Corporal Punishment in Schools

February 14th, 2011

By Tom Carter

Interesting article in the Washington Post today about corporal punishment in schools — teachers or principals hitting kids as punishment for misbehaving.  I have to admit that it has been many years since I even thought about it.  I guess I assumed that in today’s namby-pamby world in which the education of children is focused mainly on self-esteem and diversity, the very idea of discipline has been long forgotten.

Apparently not.  Corporal punishment “…is still allowed in 20 states and administered to hundreds of thousands of students a year.”  Here’s a list of the states that allow it and the number of students who get it, as of 2008.  Most of the states are in the South and West.  Texas leads in the number of students who are disciplined, which might be expected because it’s the second-largest state in population.  Mississippi, Arkansas, and Alabama lead by far in the percentage of students receiving corporal punishment.

The Post article was generated by a case in the Washington area:

Most people are rightly horrified about the case of a first-grade teacher at a Silver Spring [MD] elementary school who was recently charged with several counts of assault after being accused of choking and/or punching eight young students.

OK, that clearly goes too far.  I can understand the impulse — there isn’t enough money to pay me to teach kids below high school college level — but the reaction was over the top.  To some degree, anyway.

It’s normally done with a paddle of specified size and construction applied to the offending kid’s butt by an authorized person, probably a principal or vice-principal.  Maybe the number of whacks a kid can get is in the rules, too.  It all varies by state and school district, as it should.  Add that parents might have to give their permission before their kids can be paddled.  Under those circumstances, are you for it or against it?

I’m for it, under conditions like that, but that may be just because I’m remembering older and simpler times.  When I was in junior high and high school in a small school in a small town, the principal was the paddler.  He had a system.  The offending student stood before his desk for a discussion of his sins.  Then he made a quarter turn to the left, facing the open door of the principal’s office.  The principal stood beside him, paddle in hand.  When the principal said, “Go!” the student ran for the door as fast as he could.  The principal got in as many whacks as he could before the student got out the door.  I don’t know of any case where a student didn’t get hit at least once; usually it was two or three times.  I never got it more than once; it’s amazing how fleet you can become when motivated by fear.

But that wasn’t the end of it.  Your parents were notified that you had been punished, and when you got home you usually got another spanking from your father, and there wasn’t any running out the door involved.  That was really the worst part of the experience.

Of course, this punishment was only for boys.  There was no paddling of girls, this being in the dinosaur age before feminists had convinced us that there is no difference between boys and girls, men and women.

That was a different time, I know.  We still valued courtesy and comportment then, and there were fathers in almost every home ready and willing to administer the supplemental whacking.  Where there was no father, there was usually an uncle available, or the mother took care of it, which could be worse.  And, like in school, this kind of punishment was usually reserved for boys, the ones most in need of it.

I guess we’ll never go back to those days.  Few principals want to face the prospect of paddling a hulking, sneering, violent kid with gang tattoos and his pants hanging below his butt so you can see his underwear.  And there aren’t that many fathers around anymore, either.

As usual these days, there’s also an issue of race.  According to the Post article,

African American students are 17 percent of all public school students in the United States but are 36 percent of those who are victims of corporal punishment, more than twice the rate of white students.

Being a man of my times, I know, of course, that this is yet another example of racism in our oppressive society.  But somewhere, in a small politically incorrect corner in the back of my mind, I still wonder if there might be another reason….

And, of course, the feds are interested in dictating a solution:

In June, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) introduced the Ending Corporal Punishment in Schools Act, which would ban corporal punishment as a form of punishment or way to modify undesirable behavior at all public and private schools with students that receive federal services.

Makes you wonder why we even bother to have local school districts, school boards, and state education systems these days.  We can just leave it all to Congress, the President, and the Department of Education.


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4 Responses to “Corporal Punishment in Schools”

  1. Lisa |

    At the Catholic school I attended in the 1960’s they called that paddle the “board of education”. At the time I did not understand the humor behind it. I also do not remember it being just for the boys but perhaps it was. Once I was sent out to kneel in the hallway for sending an unauthorized note to one of my classmates. At the time I thought “the board of education” punishment would have been a lot quicker and perhaps less painful.

  2. Dan Miller |

    Lewis Carroll wrote,

    Speak roughly to your little boy,
    And beat him when he sneezes:
    He only does it to annoy,
    Because he knows it teases.

    Wow! wow! wow!

    I speak severely to my boy,
    I beat him when he sneezes;
    For he can thoroughly enjoy
    The pepper when he pleases!

    That’s probably going a bit too far. However, appropriately moderate physical punishment — in schools and in the juvenile penal system as well — strikes me as sometimes appropriate.

    I wonder how many violent young hoods would persist if whipped and shamed in public and in front of their peers for violent offenses. Today that would probably go against the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment even though not terribly cruel. So, we send them to juvenile centers where many learn how to be more successful adult criminals and to avoid being caught and prosecuted.

  3. Tom Carter |

    Lisa, I remember the “board of education” line, too. It seemed to work pretty well, in my experience, and didn’t do any damage to anyone’s self-esteem. As far as the girls were concerned — well, we all accepted, I guess, that girls didn’t get paddled. But that was before we were properly indoctrinated that there’s no difference between boys and girls. We sure thought there was….

    Dan, Mr. Dodgson was an interesting fellow. I don’t doubt that he supported spanking.

  4. Brian |

    I went to Catholic school from K-12. My HS started at 8th grade, and I got popped in the back of the head by Brother Carl (my school was run by Brothers of the Sacred Heart) about halfway through my 8th grade year. That smack lasted me another 4 and a half years.

    Corporal punishment is just one tool among many. You wouldn’t use a torque wrench to drive in a bushing, and you wouldn’t use a hammer to set a head bolt.

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