A few years before the Peace Corps assigned me to St. Joseph’s College, Sasse, in West Cameroon, Father Cunningham, a Mill Hill missionary, was made principal of the school and ordered to take back control from unruly students. Father Cunningham hired Mr. Tansinda to be Master of Discipline. The two of them figured out who the trouble makers were. They expelled some and allowed the rest to stay after being caned, for this was a boarding high school for about 400 boys in the British tradition.
My first day of teaching chemistry at the school, at the end of one class, three boys deliberately knocked over the demonstration I had set up, breaking several items and ran out the door – a mini flash riot. I had no idea who the students were, but I told the principal what had happened. The guilty ones spent three days out in front of the school cutting the tall elephant grass with machetes. The broken items had to be ordered from England and took months to arrive.
Later, Father Cunningham said it was no kindness to let the boys misbehave because, if they were unruly when they returned to their villages, they would be severely dealt with and could even be killed. Though he spoke of a far away place in a long-gone time, what he said still rings true.
It is unkind to let children and young people misbehave, because they will be punished for bad behavior sooner or later. The earlier they can be set straight the better, because otherwise they seem not to know where to stop. And there are increasingly serious consequences as one grows older for not managing oneself the right way in our society. It is a kindness to have high expectations for all young people’s behavior and academic performance. Let’s be kind.