Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Fact: Some parents are source of student indiscipline

At least until late last week, one of the best-performing videos on social media was of a precocious male pre-schooler at a pre-school welcome ceremony in black America. The small boy interrupts a female teacher greeting those in attendance to use two taboo words that rhyme with “fork” and “beach.” For the record, the boy puts a lot of gangsta energy on both words.

“Good afternoon parents, good afternoon boys and girls -”

“Shut the [fork] up!” cuts in a male baby-ish voice, the speaker’s face off-camera.

In the distance, the blurry image of a seated young woman in jeans and pink T-shirt, possibly one of the parents, is seen to reflexively double over in apparent effort to hide the face and possibly laugh. A male adult voice is heard to say “That’s not nice” and later repeats the teacher’s “No, thank you.” When the teacher asks the boy to leave the room (“You need to leave”), he shoots her down with “No, [beach]!” Seconds later, another teacher bursts forth and from the second row, scoops up the culprit: a small bundle of misery about half the size of a bag of potatoes.

“He’s out,” the second teacher as she and the boy disappear from the frame in a blur.

We have referred to the foul-mouthed boy as the “culprit” but he is actually the exact opposite of that – victim. He is growing up in an environment where adults use “fork” and “beach” the same way normal adults use “the” and “and.” He is being socialized into an environment where the language of violence and physical violence itself are coins of the realm, coins one needs to accumulate in vast quantities in order to both negotiate and survive in that environment. It is likely that “he’s out” means that the boy is not just out of the room but the school as well. Otherwise, he would not only become a serious discipline problem but also role model extremely bad behaviour for other pre-schoolers, including those whose parents are raising them right. It is as likely that he would mercilessly bully those who resist him.

The incident in question has a lot of relevance for the Botswana situation because the home environment is also the source of some of the over-the-top student indiscipline that we see in (mostly senior) secondary schools. One of the most recent and infamous examples is of a mother who called the Headteacher of Kgatadimo Junior Secondary School in the Palapye sub-district to complain very bitterly about her dear son being reported to the police for breaking the law.

Apparently, a student at the school had been driving his mother’s car to school, prompting the school management to report the matter to the police. The student would obviously not have a drivers’ licence because he is under-age.  Failing to raise someone who has to be the school head on the phone, the mother left an audio message that she starts by excoriating the management for reporting “a toddler so young” to the police. The Setswana she used was “lesea le le kananyana.” Accusing management of proclivity to “destroy people’s lives”, the mother felt that management should have advised her if (yes, if) it adjudged her actions inappropriate than report the matter to the police.

The mother considers the matter closed and warns that no one should dare ask her precious child about an incident that she has resolved with the police – whom she deemed to have demonstrated better parental aptitude than school management. The deputy school head had taken a picture of the toddler-driven car in question and it’s likely the picture was presented to the police as evidence of the crime that was being committed. The mother threatens to visit a capable traditional doctor and cast a voodoo spell on the photographer. At certain points in the recording, she reiterates the “Don’t you dare!” warning as an attempt to thwart any disciplinary proceedings against her son.

The recording proves the obvious: that some parents “love” their children too much and that such love incentivises misconduct that plays itself out in a school setting. The Kgatadimo school management was faced with a grave law enforcement challenge and was right in reporting the matter to the police. If the car had hit a student or school building, they would have been asked how an unlicensed driver came to drive a car within government property that they are legal custodians of.

There is as noteworthy an incident that happened years ago at the Mogobane Junior Secondary School, of a male student who terrorised everybody (teachers, students and support staff) during a Saturday sporting event. On Monday, he was sent back to collect his parents and returned with the father who sat forlornly and periodically shook his head in pain and disgust during a disciplinary hearing in the headteacher’s office. When invited to say his piece, the father turned to his teenage son and anger flashing in his eyes, asked him: “Monnake go boleletse ga kahe gore bojalwa ga bo nwele mo tlaleng?” [How many times have I told you to never drink on an empty stomach?]

Of late, airwaves have been suffused and editorial holes in newspapers plastered with discussion on student indiscipline. However, one aspect of this national conversation is shot through with fraud: just about anyone with an airtime-loaded cellphone or access to a computer can call a radio station or write a letter to the editor to offer pearls of wisdom on discipline and child-rearing. The reality though is that not every parent qualifies to offer parental advice about student indiscipline for the precise reason that some are its source.

One very good example that illustrates the latter point is of an incident that happened at the Shoshong Senior Secondary School more than a decade ago. Following a strike by students, management invited parents to a meeting that students and teachers also attended. One of the angriest parents was a floor-hogging woman who, during her final turn at the floor, proposed that each parent should cane his or her child and she proposed to go first. That was agreed upon and shedding her shawl and seemingly hyperventilating, she called her child, a girl, up to the stage where the caning was to be administered. So, the daughter took up position behind a chair, gripping the back rest with her hands and bending forward in order to expose the area to be caned – the buttocks. The mother started by flexing her right arm (punching in the launch codes of a missile as it were), gripped the cane real tight and bit her lower lip.

Around this point, some started fearing for the little girl because the mother’s rage suggested that she could even kill her. From up high the cane came hurtling down at break-neck speed towards the girl’s buttocks. However, when it was some 10 centimetres from making impact, it screeched to a halt so abruptly that those with twenty-twenty vision may have spotted micro-dust particles swirling in the air – likewise those with good hearing would have heard the screeching. The mother then gently lowered the cane such that produced the weakest thwack when it made a safe landing on the girl’s buttocks. The entire hall erupted into uproarious laughter.

Ultimately, it doesn’t make much sense to talk about student indiscipline without talking about the indiscipline of some parents.

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