Fact: Corporal punishment is still legal in twenty states.
While corporal punishment such as paddling, spanking and hitting students disappeared from private schools by the 1960s, it is still permitted in public schools in 20 states. Why is this so? There is no easy answer to that question. If you look at the map on The Center for Effective Discipline's site, you will see that corporal punishment is still legal in southern and western states east of the Rockies. The northern and west coast states made corporal punishment in their schools illegal in the 1970s and 1980s.
Fact: 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.
The 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."
20 States Still Permit Beating
The following twenty states still have laws on their books permitting corporal punishment in schools:
- New Mexico
- 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?
Why Should Corporal Punishment Be Banned?
Corporal punishment should be banned for the following reasons:
1. It has no place in the education of children.
2. It perpetuates the cycle of abuse.
It Has No Place in the Education of Children.
Corporal punishment is not allowed in the military, mental institutions and prisons. But it is still legal to hit students in 20 states. 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 corporal punishment has no place in the classroom. Discipline can and should be taught be example.
Most leading professional associations oppose corporal punishment in all its forms. The reason why is that they feel it causes irreparable emotional damage to young people.It Perpetuates the Cycle of Abuse.
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 SchoolsThe 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.