Some things will take a long time to change…this becomes more evident every day in Tabola, Lesotho. After twenty-one months here, I am still shocked when I walk into a classroom and find a teacher beating her children for reasons beyond my comprehension. (Beating doesn’t have the same connotation here as it has in the U.S. Beating is synonymous with hitting with a stick.). “You’re wearing no socks today,” “Your book is still not covered,” “That answer is wrong,” “Your head is not shaved.” or, “. You did not bring in your money.” I shutter at the sound of the twig crashing down on innocent little fingers or the backs of shivering calves.
Yes, I know that I have not come here to change teachers…I am here to experience Basotho culture and offer glimpses into United States’ culture. But it’s so hard to watch! The more I work with Basotho children and teachers, the more proud I am of the American system of education. We do embrace the child! Most of our teachers can teach with enough self-esteem so as not to have to use punitive, forceful, negative methods to “get results” from their charges. We truly are a country that has learned that a child absorbs knowledge best in a safe, comfortable and positive environment.
Don’t misunderstand me; there are potentially good educators here, but they all seem to have a stick attached to their right hands (or left, as the case may be)…and, without the false power that the stick holds, most Basotho teachers are unable to function. Ask them to teach a lesson without holding that stick, and they become lost little puppies. By the same token, Basotho children truly believe that the only way for them to work is through threat and physical abuse. It will be a long time until a teacher can walk into a classroom in Lesotho and command respect without that attached stick! What an incredible waste of potential teaching talent.
I can understand that the more mature teachers might have trouble giving up the stick; after all, they’ve been teaching this way for years, and habits, good or bad, are hard to break. But why the young ones?? Why the teachers just out of the university or the teachers’ college where they are supposedly taught the theories of positive thinking, teaching and reinforcing?? Why do they immediately pick up the stick when they inherit classes of their own?
Yes, I have given workshops on alternative methods of classroom management, and yes, I have shown successful alternative methods through examples when I am in a classroom. For the most part, I am stared at with a look of skepticism and pity for the poor American who doesn’t realize that Basotho children are different…lazy, dishonest and apathetic…ugh
Some common reasons for the “stick” method are:
1. Children are lazy; they need to “feel the stick” to learn.
2. Children cannot be trusted; beat the “bad” out of them.
3. Children are forgetful, but they won’t forget if you threaten to beat them.
Sometimes I wonder why I am still here…but then a little one passes me on the path to or from school and shyly smiles, knowing that I, an adult, will smile back…even stop to talk…and then I know that I belong here.
If one young soul learns that kindness begets kindness, then some progress is being made. Maybe she or he will one day stand in front of a class filled with eager, smiling young faces and say to them, “Good morning my children; how can I help you today?”