Friday, July 3, 2009

Corporal Punishment

It is almost 5 am. I have been up since the 4 am bell rang for fifteen minutes earlier this morning. I cannot get back to sleep because I am composing a speech I will probably never give.

Yesterday I put myself in between a teacher and a student he was violently beating. Never, at any time, did I feel in danger, but the beating was real, it was serious and seeing it made me both physically ill and very angry.

Immediately afterwards, I was keyed up on adrenaline and I haven't really stopped thinking about it. So when the bell woke me up this morning, I found myself composing a speech to give in the teachers' meeting today. A speech about setting examples and creating a learning environment. A speech that I will never give.

In training we are told that corporal punishment is illegal in Samoa, but that we should expect to see it anyway. We are also told that as Peace Corps volunteers, this is not our battle to fight. If I made my speech, I would accomplish nothing other than alienating the teachers at my school. I don't have any constructive criticism to make, because I don't have any alternatives to offer. Teachers are told not to hit students, but no one tells them what to do instead and I don't know the answer. I know that I don't hit the students. But I also know that I don't consider the same things punishable offenses as the other teachers in my school. Compared to American high school students, the students at my school are angels. I cannot get angry that their uniform isn't up to code when I know that they are not bringing weapons to school (machetes don't count, you have to bring a machete to school. how else are you going to cut the grass?) or doing drugs in the bathroom. 

When I had a student cheat on her mid-year exam, I simply ripped up the exam and she got a zero. I think that was sufficient punishment. I don't know if the other teachers would agree with me.

Cale did some research on corporal punishment in the States and discovered it is not illegal in most states. In fact, we both grew up in a state where corporal punishment is legal. So in that way Samoa is more progressive than Indiana. The problem here is the law has no teeth. People know it is illegal, but they don't think it is wrong and they know they won't be prosecuted for it.

Several weeks ago there was BBQ at my school for the sports teams. A student sat down next to me and we watched the volleyball game. She was from my training village, though I didn't know her during training. During the course of our conversation she said to me, "You don't hit the students."

"No," I said. "It is illegal."

"Other teachers hit the students."

"I know. They shouldn't."

"We hear that you said something to the one teacher when he hit the students."

"Yes. Yes I did."

"That is good."

So if anything. There is that.

— Sara


Patty said...

Hurray for Sara! I commend you for speaking up. I think your conversation with the girl from your village shows that you're having an impact. Maybe her generation will grow up to believe that there are alternatives to corporal punishment and maybe the teacher involved in the beating will think twice about hitting another student. It may not be your battle to fight but I think that speaking up against injustice is one of the most important things we are called to do.

annette said...

ahh! you have made a positive difference in at least one life, and i am sure many others that you are not even aware of..this is what it is about. you are a brave soul. good for you sara. i am so proud you are part of my family : )

Anonymous said...

This is a hard one. I taught high school english for a while and also found the hitting very painful ( and i wasnt getting the hits,....) thankfully Im not a peace corp - Im samoan, and can give the speech in teachers meeting, and write to the paper, and drive the student to the police station to report assault.Ironically - the teacher doing the hitting in this case was a palagi ( who had lived and taught here for forever). Anyway - the speech and the letter writingand the police thing didnt really achieve what i would have liked it to. LIfe went on pretty much as usual. The poor kid in question got beat up AGAIN by his hostel master BECAUSE he complained. One person can only do so much. BUt like the other comments mentioned - the more individuals that do something ( no matter how 'small') maybe enough ripples will happen?

whatever said...

I know beating a student is wrong, but the reason the Samoan students are well behaved is because that's exactly what's going to happen if they mess up. If you just let them do what they want, they are going to end up like students here, but I understand where you're coming from.