It is well past time for schools to eliminate the barbaric practice of paddling students. A vast amount of evidence shows an urgent need to replace corporal punishment with enlightened and humane methods of discipline.
In 1992 an examination of that evidence led Ohio’s State Board of Education to adopt a resolution against corporal punishment. The Board also urged the Ohio General Assembly to enact legislation consistent with the resolution.
The following year, the same evidence caused the General Assembly to pass, and the governor to sign, a law banning corporal punishment in public schools unless individual school districts take specific steps to retain it.
Many studies have shown that corporal punishment causes serious physical and psychological harm to large numbers of children. Each year in the U. S., thousands of children require medical treatment due to corporal punishment administered in schools. The injuries sometimes cause school districts to incur expensive lawsuits.
According to the National Coalition to Abolish Corporal Punishment in Schools, school-inflicted corporal punishment has even caused the deaths of seven children – including a kindergarten girl. Among the emotional problems that can result from corporal punishment are depression, withdrawal, sleep disturbances, avoidance of school, learning problems, loss of self-esteem, and delinquency.
Additionally, corporal punishment provides children with a poor role model of adult behavior. It teaches them that the use of physical violence against smaller and weaker persons is an appropriate means of dealing with problems.
As the social philosopher Josiah Warren said in the nineteenth century: “Children are principally the creatures of example – whatever surrounding adults do, they will do. If we strike them, they will strike each other.” And as Bob Keeshan (Captain Kangaroo), a strong opponent of corporal punishment, said about the importance of parental role-modeling for children: “Every word, movement, and action has an effect.”
Their observations are consistent with the adage “violence begets violence.” Further support for their position is the fact that the 10 states having the highest school-paddling rates are the same 10 states with the highest prison-incarceration rates.
Dr. Ralph S. Welsh adds: “During my many years evaluating juvenile delinquents (now numbering in the thousands, and still climbing as a Court Based Assessment Psychologist), I have yet to see the first violent male juvenile delinquent who wasn’t raised on a belt, board, extension cord, fist or the equivalent. . . . I am still amazed at the consistency of the ‘belt’ and its equivalents in producing angry and violent behavior.” He says his years of research show: “As the amount of spankings increase, the level of violence seen in the child increases proportionately.”
Similarly, Harvard Medical School professor Alvin Poussaint, a psychiatrist who has written extensively on African-American issues, points out that 80 to 90 percent of black prison inmates were severely punished or neglected as children. He also says the more that children are beaten, the angrier they get and the more likely they are to use violence in responding to problems and frustrations.
Our violent society has a tremendous need for people to be taught, through word and example, peaceful means of resolving problems. But corporal punishment causes schools to neglect nonviolent solutions such as counseling, detention, Saturday school, withdrawal of privileges, and use of student mediators. Those methods are effective and teach children to resolve conflicts without resorting to violence.
Moreover, corporal punishment is an ineffective means of discipline, because the same students are repeatedly the recipients of it. Corporal punishment does not teach a child appropriate behavior, but only suppresses the undesirable behavior when the punisher is nearby.
As the American Psychological Association’s Commission on Violence and Youth explained: “Physical punishment may produce obedience in the short term, but continued over time it tends to increase the probability of aggressive and violent behavior during childhood and adulthood. . . .” One reason it does is that being physically assaulted causes many young people to develop resentment, rage, and a desire to strike back.
Further, corporal punishment is administered in a discriminatory manner. The children who most often receive it are boys, the disabled, and minorities.
The serious problems associated with corporal punishment have led many professional associations and social service organizations to call for a ban on the practice. They include the American Bar Association, the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Education Association, the National Congress of Parents and Teachers, and many others.
The number of organizations opposed to corporal punishment continues to grow. This is due to increasing awareness of the harms caused by it and the availability of superior disciplinary alternatives.
For the same reasons, corporal punishment in schools is prohibited in all of Europe, South and Central America, Japan, and China. A total of 109 countries ban it. In the U.S., more than half the states prohibit it, and thousands of local school districts in other states have followed suit.
Because schools in those places have developed effective alternative means of discipline and successfully educate students, schools elsewhere can surely do the same. In fact, schools that have eliminated corporal punishment report many positive results, such as increased attendance, higher academic performance, decreased behavioral problems, and better relations between students and school personnel.
In view of the harmful effects of corporal punishment and the availability of far better disciplinary methods, government officials have a moral obligation to end these assaults on children. The evidence indicates that failing to do so will jeopardize the health and happiness of many children and perpetuate the high levels of violence in the U.S.
Our society no longer permits the beating of military personnel, apprentices, wives, and prisoners. Children should have the same protection.
As Gandhi taught, “If we are to reach real peace in the world, we shall have to begin
[Update: Ohio banned corporal punishment in all public schools in 2009. By then, only a small percentage of the state’s school districts still allowed it.]
[More information on corporal punishment is at www.stophitting.com.]