The Textbook-Incident and Why I Hate Myself That Night
(quoted from a letter to fellow Peace Corps volunteer)
The day started like any other, English class, Arts class, blazing hot sun and discus training, then a bit of catch up work in the classroom during evening studies to deal with administrative drudgery. I never expected I would spend the latter part of the evening hating myself.
Being a tomboy teacher myself, I horseplay with my grade 7 students all the time. I am distinctly aware that occasionally my horseplay takes on disciplinary tints; a punch in the arm here, a knee in the bum there. The effects are always humorous for my students, who either never seen such horseplay from a teacher, or never seen such pathetic excuse of corporal punishment. I never feel bad over these horseplay, since I never rely on them for real discipline. I laugh along with my students over these acts.
Things took an unexpected turn during even studies that day. I was distributing textbooks, something that could have been done innocuous without a hitch. I wasn’t particularly stressed that day and wasn’t PMSing. The class got unnaturally loud, and the teacher on duty complained. Somewhere along the chaos I brought a textbook down on a student’s head. I didn’t think twice at the moment. It way after evening studies on my way back home did I realize that I have crossed the line of horseplay.
It was not the first time I brought a textbook down on a student’s head before, but all previous times I had laughed along with the students; the act was more sisterly than anything. It was fun. But the textbook-incident during the evening study was not. It was not horseplay. I enjoy horseplay, and I didn’t enjoy anything that night.
So, I spend the evening moping and hating myself. I recalled that I had an unusual tolerance for witnessing corporal punishment comparing to other American volunteers, and compounded with the textbook-incident made me felt like a terrible person.
I’m generally a pacifist (hence Peace Corps,) have no history of violence, is a habitual yea-sayer and rescues drowning insects out of my bathtub, so why did I cross that line between horseplay and corporal punishment so easily when other volunteers couldn’t even bare to watch it?
The only explanation was that I grew up under corporal punishment myself. I got my share of spanking growing up in Taiwan in my own house, and was beaten in schools all the way until grade 9 when I went to the States. Not all the teachers practice corporal punishment, and I remember a few who absolutely refuses to beat at all. Nonetheless, the prevailing practice easily won out over those few enlightened teachers, and when I dissected the textbook-incident in my head, I concluded that I did it because it was part of the disciplinary repertoire so deeply rooted in my upbringing that I didn’t even realize when the monster rears up its ugly head. I thought I had taken extra mental precaution against crossing the line, but the textbook-incident proved that I wasn’t trying hard enough.
I thought about my parents, liberal and enlightened even by American standards, and yet corporal punishment wasn’t completely absent from my household. Thinking back now, they probably wanted to beat me a lot more than they allow themselves to. Even with their enlightened mindset, corporal punishment seeped through, not because they are naturally violent, but because they themselves were brought up under corporal punishment and it was hard for them to make a clean break with that century, or even millennia old tradition.
Corporal punishment is not different from domestic violence. It gets passed on from generations to generations. It’s the herpes of family values.
Having done that mental exercise, I realized how bad I want that entrenched tradition to stop with me. It’s enough to be on the receiving end of the problem in past, I don’t want to become part of that problem myself.
I still kinda hate myself, but hopefully I learned a painful lesson (pun not intended) that would make sure that the textbook-incident would never happen again.
For us volunteers it might feel that our effort to stop corporal punishment is a drop in the ocean, but now that I realize I’m experiencing the lasting impact of corporal punishment myself, I believe every little bit of effort is needed to battle this problem, chipping it away as much as we are able to. American schools and homes weren’t always violence-free, and it took decades of effort, countless people who were told they were wasting their time, to reach where we are today. What we do counts.