Memoirs Of An Immigrant: Please Spare The Rod

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On a hot 1995 summer morning my family gathered for breakfast in the reception of a hotel. It was the same sweet breakfast routine, tea, bread and a little family talk, the moment was beautiful. However in the space of less than 30 seconds what seemed like a beautiful breakfast gathering became a bitter family experience. From the corner of the room came the words “I hate you Mum,” “Your Stupid Mum,” and other words not fit for the public. It was a kid barely 10 years old raining words of insult on his mum, the whole room froze as the kid went on for what must have been a whole minute of diatribe against his Mum. Something about this picture was wrong, I knew it was wrong because I saw the look on my fathers face and the movement of my Mothers hand, they were thinking the same thing “why hasn’t someone knocked this kid out?” Then I remembered we were in America…

Growing up in Nigeria my parents favorite bible passage was “spare the rod and spoil the child,” a phrase they turned into action on numerous occasions. To make matters worse my Mum was an elementary school teacher in the most conservative “beat your kids” country of Nigeria. Armed with backing from the Nigerian government and a skill set developed from years of flogging her elementary school students she could be described as a well versed mercenary of flogging. For instance if the hotel scene had played out in Nigeria, the poor kid would have been rushed to the Igbobi General hospital before he could say “Mum.” And he would have been put there because of slipper projectile flung from my mum from 50 feet across his room. But he was in America and all my parents could do was stare in disgust. In their minds they probably blamed the lack of respect on the Liberal American Society, a society that deemed it atrocious for a parent to flog a child. Nigeria was the complete opposite, where children could not talk to their parents without first gaining permission to speak. Flogging was ubiquitous, everyone flogged, and it could be your aunty, your uncle, even your Mums best enemy. If you stepped out of line and your mum was not around someone was there to put you back in line, with a little belt help. This freedom of flogging instilled a degree of respect in the Nigerian community that is all but rare in the American community. Too many times I observe kids in the American community talking back to their parents or questioning their actions; on the flip side the immigrant kids especially from Africa are silent. A silence that is most likely a direct result of flogging.

But sometimes the flogging loses its focus and becomes abuse. I faced that sort of aimless abuse in elementary school during a morning Yoruba class. The topic of the day was numbers, for the first time we did not just stop at 10, but went all the way to 20. The teaching on that day was done in a strictly oratorical style, the teacher made the class repeat the numbers first in English and then in Yoruba “One-Okan” “Two-Meji” “Three-Meta” “Four-Merin” over and over again till we were almost sore in the lungs. After what seemed like an eternity of numerical recitation, our teacher wiped the chalk board clean and instructed the entire class to write down the Yoruba numbers from 1 to 20 in our notebooks. As was customary our teacher went around the class monitoring and assisting the students with the assignment. She finally made it around to my table, were I was apparently struggling with the assignment. I swear I could recite the whole thing when she stood in front of the class, but once I had to do it on my own, my mind went blank. She stood over me asking me to write down something but I couldn’t, I couldn’t remember a thing and then it began. She hit me on the back with a 30 cm wooden yellow ruler as if to knock out the words stuck in my mind, but that didn’t seem to work, a fact reinforced when pieces of her ruler came shattering down on the cold concrete floor. An action that prompted her to utilize a high yield strength cane to get the words out, a cane which she intermittently landed on my back over and over again. I remember sitting down waiting for the ordeal to end, I had no idea what to do except sit and absorb the pain. I tried to write but my words didn’t make sense. I felt like a failure, why me out of a class of 50 people, why me? The image of incoherent words scribbled on a notebook drenched with tears from my own eyes and torn with confusion from my own pen, was permanently etched in my mind.

It would take years for me to recover from that incident, years of low self confidence in my academic ability. But when I finally overcame it, it was because of something other than the rod I was used to. It was my second year high school class report that unraveled a potential that had been beat down for years. That year I brought my worst report home, I had performed miserably. I expected the worst from my Mum, she was definitely going to be angry or upset and I knew I was going to get flogged, it was inevitable. I gathered myself and presented my report to my Mum. I never could tell if she was extremely busy or simply worried at that moment, regardless of the circumstances, she did not say a word. She just kept silent, a silence so loud that it shook the very foundations of intelligence that had been beat down for years. Something about the silence stung me, more than any cane or belt had stung me. At that moment, I made a decision that the next time I brought my report home it would not be met with silence but with loud sounds of praise. That moment was the day I discovered myself, and made a turn around in academic and leadership performance that has bolstered me through life till this moment. Unfortunately lots of children might never have the chance to discover themselves. They are trapped in a society monopolized by flogging as the only path towards respect and intelligence. A society that flogs first and asks questions never. I recall many instances where I saw kids beat over and over again for being too slow or hyperactive, but when I look back at the words of Bill Cosby in his book “Common People” and contrast my life experience in the States, I can’t help but think that some of those kids never deserved to be beat. In his book Bill Cosby talks about kids that are motivated more with words as opposed to the rod. A strong argument he reinforces via a simple juxtaposition of the African American and Asian American community when it comes to child discipline. In the African American community an astonishing 94% of parents believe in flogging as sharp contrast to the Asian community where only 34% of parents approve of such acts. With such lopsidedness, you would expect the Asian community to be less respectful of their elders, but it’s the reverse. Asians for years have shown a level of respect for their elders that exceeds that of the African Immigrant community. Their children are involved in less crimes and are known for their academic accomplishments, all this in a system that frowns down against flogging children. But worse are those kids that grow up with medical problems, deemed too stupid for society, instead of visiting doctors they endure sessions of flogging. They grow up physically abused and mentally confused, the same confusion I faced staring at my tear drenched notebook as my back was beat over and over again.

Am not advocating one extreme or the other, because we know this issue like many others is not about right or wrong, but rather flexibility in determining when right is right and wrong is wrong. The African community and American community can learn a bit from themselves, a fusion of ideologies measured in the right amount would create atmosphere of love and respect that would catalyze the growth of well rounded children. In raising our children or younger siblings; it is our responsibility to ensure our attempts to use the rod is diluted with an attempt to give words of love, encouragement and support. Only then can we raise children with the best ideologies from both worlds.

Okechukwu Ofili
Africa’s #1 Success Coach
Copyright © 2008 Ofili Speaks, Inc. All rights reserved



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