ACT's dubious record on advocating violence
According to the Press ACT leader Rodney Hide's recent attack on Labour Cabinet minister David Benson-Pope, whom he accused of physical abuse of students as a teacher, has split the ACT party. This has led to speculation there is a leadership challenge underway, led by Ken Shirley.
It does not surprise me that the Benson-Pope issue has caused splits within the ACT party, as ACT have previously argued that violence against children is normal and we should only act in cases of 'brutality'. Its a very dubious record for a party supposedly defending the rights of students not to be physically assulted by a teacher. Why has no one questioned their credability before? Consider what Stephen Franks said in 2001.
Our schools and our teachers were more secure before we abolished corporal punishment in schools in 1990. Suspension figures were not kept prior to 1991. In that year there were 4,297 suspensions and 175 expulsions. In 2000 there were 22,029 suspensions and stand downs and 157 expulsions. Many of them were for violence or threats of violence to other students, and even teachers. That doesn't necessarily mean cause and effect but it should at least cause us to be hesitant before accepting the proposition that all violence towards children begets violence from children.
I know that good dedicated teachers are now driven from teaching by insolence, lack of respect for learning and the rights of others in class to learn, bullying and even physical fear in their classrooms. Possibly corporal punishment would have left with teachers a tool for controlling boys so that they had not sunk in performance and aspiration in relation to girls schools as they have.
Franks also suggested children's advocates should try to channel violence rather than abolish it. Does that mean Benson-Pope should have used a channel for his tennis balls? Stephen Franks gets worse.
"Violence is very, very normal. Sadly the boundary between brutality and violence ... blurs for some people. But we can't deal with a brutality problem by pretending all forms of aggression are violence." (NZ Herald, 28/6/02)
Forcing a (deflated) tennis ball into a student mouth is clearly unacceptable way for a teacher to treat a student. But given that ACT have attempted to make a crass distinction between 'brutality' and 'violence' their crediability on the issue ought to be questioned. Is ramming a tennis ball into a student's mouth mere 'aggression', 'brutality' or 'violence'?
This only demonstrates the value of discouraging all violence against children. A repeal of outdated provisions such as Section 59 of the Crimes Act would be a fine start. Under such a law change 'a light smack' would not lead to a prosecution, as children would be given the same protection as adults under the general law of assault. And not every 'technical' assault of an adult leads to a prosecution.