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Spare the Rod … Please

This week’s Time Magazine carries a story about a 15-year-old girl in Texas who let a classmate copy her homework.  The punishment meted out by a vice principal at her school for this crime was a smack on the girl’s bottom with a wooden paddle.  The problem wasn’t that the punishment didn’t fit the crime or that the severity of the smack blistered the girl’s buttocks or that it’s hard to justify school people hitting kids.  No, the problem was that the vice-principal was male.  It’s OK in Texas to hit a child for what many would consider a garden-variety infraction as long as women hit girls and men hit boys.

Spare-the-rodNineteen states permit corporal punishment, most of them in the South.  But Elizabeth Gershoff of the University of Texas at Austin says, “The more kids are spanked, the more problematic their behavior is.”  Gershoff has conducted the most comprehensive and current studies of corporal punishment and its results according to Time.

The problems with hitting students would appear to be obvious.  USA Today reports that last year Trey Clayton, a fourteen-year-old student in Mississippi, fainted after he was paddled by an assistant principal.  The student collapsed on the floor, breaking his jaw and five teeth.  In Alabama, Carlos Chaverst, an 18-year-old senior, recalls that he and other boys were paddled without parent notification when he was in seventh grade because the teacher couldn’t figure out which boy was being disruptive. 

According to the U.S. Department of Education, black students are twice as likely to be paddled as their peers, and in North Carolina, where Native Americans make up 2% of the population, they constitute 35% of those paddled.  The Center for Effective Discipline claims that corporal punishment is not used as a “last resort,” with children of color, but as a first punishment for minor misbehaviors and calls for an end to it in schools.

Numerous studies have pointed to evidence of the deleterious effects of hitting kids. One such study at the University of Manitoba, Canada, found that children who are physically punished as a means of discipline may have an increased risk of problems in adulthood, from anxiety disorders to drug and alcohol abuse.  Southern Methodist University psychologist George W. Holden says that children who are spanked are more likely to become school bullies.  Still, some states continue the practice.

From my vantage point of nearly 25 years as a school administrator, I cannot imagine hitting a kid with a paddle or anything else.  In fact, had it been a requirement of my job, I probably would have chosen another profession.  I remember as a new parent reading a book about discipline.  Never hit your child when you are angry, the author advised.  Instead, wait until you are calm to administer the spanking.  Good lord, I thought.  What do we teach kids when we hit them whether we’re angry or we’re calm?  What does it say about us as role models, as examples of what we want kids to be and do?

It’s not OK to hit kids at school or anywhere else.  We should abandon this idea already as most civilized countries have.




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