Conflict brews over expert’s views
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.”