Con­flict brews over ex­pert’s views

The Star Early Edition - - NEWS -

IT has been a dreaded – but ap­par­ently harm­less – pun­ish­ment for gen­er­a­tions of naughty chil­dren forced to stay in class af­ter school while their friends go home.

But now de­ten­tion has been branded a “kind of vi­o­lence” by a UK gov­ern­ment-funded con­flict ex­pert – to the dis­may of tra­di­tion­al­ists.

Plac­ing dis­rup­tive pupils in iso­la­tion in a class­room is “per­pet­u­at­ing a dom­i­na­tion cul­ture”, ac­cord­ing to Maria Arpa, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Cen­tre For Peace­ful So­lu­tions, which pro­vides me­di­a­tion ser­vices.

Arpa, who made her con­tro­ver­sial com­ments at a pres­ti­gious ed­u­ca­tion conference, was awarded a three-year grant by the last Labour gov­ern­ment to de­velop meth­ods of re­solv­ing con­flicts that she now pro­motes at schools and prisons.

She told the au­di­ence at the Festival of Ed­u­ca­tion at Welling­ton Col­lege, Berk­shire, that such pun­ish­ments were de­signed to im­prove be­hav­iour by telling pupils they should do the right thing be­cause oth­er­wise “some­one big­ger than you will get you for it”.

To the anger of other del­e­gates, she added: “What we are do­ing – and schools back this up when they use pun­ish­ment mod­els – we are mak­ing vi­o­lence ac­cept­able. Pun­ish­ment mod­els are vi­o­lence dressed up by another word.”

Arpa said there was a “power imbalance” be­tween teach­ers and pupils at schools that re­sulted in in­jus­tice and un­fair­ness.

She said this gave chil­dren the mes­sage that: “If you are big­ger than me and you be­lieve you have right on your side, you can hurt me.”

Arpa, who has also worked as a Sa­mar­i­tan volunteer, a coun­sel­lor and a Reiki mas­ter, said pupils should de­velop a moral com­pass “from the in­side out, not the out­side in”.

Oth­er­wise, she warned, schools would pro­duce “nice, dead peo­ple” who com­plied with author­ity but lacked in­de­pen­dent thought.

Her views were chal­lenged by fel­low pan­el­lists, in­clud­ing the gov­ern­ment’s be­hav­iour ad­viser, Tom Ben­nett, who said: “Bound­aries set with love are for pupils’ ben­e­fit. It’s not vi­o­lence.”

Another pan­el­list, a teacher, was also crit­i­cal. She said: “When we imag­ine that help­ing a child cor­rect his be­hav­iour is to hurt him, we de­stroy author­ity.”

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