Monday, June 13
I saw children being caned today.
Often the teacher will walk around with a cane but not really use it, just have it as a threatening reminder. They’ve even asked me if I want one – not to use, they assured me, just to hold and keep them in line with. I of course refused.
Today partway through the French class I was sitting in on, two other teachers walked in. The French teacher asked the children to get up and stand in a line.
He lifted up his cane, a peeled wooden stick, and held it up above the first boy in line. He brought it down with a thwack, and the cane, already breaking, split in two.
“Oh my God, stop it!” I stood up and cried, my hands over my mouth. “He didn’t even do anything!”
The teachers and students laughed, and I ran over to try to grab the cane from the teacher. By then he’d picked up a fresh one off the top of the cabinet. He held it out to the next student in line, who obligingly stepped forward and turned her backside to the teacher. He brought down the cane three times, as the first boy proceeded to the next two teachers.
I’d been standing in shock this whole time, when the teacher grinned and asked, “Would you like a taste?”
“No,” I said shakily, and sat back down. I watched with my hands over my mouth, sometimes crying out, sometimes biting back a smile because the situation was so surreal I could only laugh. The whole class went through three rounds of caning, the younger ones jumping up, the girls yelping, and the older boys taking it silently.
The teachers weren’t hitting hard, but still, it seems awful to me. They were caning the entire class, which had done nothing wrong, simply to “keep them disciplined,” the French teacher said. The students did not seem to mind too much. They considered it normal and thought my horror was amusing. It was my first time seeing it, but apparently it happens almost every day.
In the U.S., we are taught from day one never to hit a child or hurt someone physically. Here, hitting is part of the education. They say they need it to keep the students disciplined, that otherwise they won’t do their work or respect their teachers.
Who am I to disapprove of their customs? Am I imposing Western standards or viewpoints? Isn’t it hypocritical of me to be righteous about a few light thwacks when I do nothing about the huge amounts of child labor I help to sustain as an American consumer? Is my liberal, “love-every-child-and-teach-them-with-kindness” attitude naïve? Can it be effective here?
These are the questions I am wrestling with as I adjust to the attitudes and ways of Ghana. I find that I am learning much about my ways at home by living and teaching away from home. I don’t think my attitude toward hitting children will change by the end of my time here, but I wonder how my viewpoints might shift or adjust.