Moving Back to Jamaica

A blog about my Move Back to Jamaica after 20+ years of living in the US. Most of the articles focus on the period from 2005-2009 when the transition was new, and at it's most challenging.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Let the Beatings Continue

I don't know where the quote comes from -- "Let The Beatings Continue Until Morale Improves" -- but it has always resonated with me.

It brings to my mind the image of an English sea-captain, on the HMS something or other, giving the order to his first mate to continue to use force until the bad attitudes of the grumbling sailors changed.

I thought of it this morning, for some reason, as I remembered a teacher of mine from Prep School, who I will call Mrs. N.

Anyone who was in my class will remember her, especially those who were struggling with the material and their classroom performance. Mrs. N was known for her beatings with the heavy ruler, inflicted on us 9-12 year olds.

Poor performance in English and Maths were dealt with severely, which meant a few good hits with the heavy ruler on the legs, back, arms or buttocks. The key to escaping them was to both behave, and get good grades -- a couple of elements of school life in which I did not have a problem, so I escaped the ruler.

But others didn't. One girl wet her pants in fear after (or before?) being beaten. Another guy, I remember, painfully hobbled about after being hit about the legs.

It got to the point where one girl I knew, who sat in front of me, began to feel guilty about owning a heavy ruler that Mrs. N liked -- one of those 18 inch, metal edged ruler that could do some real damage to someone whose addition was less than perfect.

One day, Mrs. N, in a rage to beat a student, asked her why she was hiding the ruler. Her explanation "Because I don't like to see you beat people," earned her a slap, before she returned to the business of beating the student.

To add to the frequent bouts of violence, there were also the insults. Mrs. N, when confronted with poor performance, would sometimes go over the top and shout "You damned jackass" (with a slightly American accent for effect.) "You are nothing better than the garbage on the street."

Where were the parents in all this?

As far as we could tell... largely supportive. It was an ongoing joke that parents would sometimes ask teachers to tell them when their children misbehaved so that they could double the dose when the child got home. Perhaps a part of the reason was that Mrs. N was preparing us for the all important Common Entrance -- the 11+ exams that all children in the island took in order to gain entrance to high school.

Failure to gain a coveted place could be disastrous, so the stakes were very high and everyone knew that Mrs. N produced results. If it took beating, then so be it. If more beating would help, then parents would be willing to help the child pass the exam by adding to the mix back at home. Mrs. N's class was the one that parents wanted their children to be in, and "us kids" feared being placed in it because of what we had heard from other kids.

To some reading, this may all sound ridiculous.

However, we were lucky, because we knew from the grapevine that there were much worse things happening in other schools. At one school, a teacher was arrested by the police for beating a child excessively. At most other schools, instead of a ruler they used a strap or a cane. In fact, I remember being beaten with a cane when I was 5 or 6 at my prior school.

Things did not change when I graduated and went on to Wolmers Boys School, either.

There, the ruler was not used -- instead, it was the cane and fan-belt.

While I escaped both instruments of punishment, I recall two public beatings, both at the hand of a vice principal.

One was administered to a friend of mine, who was hit with the cane across the back while we were assembling. This was an extremely quiet fellow, who just happened to be talking at the wrong time. Fortunately, he was wearing a heavy denim jacket and was spared something awful.

Another was administered during a prayer being read by the vice principal. He started, and then seemed to pause. We all stood reverently with eyes closed, supposing that he had lost his place.

The next thing we heard was the sound of 3 strokes.

As we opened our eyes in shock we saw him marching back to the podium from the back of the assembly muttering under his breath, from a student whom he had just beaten. For what I will never know.

He mumbled an apology, and continued on with the prayer.

I also remember an English teacher of mine recalling for us in vivid detail, and horror, a beating he had witnessed that day. Although the authority was not mentioned by name, we had no problem guessing who it was. A different vice principal was well known to be a bit mad, sometimes beating students by mistake who, according to legend, had only gone to ask him for a piece of chalk.

In the story recounted by the English teacher, who was clearly appalled, he shared how he saw the vice principal raise up on his toes as he mustered all his strength to deliver the whipping. "His face was bright red" was one line I remember.

Yet, once again, we were lucky. At other schools we heard about, things were much, much worse.

So, the question is -- does this have anything to do with the high crime rate that we have today, with the highest per capita murder rate in the world?

Multiple studies suggest that violence breeds more violence, and so does common sense.

On a much broader scale, I believe that the US is finding out this truth in Iraq.

On a miniature scale, I recently read about a study that showed a connection between corporal punishment, and later dating violence. The study states: "The results indicate as corporal punishment experiences increased, so does the probability of approving of partner violence and of actually assaulting or injuring a dating partner."

A child that is taught not to hit, but in turn receives corporal punishment receives a mixed message, and is more likely to follow the demonstrated example than the teaching.

The shame, guilt and anger that accompany the beating continue long after the pain disappears, and into the adult years. At that point, the adult turns the buried feelings into action themselves.

They beat their kids. "It was good for me, so it should be good for them."

They beat their wives and girlfriends. "They should behave themselves and know who is in charge."

They beat homosexuals. "All battyman fi dead."

They advocate whipping as suitable punishment for crime. "They mus' feel it also."

And then they throw scriptures behind the beatings to justify the violent behaviour.

Of course, this is not about "THEM," but it is really about "US." Here in the Caribbean, we are all on a continuum of those assisting in creating an environment of violent behaviour and there is something that each of us can do to reverse the situation that we now have on our hands.

The absolute worst thing we can do is to insist on our innocence, and refuse to take any responsibility for our behaviour. That will just allow our contribution to the problem to continue... unabated... and concealed from our eyes. Maybe this is where most of us are at the moment.

One of the better things that we can do must start with looking at the issue for ourselves to see our own part more clearly.

I am grateful that there are some government initiatives that have been implemented since I was a child. Beating is now outlawed in schools (although I suspect it still continues.)

Parents are being encouraged not to hit their children. I recently saw a programme focused on that effort and I think we can all contribute to finding improved methods of parenting.

I do not have children, but it struck me a few years ago that in the same way I do not tolerate smoking in my home, I could refuse to tolerate beating. Thankfully, I have never had a show-down with any friends who have tried to beat their kids on my premises, although I have imagined what might happen many times.

If I had children, I would teach them that physical violence is unacceptable behaviour, outside of say, the boxing ring, where it involves willing participants.

Much harder, for me, however would be refusing to participate in jokes about beating, which happen to make up a good chunk of stand-up humour. Black Americans, in particular, like to joke about what their parents did, or would do to them -- in particular "My Momma."

These jokes are funny, because they are so familiar, but as Simon Wiesenthal said "Humour is the weapon of unarmed people: it helps people who are oppressed to smile at the situation that pains them.”

But boycotting Eddie Murphy, Richard Prior and Chris Rock seems to be the wrong action to take.

The humour is real, and maybe there is a way we can use them. As jokes are passed back and forth between us on this Independence Day, we could reflect on those painful memories that are brought up when they relate to beatings we either witnessed or received. Perhaps we could be silently reminded of our commitment to end violence, starting in our own homes, and what we are willing to tolerate around us.

Ultimately, we must each find our own way to end our contribution to the mad idea that beatings and morale are positively related. Small steps are all that are needed.

PS. There was a study done that showed that Jamaica is second in the world in the number of beatings. In a survey done of 11-12 year olds, 97% percent reported being beaten with an "implement" at home, and 86% at school. Among 2-5 year olds in economically deprived households, some 79% of children had been beaten with an implement.


At 8/07/2006 7:59 AM, Anonymous B said...

This is one of those things I always find interesting because people react in different ways.

I vivdly remember one particular beating my sister and I got at home with a belt on wet skin, and trust me, I also remember spending a lot of time thereafter making sure I did nothing to deserve a beating ever again. :-D

At 8/07/2006 5:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

R.I.P..... Peadove, J.D.; master teachers and disciplinarians.

At 8/08/2006 8:46 AM, Anonymous rooona said...

shiver !
how the body is handled , abused in this country !
and the psyche ! and the mind !

At 8/08/2006 7:22 PM, Blogger Mad Bull said...

Well, I don't know... I got some beatings as a child and I think I am the better for it. I got beatings at home when I misbehaved and I got beatings at school, and with a cane too. As B said, "I also remember spending a lot of time thereafter making sure I did nothing to deserve a beating ever again.". Basically, what I am saying is, I disagree with you. Not quarrelling, but I don't have a problem with this practice. I have a problem with excessive beatings, etc. but not beatings inflicted by a rational, caring adult.
Next up, some adults really do need a good beatdown sometimes. Not my wife, mind you, but there are some little #$@^@ who respond well to a couple of kick and thump, when necessary.

At 8/09/2006 7:53 AM, Blogger fwade said...

Mad Bull,

Your response is one that I touched on in my blog, and one that I used to say myself. I may write a follow up blog on this alone -- we'll see.

To "anonymous" -- nice touch! Right on the money, of course. The teacher that did the complaining about JD was also known as "The Count" / Mr Mac. He had another nickname I cannot remember for the life of me.

At 8/10/2006 6:44 PM, Anonymous Georgia/Caribbean Free Radio said...

I think the acceptance of corporal punishment in the Caribbean is largely related to the fact that children are considered -- both consciously and unconsciously -- not to have equal rights as adults.

If an adult were to hit another adult with a ruler or belt, for any reason, it would be considered inappropriate. Yet it's still widely believed that it's acceptable for a parent or teacher to hit a child (who is usually smaller in size).

I had the opportunity to discuss the matter recently with some secondary school teachers at UWI, but some (especially the ones from "problem" schools) had difficulty in seeing this flawed logic for what it is. But that probably goes to show just how deeply ingrained our sense of children as lesser beings is.

At 8/10/2006 8:46 PM, Blogger fwade said...


Agreed. Historically,the arguments have remained the same for beating those we consider "non-beings," but the ones being "beaten" have changed:

At one point it was perfectly fine to beat Blacks who were enslaved... and many of the beatings were Black on Black.

At one point it was perfectly fine to beat women (and in some places in Jamaica and others, it still is a sign of real love.)

At this point, it is not so perfectly fine to beat children... by and large the more violent and poorer the country, the moer OK it is.

At this point, it is also not so perfectly fine to beat gays... and, again, by and large the more violent and poorer the country, the more OK it is.

At this point, it is also not so perfectly fine to beat criminal suspects... and, again, by and large the more violent and poorer the country, the more OK it is.

Other groups that I know of that might be included here are serfs, aborigines, prisoners of war, convicted criminals, Jews, Shiites, Sunni's, Christians, opposing gang members, Bantu's, etc. etc... basically, any group that we could consider non-beings, or people without rights.

Humankind is advancing pretty slowly in this regard.

It is important that we each find ways to help our race evolve.

At 8/10/2006 9:46 PM, Blogger Gela's Words said...

To be honest, and this might sound surprising coming from someone who suppose to know better, I don't know if some of the criminals shouldn't get a lick or two, I'm so fed up with them. But the intellectual in me can see where this can be a problem given the fact that our justice system isn't perfect.

At 8/11/2006 12:50 AM, Blogger Geoffrey Philp said...

Once you accept the fact of beating someone else, you accept many other things.
If you have ever been beaten unjustly
If you have ever been beaten by a drunk/sadistic parent or heard/watched and couldn't do anything about it
If you have ever been beaten to the point where you feel like the life is going to leave you
If you have ever been beaten for being facesty or "out of order" by someone who merely because they had the power could do so
You would think differently

At 8/17/2006 2:59 PM, Blogger Mad Bull said...

I will think upon what you all have said... still, I didn't really suffer much from it.

At 8/19/2006 12:55 PM, Blogger fwade said...

Mad Bull,

Wow... Powerful.



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