As a former writer on family issues, I was always taken aback when parents and schools espoused a multi-vitamin view of physical punishment, telling me that children needed a whack now and then to grow up big and strong.
I’ve been a longtime advocate of barring schools from using corporal punishment. With all the attention around the abuse of children , it stuns me that we allow adults to legally strike students.
Only 20 states, including Georgia, still permit paddling in their schools, but that is changing.
Some dedicated parents in Georgia are attempting to impose a ban here, but the Legislature has adopted a hands-off attitude, enabling local school districts to decide for themselves whether to paddle. Most metro districts eschew physical discipline, but it does go on, especially in rural Georgia.
While there are obvious educational, moral and psychological problems with paddles that ought to compel districts to retire them, there’s also the threat of lawsuits. It’s surprising that school systems would continue a practice that is such a legal minefield.
I am on several e-mail lists and get a lot of daily updates on the national effort to end corporal punishment, which is most common in Southern schools. I am happy to report that the campaign is gaining momentum even in states that have revered the paddle.
Among the comments in the story:
When Tyler Anastopoulos got in trouble for skipping detention at his high school recently, he received the same punishment that students in parts of rural Texas have been getting for generations.
Tyler, an 11th grader from Wichita Falls, was sent to the assistant principal and given three swift swats to the backside with a paddle, recalled Angie Herring, his mother. The blows were so severe that they caused deep bruises, and Tyler wound up in the hospital, Ms. Herring said.
While the image of the high school principal patrolling the halls with paddle in hand is largely of the past, corporal punishment is still alive in 20 states, according to the Center for Effective Discipline, which tracks its use in schools around the country and encourages its end. Most of those states are in the South, where paddling remains ingrained in the social and family fabric of some communities.
Each year, prodded by child safety advocates, state legislatures debate whether corporal punishment amounts to an archaic form of child abuse or an effective means of discipline.
This month, Tyler, who attends City View Junior/Senior High School, told his story to lawmakers in Texas, which is considering a ban on corporal punishment. The same week, legislators in New Mexico voted to end the practice there.
Texas schools, Ms. Herring fumed, appear to have free rein in disciplining a student, “as long as you don’t kill him.”
“If I did that to my son,” she said, “I’d go to jail.”
Up until about 25 years ago, corporal punishment in public schools could be found in all but a handful of states, said Nadine Block, the founder of the Center for Effective Discipline. Prompted by the threat of lawsuits and research that questioned its effectiveness, states gradually started banning the practice.
According to estimates by the federal Department of Education, 223,190 children were subjected to corporal punishment in the 2005-6 school year. That was a nearly 20 percent drop from a few years earlier, Ms. Block said.
In Texas, at least 27 of about 1,000 school districts still use corporal punishment, said Jimmy Dunne, the founder and president of another group that is against the practice, People Opposed to Paddling Students.
In New Mexico — where more than a third of the school districts permit corporal punishment, according to a local children’s legal services group — legislators approved a paddling ban this month. Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican, has not indicated whether she will sign the bill.
Opponents of the measure, like State Senator Vernon D. Asbill, worried that a ban would tie teachers’ hands and make it harder for them to control students. “With parental supervision and parental approval, I believe it’s appropriate,” said Mr. Asbill, a Republican and a longtime teacher and school administrator from Carlsbad. “The threat of it keeps many of our kids in line so they can learn.”
But State Senator Cynthia Nava, a Democrat and a school superintendent from Las Cruces who supports the ban, said schools were no place for violence of any sort. “It’s shocking to me that people got up on the floor and argued passionately to preserve it,” she said of corporal punishment. “We should be educating kids that they can’t solve problems with violence.”
Calls to end corporal punishment have gotten louder of late, even in states unlikely to pass a ban. In Mississippi, the family of a teenager who was paddled in school has filed a federal lawsuit. The suit, filed against the Tate County School District, claims that corporal punishment is unconstitutional because it is applied disproportionately to boys.
The teenager’s lawyer, Joe Murray, is also representing the family of another student who was paddled at the same high school this month. In that case, the boy was struck so hard that he passed out and broke his jaw, Mr. Murray said.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog