Corporal punishment contestations, paradoxes and implications for school leadership: A case study of two South African high schools
The continued use of corporal punishment in some South African schools and the reasons advanced for it make this subject topical even now, twenty years after the abolition of this practice. Corporal punishment is a worrying issue among human rights activists and scholars. This paper reports on contestations and paradoxes regarding the use of corporal punishment arising from a qualitative study in two high schools, and the implications thereof for school leadership. Data was generated through interviews with the principals, selected teachers and learners. These participants were purposively selected with the understanding that they were information-rich regarding the issues at stake. The paper was informed by a two-pronged theoretical framework, involving the social learning and distributed leadership theories. The former was adopted to seek explanation regarding the use of corporal punishment, while the latter served as a lens through which to draw implications for school leadership. Findings show that on the one hand, some community members at the two schools saw corporal punishment as an acceptable, tried and tested disciplinary measure, and that on the other hand, it is viewed as a form of violence, and a thing of the past. Overall, it seemed that the two schools were failing to root out the use of corporal punishment. The paper argues leadership to be the missing link in the two schools’ apparent failure, and that the stronger and more distributed leadership was, the more likely corporal punishment would be to be eradicated, and other disciplinary means practised.
Keywords: contestations; corporal punishment; culture; discipline; imitating; influence; leadership; paradoxes; rights; violence