Discipline in the Classroom: Past and Present

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Discipline in the Classroom: Past and Present

Throughout the history of classroom education, many different types of disciplinary systems have been applied by teachers and other authority figures in schools for the sole purpose of controlling student behaviour. These systems include corporal punishment, psychological abuse or neglect, and assertive discipline. Although two of these three topics are illegal at this time, they were all widely used in schools across the country a short time ago.

Corporal punishment in general can be defined as the infliction of pain or confinement as a penalty for an offense committed by a student. During the time that corporal punishment was used by schools all over the United States and Canada, parents did not have any say in school discipline. It was completely up to the school authority figures on the type of punishment and the severity of the punishment given to the student. The classroom teacher had the most say in the matter since it was the teacher who usually administered the punishment to the students. Because of this, some teachers (who especially liked the idea of physical punishment) took advantage of the minor guidelines set by the principal to protect students from excessive physical beatings. These guidelines varied from school to school, but often included length, width and thickness of the paddle or any other weapon used, the amount of times the student may be struck by the weapon, and other minor details about other types of physical punishment. The list of weapons that were acceptable for teachers to use include long: rubber hoses, leather straps and belts, sticks, rods, straight pins, hard plastic baseball bats, and arrows. If at the time a teacher did not have his/her weapon, they would often resort to punching, kicking, slapping and shaking as ways to "get children's attention". Besides these common manoeuvres of punishment, other and often more painful techniques were used by teachers. Children in a class for the learning disabled claimed that their teacher, and her aide banged their heads into their desks until some students were unconscious, twisted their arms, and even tried strangulation. Another teacher shook hot tabasco sauce in the mouths of the troublesome student and smeared it in their faces. When parents found out about this specific act of cruelty, they were outraged and took their case to state officials. The final verdict on this case was that they saw nothing wrong with forcing kids to eat something they did not like (Butterfield 1983). In the Christian schools, this kind of punishment was related to the concept of original sin and the need to combat Satan by beating the devil out of children. This same idea was used in other religions as well, and children were beaten because of mental illness, or disease. One of the most common arguments for corporal punishment is that its abolition would leave teachers powerless to control students, especially those who might be a threat to the teacher. Despite this, it has been proven that most corporal punishment is inflicted against relatively defenceless students who are to small or weak to strike back. Now that corporal punishment is illegal in almost all areas including the Unites States and Canada, the only physical force that can be used by teachers is in specific situations (with the unintention of inflicting pain) such as to quell a disturbance, to protect oneself, property, or another person.

When a child is physically abused, absence from the abuser results in a relatively quick healing of the physical wounds, but the emotional scars left by the abuse last a lifetime. For this reason, many psychologists believe that when a child is psychologically abused in schools, it will have a far worse effect on children all throughout their lifetime, and quite often lead to stress related diseases (ulcer, depression etc.) and may even lead to suicide. It is a common mistake...
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