I don’t know if you can really prepare your children for the rough and tumble of school life here in Algeria. The Algerians can, in general, be quite rough in their dealings with each other, whether this is verbal or physical and sometimes what we would consider extremely rude, is thought of as absolutely normal here. This may explain why, although slapping children in school is now against the law, it is still so widespread in the schools here. The society in general doesn’t really see anything much wrong with it, and parents rarely complain when their child has been slapped. Although this is changing, again, slowly but surely.
The one thing I cannot abide is having any of my children slapped in the face… that kind of a slap has nothing to do with discipline, but is degrading, and worst of all, not permitted in Islam (haram). When my second youngest son was about 8 years old he was slapped in the face by his teacher much to his resentment and the fury of his older sister. She stood with her hands on her hips and reminded me that I had said this was one thing I never allowed.. at home or at school. So…. What was I going to do about it? As my husband was not in the country at the time, and my eldest daughter was busy with University, it was up to me to go up to the school myself and talk to the teacher. Now, you have to know one thing about me – I am….a wimp, I’m totally non-confrontational, I absolutely hate any conflict of any kind, and I was a total nervous wreck at the thought of trying to get my point across to someone who was born Muslim, in a language I couldn’t speak, and who was in authority over my child and therefore had the power to make his life a misery. But worse than all that was the idea of going back on my word in front of my children, when I wanted them to grow up with integrity. So up I walked to the school (albeit very slowly), armed with my trusty Sahih Bukhari, a well-recognized book of authentic sayings of the Prophet Muhammed (May Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him), my copy of which was in both Arabic and English, and took a deep breath and entered the school gates. After the initial umpteen cheek kisses and ‘how are you’s, with my son and daughter standing expectantly on either side of me, I broached the subject of her slapping my son on the face. But she hadn’t slapped him in the face!!! That was just a caress! She loved my son and wouldn’t do anything to hurt him! If that was a caress then I would hate to see what she considered a slap! I opened my Sahih Bukhari and showed her the hadith (saying), and she asked if she could keep the book for a little while to which I happily agreed. She told me that she prayed and that she watched Islamic programmes on the television and I knew that she was defending herself Islamically, so I told her that I envied her the fact that she spoke and understood Arabic, because I did not want her to think, for one moment, that I thought of myself better than her in any way. Because… I didn’t. This whole conversation took place in my schoolgirl French, fledgling derja and with the help of my two children. I could see, from the way my son was behaving with her, that, when she put her arm around him to hug him in order to show me how much she loved him, that it was not an act as he was quite comfortable with her, and this reassured me immensely. He never ever was slapped in the face again Alhamdulilah, and he had her until he finished primary school and always liked and respected her.
My youngest started school while his dad was out of the country, and he was smacked within a short time. My next door neighbour said that her father-in-law and husband were absolutely incensed when they heard, and would go straight up to the school and have a word (or two or three!) with the teacher if I gave them the go-ahead. I decided to try and deal with it myself and went to the teacher along with my eldest to help translate. I have to admit she was a nice woman, and she asked me what I did to reprimand him so I told her that I put him in a corner for a while, so she agreed to do this. A few weeks later I was talking to him about this and asked him wasn’t this a much better option than getting slapped. He looked at me and said “actually…. I’d prefer to be slapped.” When I finally picked my jaw up from the floor he explained “when I have to stand in the corner it takes ages, but a slap is over and done with quickly.” And that was the end of that! I think there is a big difference between a slap given as a punishment in a calm way and one given in temper, although I do not, in any way, condone either one….. I know a slap is a slap, but the kids only ever seem to get upset when it was unjustified or given in temper. We have been very fortunate in both the place where we first lived when we moved to Algeria, and now where we live, that, in general the teachers were approachable alhamdulilah. But I do believe that society is changing also, albeit rather slowly. I have noticed a big change in the attitude of some of the parents of my children’s friends, who are not prepared to accept any longer the bad behaviour of teachers, and who will club together to go up to the school and complain. This gives me hope as I know that the education system will only change when the society no longer accepts the status quo and is prepared to do something about it. Every journey starts with just one step.