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The cane will not end indiscipline in schools

By Julie Masiga | February 9th 2021

This caning issue is becoming an absolute pain in the backside. First of all, the people at the forefront of the ‘bring discipline back’ campaign are the most bad-mannered, and yet they grew up in a time when caning school children was still lawful

If caning was the answer to indiscipline, then we wouldn’t have a crop of such ill-behaved leaders running around talking out of both ends of their mouths as if their teachers didn’t beat the fear of God into them when they were younger.

If all kids needed was good hiding, then surely our current company of political headteachers would have a better sense of what is right and wrong. But alas. Here they are, running towards the edge of the cliff with hate-filled tongues wagging as if none of them ever attended a history class. Going by their behaviour, they were probably caned for turning up late, or missing class altogether.

Giving kids a good whooping is not the solution to bad behaviour. It might look like it works but in the absence of other kinds of discipline, like mutual respect and positive reinforcement, beating children only works to enforce submission and even then, only for a brief period of time. As soon as your kids figure out a way to either withstand the beatings or go around the rules, they will do it. And not necessarily because they are inherently evil, but because violence either begets violence or it begets rebellion.

So, while you’re bringing your fists to the fight, your kids are bringing their brainpower, planning, plotting, and determined to have a life despite their parents’ best efforts.

And then you have those parents who claim that they were raised by a village filled with villagers who would wake up and choose violence every single day. Y’know, those parents who put their hands on other people’s kids because that’s how they were raised. That whole ‘asiyefunzwa na jirani atafunzwa na ulimwengu’ clique who feel that it’s OK to enforce their values on children they have no legal authority over.

It sounds good on paper but in actual fact, strangers should never feel emboldened to raise their hands against minors who are not in their care. I’m not saying you should stand there and do nothing as your neighbour’s kid paints a mural on your gate, I’m saying that there are other ways to guide children back to the straight and narrow. Use your words, and if those fail, take it up with their parents. You have no place ‘disciplining’ a child without context.

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Which is not to say that children should be allowed to flit and float like wild birds without any reference to the rules and norms of an ordered society. Discipline is necessary. Children need to learn how to be responsible adults. But violence is not the way to go.

I’m not claiming sainthood here. I’ve hit my child a few times. Looking back, I was hitting her because she had done something that was offensive to me. I hit her because I didn’t like what she was doing. I hit her because of how I felt about what she did, rather than why she did it. In retrospect, a conversation would have been more effective than a beating. A conversation followed by consequences that imparted deeper meaning than the imprint of my hand on her butt.

Power imbalance

After a few beatings, I realised that my daughter had hardened her heart and her backside; so whenever she chose to ‘sin’ she has already factored in the consequence, and she would rather a beating than to sit down with Mummy and talk about the whys and the wherefores. Why? Because beatings are meaningless. They are just a manifestation of the imbalance of power between a parent and a child. A hurdle that most children learn how to clear in their endless pursuit to express themselves in ways that suit them the best.

My high school principal once slapped me because I was late for prep. She slapped me dead in the face and then took a step back expecting some kind of reaction — may be shock, perhaps a few tears. But I was more perplexed than anything else. I was puzzled. She hadn’t even asked me why I was late before her hand landed on my cheek.

So rather than get into an awkward slapping situation again, I decided to either get to prep on time or to be late without getting caught. It wasn’t about right, wrong, or any kind of morality: it was about expedience. And that my friend, is what ails Kenya today. Too much violence, and too little understanding.


Ms Masiga is Peace and Security Editor, The Conversation

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