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What is corporal punishment? The National Association of School Nurses defines it as “the intentional infliction of physical pain as a method of changing behavior. It may include methods such as hitting, slapping, punching, kicking, pinching, shaking, use of various objects (paddles, belts, sticks, or others), or painful body postures."
Still Legal in 22 States
While corporal punishment such as paddling, spanking and hitting students disappeared from private schools by the 1960s, according to an article published by NPR in December 2016, it is still permitted in public schools in 22 states, which can be broken down into 7 states that simply don't prohibit it and 15 states that expressly permit it.
The following seven states still have laws on their books that do not prohibit corporal punishment:
- South Dakota
- New Hampshire
The following 15 states expressly permit corporal punishment in schools:
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
What is ironic about this situation is that no accredited teachers' college in the U.S. advocates the use of corporal punishment. If they don't teach the use of corporal punishment in the classroom, why is the use of it still legal?
The United States is the only nation in the western world which still permits corporal punishment in its schools.
Canada banned corporal punishment in 2004. No European country permits corporal punishment. So far, the United States Congress has not acted on requests from organizations such as Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union to enact federal legislation banning corporal punishment. Since education is widely viewed as a local and state matter, any further banning of corporal punishment will probably have to occur at that level. If, on the other hand, the federal government were to withhold funding from states where corporal punishment is legal, the local authorities might be more inclined to pass the appropriate laws.
Rationale for Corporal Punishment
Corporal punishment in one form or another has been around schools for centuries. It certainly is not a new issue. In the Roman Family "children learned by imitation and corporal punishment". Religion also plays a role in the history of disciplining children by spanking or hitting them. Many people interpret Proverbs 13:24 literally when it states: "Spare the rod and spoil the child."
Why Should Corporal Punishment Be Banned?
Research has shown that corporal punishment in the classroom is not an effective practice, and can cause more harm than good. Research has also shown that more students of color and students with disabilities experience instances of corporal punishment more than their peers. The research shows that children who are beaten and abused are more likely to be prone to depression, low self-esteem and suicide. The simple fact that corporal punishment as a disciplinary measure is not part of any education curriculum indicates that educators at every level know that it has no place in the classroom. Discipline can and should be taught be example and non-physical consequences.
Most leading professional associations oppose corporal punishment in all its forms. Corporal punishment is not allowed in the military, mental institutions or prisons, either.
I learned years ago about corporal punishment from a man who was an expert in the field. I co-founded a high school in Nassau, Bahamas in 1994. As deputy director of the school, one of the first issues I had to deal with was discipline. Dr. Elliston Rahming, the owner and director of the school, was a criminologist. He had very firm views about the subject: there would be no corporal punishment of any kind. We had to find better, more effective ways than beating to enforce discipline. In the Bahamas, beating children was, and still, is an accepted disciplinary method in the home and in the school. Our solution was to develop a Code of Discipline which basically penalized unacceptable behavior according to the severity of the infraction. Everything from dress code to drugs, weapons and sexual infractions was covered. Remediation and resolution, retraining and reprogramming were the goals. Yes, we did get to the point on two or three occasions where we actually did suspend and expel students. The biggest problem we faced was breaking the cycle of abuse.
What Happens in America's Private Schools?
Most private schools frown on the use of corporal punishment. Most schools have found more enlightened and effective methods for dealing with disciplinary issues. Honor codes and clearly spelled out results for infractions combined with contract law give private schools an edge in dealing with discipline. Basically, if you do something seriously wrong, you will get suspended or expelled from school. You will have no recourse because you have no legal rights other than those in the contract which you signed with the school.
Things Parents Can Do
What can you do? Write the state education departments of the states which still permit corporal punishment. Let them know that you oppose its use. Write your legislators and urge them to make corporal punishment illegal. Blog about local incidents of corporal punishment whenever appropriate.
Organizations Opposed to Corporal Punishment in Schools
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry "opposes the use of corporal punishment in schools and takes issue with laws in some states legalizing such corporal punishment and protecting adults who use it from prosecution for child abuse."
The American School Counselor Association: "ASCA seeks the elimination of corporal punishment in schools."
The American Academy of Pediatrics "recommends that corporal punishment in schools be abolished in all states by law and that alternative forms of student behavior management be used."
The National Association of Secondary School Principals "believes that the practice of corporal punishment in schools should be abolished and that principals should utilize alternative forms of discipline."
The National Center for the Study of Corporal Punishment and Alternatives (NCSCPA) tracks information about this subject and puts out updates. It also offers an interesting reading list and other materials.
Interview With Jordan Riak
Jordan Riak is the Executive Director of Project NoSpank, an organization which is dedicated to the eradication of corporal punishment in our schools. In this article, he responds to some of our questions regarding corporal punishment.
How Prevalent is Corporal Punishment in Schools?
With the exception of those who are directly affected, most people are unaware that in more than 20 states, teachers and school administrators have the legal right to physically batter pupils. Children are sent home with bruised buttocks daily in untold numbers.
There is a downward trend in the number of paddlings annually, which is encouraging, but still a small comfort to victims. Editor's note: outdated data has been removed, but recent studies have shown that more than 100,000 students were physically punished in 2013-2014. But the true numbers are surely higher than the records show. Since the data is supplied voluntarily, and since those reporting aren't especially proud of what they are admitting to, under-reporting is inevitable. Some schools decline to participate in the Office for Civil Rights' survey.
When I inform people of the extensive use of corporal punishment in the schools, they almost invariably react with astonishment. Those who remember the paddle from their own school days tend to assume (erroneously) that its use had long since faded into history. Those who are fortunate enough to have attended schools where corporal punishment wasn't used or who lived in the states where bans were in effect are incredulous when presented with information about its current use. The following anecdote is illustrative. I was invited to address a class of students at San Francisco State University who were preparing to become school counselors. Some in the group already had teaching experience. At the conclusion of my presentation, one of the students-a teacher-opined that surely I was misinformed about the situation in California. "Corporal punishment just isn't allowed here and hasn't been for years," she flatly insisted. I knew otherwise. I asked her where she had attended school and in which districts she had worked. As I expected, the places she named all had district-wide policies against the use of corporal punishment. She was unaware that in neighboring communities students were being paddled legally. Paddlers don't advertise, and one can't blame her for not knowing. The use of corporal punishment by public school teachers in California became illegal on January 1, 1987.
In the United States, there is a long-standing gentleman's agreement between government, the media, and the educational establishment to avoid any mention of teacher violence. Typical of such taboos, adherents not only refrain from entering forbidden territory but come to believe that no such territory exists. An indignant correspondent wrote me the following: "In my twenty years as a teacher in Texas, I never saw one student paddled." Strictly speaking, he might have been telling the truth about what he hadn't seen, but it's hard to believe he was unaware of what was going on all around him. Recently I heard this on the radio. An author who had written about sports heroes' influence as role models on youth was just concluding an interview and was beginning to field listener's calls. One caller recounted his experience at high school where a coach routinely beat up players. He told how one student who had been victimized by the coach later encountered him in public and punched him. The show's host abruptly cut off the call, and said laughingly, "Well, there you have the darker side. Sounds like a movie by____" and hastened to the next caller.
Rest assured, the United States does not have a monopoly on denial in this regard. At a conference on child abuse in Sydney in 1978, when I raised a question from the floor about why none of the presenters had talked about caning in schools, the moderator replied, "It seems the things you want to talk about, Mr. Riak, are not the things we want to talk about." At that same conference, where I had set up a table to distribute anti-corporal punishment literature, a member of the New South Wales education department told me this: "The corporal punishment controversy that you've been stirring up here is causing more broken friendships in the department than any other issue I can remember." Caning is no longer legal in Australian schools, and hopefully, old friendships have mended.
How Do You Define Corporal Punishment?
There never has been, and probably never will be, a definition of corporal punishment that doesn't stir debate. The American College Dictionary, 1953 Edition, defines corporal punishment as "physical injury inflicted on the body of one convicted of a crime, and including the death penalty, flogging, sentence to a term of years, etc." The California Education Code, 1990 Compact Edition, Section 49001 defines it as "the willful infliction, or willfully causing the infliction of physical pain on a pupil."
Proponents of corporal punishment typically define the practice in personal terms, i.e., what they experienced when they were children, and what they now do to their children. Query any spanker on what it means to corporally punish a child and you will hear autobiography.
When one attempts to distinguishing corporal punishment from child abuse, the confusion deepens. Lawmakers, as a rule, duck this conundrum. When it is forced on them, they act as though they are walking on eggs as they grope for language doesn't cramp the style of child punishers. That's why legal definitions of child abuse are models of vagueness-an heroic accomplishment for those trained in the art of exactitude-and a boon to lawyers who defend abusers.
School corporal punishment in schools United States typically involves requiring the student to bend forward as far as possible thus making the protruding posterior a convenient target for the punisher. That target is then struck one or more times with a flat board called a "paddle." This causes sharp upward jolts to the spinal column accompanied by bruising, soreness and discoloration of the buttocks. Since the locus of impact is close to the anus and genitals, the sexual component of the act is unarguable. Nevertheless, possible adverse effects on the developing sexuality of young victims are ignored. Furthermore, the possibility that certain punishers are using the act as a pretext for gratifying their own perverse sexual appetites is also ignored. When these risk factors are cited, corporal punishment apologists typically dismiss the suggestion with derisive laughter and retorts such as, "Oh, com'on, please! Gi'me a break!"
Forced exercise is one of several unacknowledged forms of corporal punishment. Though the practice is unequivocally condemned by physical education experts, it is widely used, even in states that ban corporal punishment. It is a staple of locked facilities where troubled youth are corralled ostensibly for the purpose of being reformed.
Not allowing children to void bodily waste when the need arises is another form of corporal punishment. It is physically and psychologically dangerous in the extreme, but its use against schoolchildren of all ages is ubiquitous.
Punitive restriction of movement also qualifies as corporal punishment. When done to incarcerated adults, it is deemed a violation of human rights. When done to schoolchildren, it's called "discipline."
In school environments where buttocks beating is key to student management and discipline, all the myriad lesser insults to which children are prey such as ear twisting, cheek squeezing, finger jabbing, arm grabbing, slamming against the wall and general manhandling are apt to pass unchronicled and unrecognized for what they really are.
Article updated by Stacy Jagodowski