Saturday, January 14, 2012

Caribbean Context - Corporal Punishment

A Jamaican friend and I got to talking about corporal punishment, ie, spanking, lashing or, as we say in Barbados, licks. In the Caribbean, we're firm believers in "Spare the rod, spoil the child."

The Old School

There's an African proverb, "It takes a village to raise a child." In my parents' time, Barbados, Jamaica, and probably some of the other Caribbean islands also lived like this. You had to be careful that no adult that knew you, saw you do wrong. Say you were supposed to be walking home, and what you're actually doing is climbing the mahogany tree in the gully in your school uniform. Then Maisie from by the shop sees you. Licks.

It's moving away from that now. I never had it like that growing up, but there are parts of Barbados where it still happens.  I think there are 2 main reasons it's disappearing. First, there's the concept of "you can't do x-y-z to my child." I kind of hate this concept, because half the time it's just teaching the children to be rebellious (that parent who tells her child not to write the teachers' lines, etc.). The second reason is that "village life" is disappearing. Once upon a time, you'd know everyone within a 1/2 hour walking distance. Now, that happens less and less.


I speak under correction, since I left Barbados 4 years ago, and I'm going on my childhood, at least for the primary school system. In primary school, all teachers can administer corporal punishment. I'm not sure what the rule is, but all the regular teachers in my primary school only did lashes in the palm with a ruler. The headmistress had a strap (leather belt), but you had to do something pretty deviant for that to come out. I remember that when someone got the strap, it was an event. We'd all be gathered outside listening to count the lashes.

In secondary school, the rules are stricter. I think you have to be a senior teacher to administer corporal punishment. At my secondary school, only the head and deputy head ever did. At 2 of the 3 schools I taught at, I can think of cases where senior teachers did as well.

There is one instance where I don't support corporal punishment. There were, when I was growing up, teachers in primary school who would lash for academics. That was a great motivator for those who could do better. But for those who were academically challenged, it was just an eternal sentence. There was one teacher (at another school, where my best friend went to lessons) that was legendary for it, but I think it's pretty much died out now.


Most parents in Barbados and Jamaica still believe in lashes. This section is probably going to sound like some sort of human rights violation to those of you who grew up in non-physical-punishment countries. But here goes nothing.

A few parents will settle for a smack of the hand, but as a child grows older, that becomes less effective. There are 3 types of parents that continue on the corporal punishment route: any belt, any thing, special belt.

The any belt parent, I think, is self explanatory.

The anything parent is a special breed. This parent or grandparent, usually female, will use anything that comes to hand. They'll lash a child with a newspaper, a bedroom slipper, a curtain... If it's small, has a blunt edge and is found in a house, it's fair game.

Then there's the special belt parent. This special belt may have a name, and it's own special place in the house. Special belt parents seem to take joy in sending the child to get the belt. It's the worst psychological dilemma. You already know the lashes are coming, and now you have to be the instrument of your own un-doing.

Another thing that I'm not sure happens outside the Caribbean/Black families is per-word lashing. As a parent quarrels about whatever you've done, they punctuate each word with a lash. You-lash-think-lash-you's-lash-a-lash-big-lash-woman? Lash-coming-lash-home-lash-all-lash-hours?

As for "abuse". There's a line. It's just a lot further than where a lot of other developed nations think it is. Rest assured though, if your mother is routinely disciplining you, you don't even want to make the joke about calling police. That will not end well.

I realise that all of this sounds terrifying, like Caribbean women are all running around with chair legs, ready to knock their child unconscious, but that's not the case. I don't know how to explain it better except to say that our systems are just different. Honestly, I prefered the lashes to the "deprivation" tactics that I got later on - grounding, allowance restictions and the like.

Where did your parents and your society stand on corporal punishment? (I suspect the West Indies may be the last stronghold in the West.)


Marsha Sigman said...

I grew up with the belt or switch. But it had to be pretty bad to warrant that. Needless to say...I saw them a little too frequently.ha

Now it's all about the time out. If your child misbehaves they get a timeout in the corner, one minute per years in age. And when they older in school, it's detention after school.

I hate the idea of spankings for bad grades! I'm a grounder myself. The kids really hate that. I think they would prefer licks.ha

KO: The Insect Collector said...

I'm from the rural US south, and spanking, as we call it, is still pretty prevalent there. My parents did a lot of it-- with various utensils like wooden spoons and belts. My sisters still do this with their kids.

I hated it as a child, thought it was unfair and taught kids (women especially) to be timid to a fault.

I don't spank my kids. We do time out. Is it effective? Uh, not all the time.

But as a child of the spanking generation, I don't think spanking was effective either. I never stopped doing something that was against the rules and thought "if I continue, I'll get spanking, so I should stop."

I never thought about it as a consequence at all.

great post, btw. :0)

Anonymous said...

Got the belt,atrap and birch! Up through HS, and so did my bros and friends! Made us all better men, and YES ,I use em on my own teenage sons!

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