Friday, October 31, 2008


“So, tell me what you think of Ghana. How do you find the people here?” Mr. Doh, the science teacher asked me this morning.

“Everything is so different here!” I said. “The people here are so friendly and welcoming.”

“What’s the biggest difference between the people?”

I hesitated for a moment before responding, “The biggest difference is the corporal punishment. We never use corporal punishment in American schools.”

I’m having the hardest time adjusting to this. They use corporal punishment here! If a student misbehaves in class, Monsieur Kofi does not hesitate to whack him or her on the head, or on the back. It bothers me to see this, but not as much as the cane.

The first time I ever saw a student being caned, I was quite shocked. I was walking past the library, and at the very moment I passed the door Mr. Barnabas struck a boy on the butt with a stick. I was quite disturbed to see this. Monsieur Kofi and Mr. Tony, who were standing nearby, laughed at me when they saw my reaction.

“Don’t worry,” Mr. Tony said. “See this African skin? It’s different from yours. It’s thicker. They need lashes to behave.”

I was quite appalled, but I kept quiet and said nothing.

Yesterday, something happened that almost made me cry. I was sitting in class 2B while Monsieur Kofi taught them a song in French. I could hear everything that was going on in class 2A, which is right next door, and I did not like what I heard, not one bit.

I heard their teacher yelling at them. I heard the sound of a cane being brought down sharply on a child. I heard a child crying, pleading with the teacher to stop. More lashes. More crying. “Please! Please, Madame! I promise, I’ll do my homework! I’ll do it!” The teacher yelled some more, and there were more lashes, and more screaming from the child. “Keep quiet! I said, keep quiet!” the teacher yelled, but the child couldn’t stop crying. When that child’s punishment was finished, the teacher called another student forward. I heard the same sounds. More yelling. More lashes. More crying and pleading.

I stared out the window into theirs, where I could see a faint silhouette of the teacher whipping a child that was so small his head didn’t reach the window. I was horrified. I could feel my eyes start to water. The children of class 2B turned to stare at me, and even Monsieur Kofi could see I was disturbed. After class, he apologized to me.

“But, they’re so good!” I said. (Class 2A is my favorite!) “And they’re so young! Did you hear them crying?

”I know. I think she’s too hard on them. They’re too small. But... she’s their teacher. I can’t interfere,“ Monsieur said.

Today, I was sitting with Monsieur Kofi in the back of his class, class 6, as he graded papers while class 6 had their math lesson. Mr. Tony had written fraction problems on the chalkboard for the students to copy. Apparently, one of boys had neglected to put a line between the numbers in the fraction. Mr. Tony was angry about this, so he sent the boy out. The boy returned a minute later with the cane.

”I gave you lashes last week for doing the same thing!“ Mr. Tony shouted. ”When will you learn? You must listen to your teacher!“ He whacked the boy across the butt.

My hands flew to my mouth and I gasped. The boy started balling. He backed up against the chalkboard, pleading with Mr. Tony to stop.

”Turn around! I’m not finished!“ he said. ”You never listen to me! You always forget to put the line! When will you learn? Turn around!“

Tears streamed down his face as the boy continued to plead with Mr. Tony to stop. Fortunately, Monsieur Kofi could see how disturbed I was, so he called Tony’s name to stop him. The boy ran back to his seat and sat down as the entire class laughed at him.

I was so distraught that I stood up and walked out of the classroom. I found an empty classroom and hid in the doorway, trying not to cry. I could never hit a child like that! I can’t believe that this is an acceptable form of punishment here! I can’t believe Mr. Tony could hurt a child like that. You see, Tony is such a great guy. He is always so nice and I adore him. How could he do this?

When I had calmed down, I went to the staff room. Apparently, news travels fast in this school. Mr. Barnabas asked me if I was upset about watching Mr. Tony giving lashes. Of course I was!Monsieur Kofi found me with Barnabas and told me he was looking for me, because Tony wanted to apologize to me. A few minutes later, Tony appeared and gave me a hug, saying, ”Sorry! Sorry.“

Mr. Tony, Mr. Barnabas, Mr. Moses, and Monsieur Kofi sat down and explained to me why they use corporal punishment. They seem to think that hitting a child is the only way to discipline.

”It’s in the Bible: Spare the rod and spoil the child,“ Barnabas said.

I refuse to hit a child. Not only does it go against my conscience, but also, I honestly believe I’m incapable of it. I’m not a violent person! I can’t even step on a cricket, let alone whip a child, however naughty he or she may be.

I explained some of the ways schoolchildren are punished in America... sticker charts, time out, detention, notes sent home to parents, etc. Mr. Moses was the only person in the room who thought my ideas might work. The others shrugged, saying, ”African children are different. I don’t think it will work.“

I hope my ideas do work. I wonder if there is a way to eradicate corporal punishment from our school. I want to make a change!

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