Australian Ed Adviser Criticized for Corporal Punishment Comments

Dr. Kevin Donnelly, the hand-picked education adviser to Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, has said that he supports corporal punishment in schools, if done properly.

Jonathan Pearlman writing for The Daily Telegraph, says that Donnelly believes that corporal punishment can be very effective and remembers his own Scottish teacher beating him behind the shed at his school in Melbourne.

He says that the physical education teacher would escort the boys to the back of the shed and say, “We can either talk about this or you can throw the first punch.” Donnelly says it only took one time and, then, students were pretty well behaved for the rest of the year.

Those days are gone, Donnelly said, but:

“If the school community is in favour of it then I have got no problem if it’s done properly. There are one or two schools around Australia that I know where it actually is approved of and they do it. I’m sure they only do it very rarely.”

Donnelly’s comments were labeled  “anachronistic”, “deplorable” and “totally unacceptable” by school heads and teacher groups. Corporal punishment has been banned in government schools in Australia for two decades, although some private schools have held out on banning it.

Angelo Gavrielatos, the head of the federal teachers’ union says the union opposes any violent acts against children.

“These are extreme views which have no place in Australian contemporary schooling, they are from an era of the far distant past,” he said.

Amy McNeilage and Matthew Knott, of The Sydney Morning Herald, write that ire has been raised before by Mr. Donnelly.  He has called the school curriculum “Asia-oriented” and “too progressive”.

Christopher Pyne, the education minister was quick to say that the government did not support corporal punishment, and that Mr. Donnelly’s remarks were his own opinion.

Nollamara Christian Academy in Western Australia, still allows teachers to use the cane and will only enroll children whose parents agree to this policy.

“This is the way we do it,” the school’s leader, Pastor Roger Monasmith, said in comments published by News Corporation. “It sounds like a dictatorship, but it’s not. If you don’t sign the agreement to give them the cane, then we cannot let them come in.”

“We always give them a warning before we use it and we’ll give them one swat, (on the behind) and then the next time if they do the same thing, they get two swats,” he said.

The executive director of the Association of Independent Schools of New South Wales said that no private schools in NSW supported this “totally inappropriate practice”.

According to the article, corporal punishment can lead to disruptive and anti-social behavior, poor academic achievement, mental health problems, and drug and alcohol abuse.  There are other studies which have shown that it can be effective when the goal is “immediate child compliance”.

Australia’s education union ACT, according to Primrose Riordan, writing for The Canberra Times, not only disagrees with Donnelly on his corporal punishment endorsement, but also is skeptical of his role as co-chair of the Australian curriculum review.  Teacher and Australian Education Union ACT branch secretary Glenn Fowler criticized the suggestion.

“The real issue here is Christopher Pyne’s judgement in employing this man to review the Australian curriculum before it has had time to do its work”.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has said that a “gentle smack” can be good for children.