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     Volume 8 Issue 72 | June 5, 2009 |

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Breaking the Wall

Nusrat Jahan Pritom
Children need to be free to express themselves so that they can learn better in class.

Apprehension is the feeling that knocked on me ever since yesterday. It gnawed me all day and felt like a pit in my conscience. I twisted and turned all night with one question in my mind, “Is this the only way?” I just wished so ardently that it didn't have to come down to this, but unfortunately, it had to be done. I had to be tough on a child.

To start with, I hate violence. Although I am a great fan of martial arts, when it comes to actual violence, I tend to chicken out. Whether it be a pest (cockroaches, mosquitoes, etc) or anything, I leave it for others to do, because I just cannot bring myself to hurt something. And here I am, trying to gulp down the premonition of punshing a kid!

My nine-year-old student is a typical brat. Good when he is at play, but a nightmare when it comes to study. His mother and I decided that we go a bit hard on him, at least during his final exam. It all seemed to go well too. What he did not do in three days was done in an hour. But there comes the question, is studying only meant to be a way of passing exams. Isn't it supposed to be more than that?

My silent treatment seemed to go better than my yelling treatment. It intimidated him for the first two days. He could not guess how to cope with it and decided that studying well for two hours was the only way to get out of it. During the class, as he was immersed in his books only casting a few glances my way to find me solemn and cold, I was pulled into my own thoughts. I thought about the days from my own third grade class and remembered what a drag it had been for me too to study but at least I wasn't as stubborn as this one. I remembered how I held my teacher, with awe and fear. I am still afraid of my then Class Teacher, Sajeda Rahman and I know I will probably respect her for the rest of my life. I know it is this fear that had pushed me so far in life. But here is this kid, who not only abuses the teacher, but also threatens to attack her but even dares to try to hit her. One day, I actually dared him back to see if he really wanted to hurt me. I ended up with a bleeding wrist. He had procured his weapon (I don't know what it was but it was good enough as a deadly weapon-it had two columns with thorns in a line). He put the two columns around my wrist and pulled it upwards with the result that it cut all the way through. I told him that I wouldn't show him I was hurt, even if I did get hurt and he just thrust away the weapon in rage.

If patience is virtue, it will lead to virtue of this child and so I told myself to be patient. However his behaviour seemed to relapse all over again, resulting with me opting to quit. “I have had it,” I said, “I am not going to teach such a spoilt brat” and I left bursting into tears. Later that night, the mother called and she too burst into tears, saying that she had hoped we both could make her son better. She asked me for two more months to 'repair' his behaviour and I conceded. I made a mental note of my mistake, which was that the force of motivation and reinforcement had failed to capture him completely. Within a few days, he understood that my silence was just a way to con him into doing work and that I would probably never do anything really threatening to him. So now, the only option I had left was to prove it to him that I did mean business when it came to behaviour modification. If he did not learn it the easy way, it would have to be the hard way even if I did not have the slightest inclination or strength. Still, it would be for his own good.

The problem with the kids who get everything too easily and are never refused anything is that they do not realise that in life they will not always get what they want. In fact, the reverse is true that they would mainly get disappointment and failures. This aptitude of learning by mistakes, trying after failure should be part of growing up. Not getting what one wants should be put into practice right from the early stage of life. We assume that we are helping our kids by giving them all that they want but sadly that is not always the case. Sometimes we are helping them more by refusing them what they want. A pampered kid is going to the path of one who will live a life of painful realisations.

Children and studies are like chalk and cheese and usually cannot mix. But infusing fear into a kid's heart, forcing them to study cannot be a permanent solution. During my silent treatment, I was often surprised to find him doing everything neatly and properly. As a child, I never could excel when I was made to study under pressure and fear. Freedom helped me extricate myself from the monotony of this arduous task and explore the many depths of knowledge. If I remember correctly, in my case that happened right about at this age-in the transition from class-three to class-four. Yet I know that for each child the time is different. And it also will not just spring by itself. The boy or girl needs to be encouraged continually and needs to be left to themselves so that they train to become self-reliant. “Plans providing motivation to conform to required standards, will be more effective than plans that simply serve to control behavior,” says a study of IEP (Individual Education Plan).

Albert Bandura's Social Learning Theory outlines three requirements for people to learn and model behaviour which include retention (remembering what one has observed), reproduction (ability to reproduce the behaviour) and motivation (good reason) to want to adopt the behaviour. It is the theory that new behaviour is learnt through reinforcement or punishment or through observed learning. As far as punishment is concerned, it is said that the punishment which may work on one child may make another child more diverted and so it should be closely linked with an understanding of the child's sole mentality.

For the many parents and teachers who suffer the tutoring hours the following facts, from personal experience, may be helpful:

a) Childhood is a very susceptible stage and perhaps the only point of life where habits can be attained or modified.

b) They must realise their identities as a person which means that they have certain rights and responsibilities.

c) Abusive language must be kept away in the child's presence as this will induce an inappropriate language, lack of empathy and boost the child's egocentrism.

As ZIg Ziglar had said, “I learnt more as a teacher than I ever did as a student for the amount of research I have to
go through”.

I can relate to the very statement in full harmony.

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