The gods of Pavlov. Let’s talk about caning in Kenyan schools. Are we creating hardened criminals or correcting bad behavior?
I was caned a lot at St. Josephs and I was among the more fortunate ones because I was a bad student but excellent at passing exams, go figure.
It took me fourteen years after the fact to recognize something and this article took me three days to write, it’s downright controversial and that fact convinces me even more that what I’m about to tell you is right.
Caning, beating or any type of physical violence meted out on children in the name of discipline is wrong and I’ll tell you why.

On a good week, where you were a good boy and didn’t get up to any mischief at St. Josephs you got around twenty canes. The upper side was always up for renegotiation, I know a boy who swore he got two hundred strokes in one week, and I believed him.
The natural reaction to any mistake we made in school was being caned, it was routine. I became a bad person mostly because of the caning; it opened up my horizons for mischief and made me an even better criminal. Before I did something I asked myself whether I could handle the cane load, if I could I did it.

The first time I was caned by the maths teacher I was shocked, I had transferred in from a soft school where we were warned severally before being suspended. At St. Josephs, the rule of law was suspended, the rule of the jungle was in effect, you were beaten first and questioned later. This method created first rate criminals.
Pavlov’s operant conditioning in layman terms; the dogs he used for his experiments were conditioned to react to a bell (conditioned stimuli) as they would when they were being fed (unconditioned stimuli). The dogs would salivate when a bell was rung because they knew food was on its way, so they associated the bell with food even without the food being present.

Caning a child follows the same principle; in short, we want our kids to behave a certain way so we train them with the cane the same way we do to dogs. It doesn’t guarantee they will stop the behaviour that earned them the cane, it just guarantees that they will not behave that way in your presence, you become the unconditioned stimuli.
If a class was noisy, instead of looking for specific noisemakers, a teacher would simply tell the whole class to remove their sweaters and put their heads on the desk, the whole class was beaten, a mass beating. If you fell asleep during class, if you missed class, if your uniform wasn’t clean…violence.

After a little while, an animal gets desensitized to any extreme event, there were boys who could take a beating of thirty strokes without as much as flinching. I have an extremely high opinion of myself, so I almost always looked for an excuse whenever I was about to be caned. And I still am a world class liar, I had to think on my feet to get out of being caned incessantly. Caning created hardened criminals, liars, violent adults, drug abusers and thieves.
Once we had a double maths lesson first thing the next morning and I hadn’t understood the topic, so I knew I was going to be caned anyway. I had had a particularly rough week and since I could not even sit properly, I decided enough was enough.

The evening before the lesson, I took Sylvester and Obbo and we cut down the mercifully thin tree that supplied the school’s canes and ferried the branches outside the school. Problem solved right? Wrong, we got whipped instead.
At St. Josephs violence was the quickest way to solve anything, it was just the way of the jungle. My back still looks like Jesus after his whipping on crucifixion day, it’s funny and it isn’t. By the time I left St. Josephs, my capacity for violence was unmatched, it was the accepted way to solve problems.
Obbo and I had a chart where we wrote down how many times we had been caned every week, the winner bought avocados. It was our own funny way of coping with all the violence around us.

It took me thirteen years, a degree in psychology and a lot of introspection and research to come to the conclusion that violence only creates violent people. Most times, parents and teachers cane kids because they are frustrated and they want the behaviour to stop, it’s a convenient and fast method. Except, kids will always find a way to get what they want, they just won’t go through you so caning is like putting a band aid on a brain hemorrhage.
It’s not ridiculous to hear cases of adults being violent with their spouses and saying they were beating them because they loved them, it was a message ingrained in them as children. I know people who cannot wait to beat their kids who aren’t even born yet, the teachers always seemed so happy to do it, it must be enjoyable, isn’t that a mental disorder?

I’ve seen boys do the most extreme things, including sneaking out of school at three a.m. to get a joint because they were caned the last time they were found outside the school fence. The problem wasn’t fixed, the boy was caned and the teachers assumed he would automatically reform. Except pain was just a barrier to be surmounted.
Caning was the colonialists’ tool of choice to instill order over the Africans, it was adopted in schools and it has continued to the present day. We are a nation of extremely meek adults, scared to challenge the excesses of the government, all fight and spirit has been beaten out of us, we associate authority figures with fatal consequences. Now you know the root.

Caning is conditioning at its finest, a quick fix for the impatience of adults. But human beings are not dogs, they will see beyond the beating and find a solution.
When I first joined St. Josephs I met the tallest boy I’d ever seen, his name was Victor and he was in love with life, always laughing and making jokes yet he was the sharpest boy in our group. Victor got the first two questions on an assignment wrong and he was beaten to within an inch of his life.

From that day on, Victor associated the stern maths teacher with a beating and he withdrew from all teachers and started stuttering anytime he saw the teacher. He never recovered and four years later when we were leaving St. Josephs, Victor was a shell of his former self. He was an angry, skeptical young man who failed all the exams he took, most of all he resented teachers and all authority figures. The adults failed Victor.
Victor was the first dog, we were all Pavlov’s dogs. And now I’m barking.



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