his badge of honor was to cane pupils to “immovable paralytic.” Was that discipline? Where does discipline end? Where does cruelty begin? Somewhere between these, thousands of children inhabit a voiceless hell (Francois Muriac). Enough of that. Now that I am a man I must put childish thoughts away and join hands with individuals who speak and act against such barbarism called “Discipline”, what a misnomer! I still cannot forget the fury in the face of our Art Master at A.M.E. Zion Middle School in Cape Coast, Mr. U.U. Akpade, a Nigerian national whose mantle, while wielding a cane was “I will tame you wild children.” Wild children he thought we were, but right discipline consists, not in external compulsion, but in the habits of mind which lead spontaneously to desirable rather than undesirable activities. I am convinced that most of you readers have examples from your school days and even now of such teachers who were child abusers and exhibited their hatred of children in the name of “discipline”

These kinds of brutish corporal punishments meted out to children in the schools and in some homes need to be stopped. We cannot categorize them as discipline. Where did we ever get the crazy idea that in order to make children do better, first we have to make them feel worse? Think of the last time you felt humiliated or treated unfairly. Did you feel like cooperating or doing better?

Let me conclude by citing what a Distinguished Professor of Elementary Education once said. According to Prof. Ayers, our kids require us most of all to love them for who they are, not to spend our whole time trying to correct them. If corporal punishment is a major recipe of our disciplinary smorgasbord in Ghana, then this must stop. I entreat all lovers of freedom and justice to join hands to bring this cruelty to children to an end.

Frank Essien, PhD.


Africana Studies Department

University at Albany, New York