In America, we rarely think of sticks. Maybe we toss one for the dog to fetch, or stick a marshmallow on one to roast over a fire. But a stick is a stick, and nothing more.
Sticks here mean something else. Sticks means you have power; the ability to inflect punishment and pain on a child. And sticks are very common in schools.
I had heard about corporal punishment in training, and about PCVs who joked about carrying sticks around because the kids automatically behave. (I don’t do this!!!) This post is not about corporal punishment specifically, but about the power and respect you are given if you carry a stick around.
On Monday, I was teaching Grade 6 English, as usual, and saw a kid holding a stick under the table. I ignored it for a bit, but when he started hitting kids under the table with it, I took it away and tossed it onto the teacher’s desk. This stick was a nice specimen-still a little green, about an inch in diameter, and 2-3 feet long. It could do quite a bit of damage during recess, so I was glad I confiscated it. At the end of class I grabbed my books, pen, and the stick and headed out of class.
Because sticks are used to beat kids here, even at school, I felt dirty and terrible carrying this stick from the classroom to the staffroom. When I entered the staffroom, all eyes were on me-the white women coming from class with a formidable stick. One teacher even asked me what I was doing with it, and I joked that the kids were being so naughty and I just got so angry, and pretended I was beating someone with the stick. Then I told them in all seriousness that I had taken it from a kid and was heading to throw it in the burn pile. They know my stance on corporal punishment, and they themselves don’t allow it at school.
As I walked to the burn pile, at the end of the school ground, the kids saw me with a stick, and a look of weariness and caution entered their eyes. There were no timid “Dumela, mma”s or “Hi”s from the little Foundation Phase kids…they just stopped what they were doing to see what I was going to do with the stick.
It’s upsetting that a stick has so much power to subdue kids. If I wanted to get the kids to behave, all I have to do is carry a stick to class. I don’t, because that is awful and I never want to have kids think I will hurt them. That is not ok to me.
Another example: This morning I was going to the yard tap to fetch my bathing water, keeping an eye out for the insane Mr. Turkey who keeps trying to attack me. I was running the water when he appeared out of nowhere, and would NOT let me back to my room. He kept lunging at my legs every few steps with his pointy beak, and I was shouting at him to back off. I couldn’t run to my room because I was carrying a full bucket of water. My host mom came out of the house then, to dump her bath water, and saw Mr. Turkey bullying me. She had to fend him off so I could dash into my room. She then went off to the tree and brought back a nice stick and told me to use it. Which I did. When I went to dump my bathwater, I carried it with me, and Mr. Turkey and all the chickens didn’t even follow me.
So, sticks are ok to fend of insane turkeys, but not to beat kids.
And don’t laugh about the turkey. He is huge and scary, and has a really sharp looking beak.