published Thursday, March 10th, 2011

A cruel, unusual practice

Rainsville, a town of about 5,000 residents in nearby DeKalb County in northeast Alabama — an area called “the Crossroads of Sand Mountain” — rarely wins national attention. Generally, when small communities do receive such recognition, it is a reason to celebrate. It’s doubtful, though, that Rainsville residents are altogether happy with their appearance on ABC’s nightly news broadcast on Tuesday in a story about corporal punishment of school kids.

Though corporal punishment is used more sparingly that it was a decade ago, it still is used in many school districts. Indeed, paddling, the most often cited form of corporal punishment, is legal in 20 states, including Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia, though it is used far more often in some states than others. Texas and Mississippi accounted for about 40 percent of the students paddled in the last reporting period. They were followed, in order, by Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Florida and Missouri.

Once relatively common here, the use of corporal punishment in Hamilton County Schools is now exceedingly rare. Though school officials discourage its use, current regulations do not prohibit the practice. Carefully written rules that govern its use, though, are so strict that paddling, thank goodness, has become almost extinct. That, apparently, is not the case in Rainsville — or in many other school districts around the country.

The national news network could have traveled to other sites for its report, but it chose Rainsville. What occurred there earlier this school year apparently mirrors what occurs in other states. In the instance recounted on the broadcast, a 13-year-old boy, by all accounts an honor student, was struck once with a paddle after he failed a science test — not for a breach of discipline.

The youngster recalled that his teacher said, “Well, my daddy beat me, and I beat my children, and that’s what I’m about to do to y’all.” The blow was powerful enough to raise a significant bruise on the boy’s backside. The boy’s mother was outraged. She visited the school principal, talked to the police and went to the district attorney’s office seeking redress for what she viewed as abuse or an assault on her child. She got sympathy, but no help.

The district attorney’s office said nothing could be done because the paddling was administered by a teacher. It is, it seems, legal for a teacher to hit a child in Alabama and, presumably, in the other states that allow corporal punishment.

Parents and others who raise and protect children can sympathize with the mother’s viewpoint. “You can’t even hit a dog, you can’t hit a prisoner, but you can hit my child because he made a bad grade?” Her protests did accomplish something. The school reports that it has ended the practice of paddling because of what happened to the student profiled in the ABC news report — not, apparently, because the practice is wrong or counterproductive.

Research does show, though, that corporal punishment — touted as an effective tool in maintaining discipline in the education setting — is not as effective as its proponents claim. Studies show that physical discipline is ineffective, and that those who suffer it are more likely to engage in aggressive behavior, become depressed and to lose respect for authority. Moreover, the states in which corporal punishment is banned do not have greater discipline problems than states where it is accepted.

In addition, corporal punishment is employed unfairly and inappropriately. For example, black and Native American kids, even in schools and districts where they are a majority, are twice as likely to be paddled than a white child. Similarly, kids with mental or physical disabilities also are more likely to be subjected to corporal punishment. That’s prejudice of the sort that has no place in schools or any other public institution.

Corporal punishment is dangerous and arbitrary. About 10 percent of the about 200,000 students subjected to it last year ended up seeking medical treatment. Clearly, the practice is cruel, and in this day and age it is increasingly unusual. That’s a combination that makes corporal punishment a practice banned by the U.S. Constitution. Legislators and educators should act promptly to end its use — in Rainsville and elsewhere in Alabama and in each of the other 19 states where it is currently practiced.

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KidsRpeople2 said...

Our 3 children, who we don't hit, attend schools in a Paddling School District in Tennessee. We are unable to protect them from witnessing their teachers threaten, intimidate and humiliate students by hitting them with wooden boards as a knee-jerk reaction to minor infractions such as not turning in homework or horsing around, in halls just outside class where their classmates overhear the blows! Tennessee State Law does not require parental consent or notification for children to be paddled at school. My husband and I made a written/verbal presentation to members of our local school board to demand they prohibit Corporal/Physical Pain as Punishment/Paddling of Children in our schools and they ignored us, no letter, no phone call. Paddling is administered discriminatorily and is ineffective, as the same students are paddled repeatedly. If the violent act of hitting children with a weapon/wooden board was done in public instead of within the walls of a school, the paddle wielder would be arrested for assault! For more information on the national movement to Abolish School Paddling visit Unlimited Justice dot com.

March 10, 2011 at 7:27 a.m.
moon4kat said...

It is barbaric to give harried, over-worked teachers the option of venting their frustration on children via physical violence. I understand that some children can be a handful -- often the result of improper parenting -- but there must be better solutions than beating them.

March 10, 2011 at 8:58 a.m.
holdout said...

I started school in the 60's and in a church school and they certainly did paddle us. A lot. I remember receiving the paddle for some things that probably deserved it, some that didn't and several for no discernible reason. My parents had the attitude that if I were paddled at school then I got another when I came home. The result was I learned to keep my mouth shut about suffering injustice and being bullied. I disciplined my children. I did not need the school to do it for me. I despise parents who allow their children to misbehave but I do not feel the urge to ask the government to step in and help them until it become criminal. Be responsible for your own family.

March 10, 2011 at 9:12 a.m.
MMead said...

Only suitable for minors?:

Schoolchildrens' "spanking" related injuries (WARNING - These images may be deeply disturbing to some viewers. Do not open this page if children are present).

Reasonable and moderate? You decide. (WARNING - This sound recording may be deeply disturbing to some listeners. Do not open this file if children are within listening range).

People used to think it was necessary to "spank" adult members of the community, college students, military trainees, and prisoners. In some countries they still do. In our country, it is considered assault and battery (sexual battery at that) if a person over the age of 18 is "spanked", but only if over the age of 18.

Recommended by professionals:

Plain Talk About Spanking by Jordan Riak

The Sexual Dangers of Spanking Children by Tom Johnson

NO VITAL ORGANS THERE, So They Say by Lesli Taylor MD and Adah Maurer PhD

"Spanking" can be intentionally or unintentionally sexually abusive (educational resources documentation, testimony, etc):

Most current research:

Spanking Kids Increases Risk of Sexual Problems

Use of Spanking for 3-Year-Old Children and Associated Intimate Partner Aggression or Violence

Spanking Can Make Children More Aggressive Later

Spanking Children Can Lower IQ

Just a handful of those helping to raise awareness of why child "spanking" isn't a good idea:

American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, American Psychological Association, Center For Effective Discipline, Churches' Network For Non-Violence, United Methodist Church Nobel Peace Prize recipient Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Parenting In Jesus' Footsteps, Global Initiative To End All Corporal Punishment of Children, United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child.

In 31 nations, child corporal punishment is prohibited by law (with more in process). In fact, the US was the only UN member that did not ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The US also has the highest incarceration rate in the world.

The US states with the highest crime rates, poorest academic performance, highest obesity rates and health problems, and largest welfare caseloads are also the ones with the highest rates of child corporal punishment.

Of all the things prison inmates lacked in their upbringing, "spanking" certainly wasn't one of them.

There is simply no evidence to suggest that child bottom-battering instills virtue.

March 10, 2011 at 12:04 p.m.
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