This working paper discusses views and experiences of discipline and punishment in everyday schooling among a group of boys and girls aged between 14 and 16 years old, who are attending a public high school in an urban Andean city in Peru. It draws on data collected using a range of a qualitative methods, including in-depth interviews with students, their parents, teachers and headteacher; group discussions with students; and class-, school- and home-based observations.
The findings suggest that punishment is the cornerstone of the disciplinary system within the school setting and therefore shapes social relationships between the different agents involved, including students, teachers and parents. The school environment defines students as actors who lack authority and voice; they are there to obey the rules imposed by the headteacher and teachers, and if these are not observed, students are penalised. The high school studied, far from presenting itself as a democratic institution, reproduces hierarchical relationships and ends up being fertile ground for the imposition of will through physical and verbal aggression, not only between teachers and students but also among the students.
In this context, the paper highlights how the use of physical violence seems to be justifiable for children and for teachers, as a natural resource to deal with any situation of conflict. Negotiating is not part of school relationships; obeying is. Obedience is seen as a valuable lesson for students, by students themselves, the headteacher and teachers in the school education process. It is also noted that the school was understood as an institution that had the authority to discipline the students in its own way, even if they did not agree with the sanctions applied. The students don’t expect to live in an anarchic world – they demand rules and organisation, but don’t want rules to be unfair.
There is no consensus in relationships inside the observed school and this only ends up generating transgressions and alternative forms of relationships: students learn how to ‘get around’ the system that has been imposed by paying the teachers for better grades, escaping from school, fighting, etc. As the paper shows, the main strategies of correction used in the school are associated with punishment, through verbal sanctions and often corporal punishment, including hitting students with sticks. These interactions take place despite the fact that physical correction is banned according to the school’s own regulations. In that sense, physical punishment practices are inflicted on a practical level but prohibited on a discursive level; leading to the school becoming a daily transgression space where the rules and coexistence are separated and not related and where masculinity seems to be associated with physical strength.
Arangoitia, V.R. Young Lives Working Paper 70. ‘I’d rather be hit with a stick…Grades are sacred’: Students’ Perceptions of Discipline and Authority in a Public High School in Peru. (2011) 44 pp. ISBN 978-1-904427-76-6