Corporal Punishment in Schools and the #KannangaraReport

The report doesn’t say very much about punishment in schools at all; this is the only one I’ve found that refers to it:

  1. A final word has to be said in regard to the correction of faults. The compulsions of blind conscience rather than the use of intelligence govern many teachers in this matter. The primitive desire to take vengeance should be realized as deriving from infancy when attitudes were acquired blindly. The essential aim of the treatment of faults should be to help the pupil not to commit such faults again. Reproving him only arouses opposition.

While it isn’t clear that they are advocating for restorative practices - even proponents of corporal punishment says it is to “help the child”, and there is exactly such a loop hole in the Penal Code in Sri Lanka - the fact that they are against scolding the child (ගැරහීම) in the Sinhala text suggests that they might be, and were certainly against corporal punishment, seeing it as an act of vengeance arising out of blind conscience on the part of the teacher;

This blind conscience in the context of the student is described previously in the report:

  1. Before the child comes to school, he has already acquired blindly numerous attitudes, and these in the moral sphere are called conscience. They are naturally adopted from those prevalent in his social environment but as they were not acquired intelligently, they have the force of blind compulsions. They thus become a fruitful source of conflicts. The rational dealing with conflicts is the sphere where the school can be most helpful. The pupil must be constantly encouraged to face his conflicts intelligently, realizing the compulsive and intolerant nature of many of his attitudes. He should learn how to solve them intelligently rather than repress them blindly in a shame-faced manner, thus developing “complexes”.

So we could understand the teacher using vengeance as being someone who hadn’t had this intelligent modulation in their own education - and this is a general reality with punishments and especially corporal punishment - when you are an adult, you will tend to employ the methods used on you in your childhood unless you learn a better approach; and in that context I say corporal punishment is the worst approach, psychological punishments (threats, shaming) are not much better, non violent punishment (e.g. detention, suspension) are an improvement, but restorative practices are the best of all; however, it is worth keeping this quote in mind:

People try restorative justice for a few weeks, and when it “doesn’t work” they go back to retributive justice, which hasn’t worked for centuries.