Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Spare the rod…

A Touch Of Nokoko by Kofi Akumanyi

"Parents are to be given the power to stop teachers caning their children, despite a commons revolt by seven Tory MPs last week.

"The Tory revolt came on a second vote in which the government was asking for money to pay for the changes. During the debate, Sir Keith was attacked from all sides over the Bill which will allow some children to be caned and others not. The Bill was introduced to comply with a European Human Rights Court ruling on a case brought before it in 1982 by British Parents who objected to their child being beaten at school.

"Sir Keith said that to have two types of school - beating and non- beating and allow parents to choose would be too expensive. To ban the cane altogether would go against the wishes of many parents and teachers.

"Giving parents the right to opt out was the least objectionable solution"

- Daily Mail.
The issue of corporal punishment in schools has been debated, fumed at and much heat expended over since the first teacher laid the ubiquitous cane on the back of a school child, that the current wranglings over the Bill in the British Parliament sound a little tired to my ears.

Arguments in support of corporal punishment have been adduced by many a parent who thinks that the 'rod serves a good purpose in the maintenance of discipline both at home and school.

The opponents, no doubt, see nothing good in inflicting physical pain on a rational human being only to instil discipline and obedience. They argue that children are very impressionable in their formative years and that gentle persuasion and sharp talking-to often achieve the same effect, if not better.

So you ask me: do you think Corporal punishment is worth voting for? I would answer by telling you this anecdote from Ghana which clearly shows that even though Ghanaians (and for that matter, West African) parents have on expressed grave concern about the some totally unacceptable way teachers exact occasions Corporal punishment on their erring pupils, by and large the practice has helped steer some cantankerous pupils back on the road to good character. By the same token teachers have paid dearly for their over enthusiastic

unrestrained use of the cane. Teacher Odzindzim, a six-foot, moustached man at my Town Local Authority into all the children. In his class of forty children, one-third of them girls, his imposing personality (or, so we thought at the time) was enough to make the most obstinate pupil think twice before he attempted any silly pranks that children were wont to do.

He was so feared that some parents (this was the saddest part of all in the estimation of us kids) often appeared in person to complain to Teacher Odzindzim about something or the other that their wards had done at home and specifically requested him to perform the thrashing of the poor kids while they looked on.


Now, Teacher Odzindzim was a showman 'extraordinaire'. He had a special towel in the compartment of the classroom cupboard where the books were stored. This he used to wipe the sweat (it was a lot of hard work) on his body while dishing out the punishment. On a day like that the poor victim would be called before the 'Assembly' (a meeting of the whole school) where the specific charge would be made and the punishment exacted.

The four biggest boys in the school would then be asked to step forward to hold down the poor boy rigidly by the arms and legs on a table and the 'Cane specialists' would begin the operation. The minimum strokes of the cane he usually delivered for a minor offence were 25 and the maximum for major offences were fifty. The poor chap would often be asked to count the strokes which, because of the pain, often got mixed up and therefore had to be started all over again (according to the unwritten rule).

The sadistic teacher, we believed, obviously enjoyed it all immensely and regarded himself to be the epitome of discipline in the school. But some of the older boys said they knew otherwise. It was secretly rumoured that Teacher Odzindzim was not all that he had drummed himself up to be because he was terrorising the adolescent girls to his bed which situation those girls involved could not breathe a word about for quite obvious reasons.

Teacher Odzindzim had been ruling supreme for about five years until his luck ran out. He had devised a method in his class for caning pupils for any wrong answer they made in an Arithmetic lesson. The plan worked like this: in an exercise popularly called 'mental' which means no time was allowed for writing out and working out the problem dictated by the teacher, a pupil who was weak in the subject and got twenty out of thirty problems right, collected ten lashes.

So when Ama's grandmother made an unscheduled appearance in the class one afternoon, we would have thought he had come to complain about something she had done wrong at home, except that Ama had an inscrutable smile on her face.

"Where is Teacher Odzindzim?" she burst in unannounced.

"Nana, what's your problem? Has Ama done anything wrong?" the Teacher said approaching the old lady expectantly.

"She hasn't done anything wrong. It's you who have done something wrong. You bastard! When I'm through with you, you wouldn't recognise your skin... why did you beat Ama... why why?"

With that she pulled a long cane from under her cloth and started whipping the totally flabbergasted teacher, in front of the class.

The story spread like wildfire throughout the town. Teacher Odzindzim had met this match, Grandmother Asibe would not stomach this senseless corporal punishment; not on her grand-daughter.

That set the ball rolling for other parents to speak out. The only difference was that they didn't exactly object to corporal punishment per se but made it known that it ought to be selective and used as a last resort.

The moral in the foregoing?

Quite simple: if you try giving parents the power to stop teachers from caning their children we may very well end up having parents beating their own children and those children beating their own teachers. PS: We the children at Teacher Odzindzim's class would have got round to doing that - eventually.

talking drums 1985-02-04 rawlings under attack from left-wing comrades kojo tsikata shinkafi on shagari and nigeria's 2nd republic