Riak's letter to Texas Senator Bivins
[Sent snail mail on PTAVE's stationery.]
April 19, 2000

The Honorable Teel Bivins
Chair of Senate Committee on Education
P.O. Box 12068
Capitol Station
Austin, TX 78711

Dear Senator Bivins:

You invited public feedback regarding education reform and we would like to respond. We suggest that Texas follow the good example of professional educators worldwide who have long since overwhelmingly rejected corporal punishment as having any legitimate role in the teaching of the young. Accordingly, the practice has been abolished by every major democracy with the exceptions of one state in Australia, parts of Canada and 23 states in the U.S. Your state, which beats more than 118,000 students in a typical school year, is one of the 23. Not one European country permits teachers to strike students. And nowhere among the abolitionist nations is there any organized movement by parents, teachers, legislators or others to reintroduce the practice. Schools appear to function very well without it, and have been doing so for many decades. Furthermore, the current movement in our country to eliminate weapons from schools and to find nonviolent resolutions to interpersonal conflicts will amount to little, and will be seen as empty rhetoric as long as violent teachers are legally permitted to use weapons against students.

In addition to the above generalizations, we’ve compiled a list of 20 specific reasons for abolishing corporal punishment in schools. We hope you find them helpful.

1. Schools that use corporal punishment tend to have poorer academic achievement, more vandalism, truancy, pupil violence and dropout than schools that don't use corporal punishment.

2. Because child abuse and its effects are becoming better understood by more people, teachers who hit children run a greater risk of criminal prosecutions and civil suits than ever before. That risk will continue to increase as long as corporal punishment of pupils is allowed.

3. Teachers who use corporal punishment tend to spend more time "disciplining" and less time teaching than teachers who don't use corporal punishment.

4. No creditable teachers' training curriculum includes instruction in how to hit people and virtually all acknowledged leaders in the fields of education and child development consider the use of corporal punishment, whether by teachers or parents, counterproductive and unprofessional.

5. The overwhelming majority of teachers don't hit their pupils. Many find it difficult or impossible to work in settings where children have become conditioned to, and expect, violent management by adults. For this reason, schools that use corporal punishment risk losing their most able teachers and becoming increasingly punitive, demoralized and ineffective.

6. The use of corporal punishment tends to create feelings of antagonism between children and authority figures. Being hit by a person in authority causes all children, and virtually all adults as well, to lose trust not only in the hitter, but in the institution that provides a setting for such treatment. These negative feelings can easily overwhelm a child's natural inclination to learn and desire for cooperation, replacing them with avoidance behaviors or the urge to "get even."

7. In schools where corporal punishment is permitted, there typically is little or no incentive for teachers to learn more humane, effective and up-to-date methods of pupil management.

8. By undermining self-respect, corporal punishment plants the seeds of future self-destructive and antisocial behaviors such as lying, stealing, fighting, running away, delinquency, chemical dependency and reckless driving. Ironically, corporal punishment is often used to punish some of the very behaviors it causes.

9. Children with learning disabilities or other handicaps often are corporally punished because of poor performance or because of their inability to conform. Such mistreatment serves only to compound their original problem with new ones.

10. Corporal punishment tends to diminish or destroy the natural feelings of empathy that are in every child. Children who repeatedly witness their peers being hurt, while they are powerless to intervene, tend to become indifferent to human suffering and injustice.

11. People who have been trained from childhood to behave out of fear of punishment rarely learn to govern their own conduct except out of fear of punishment. Children develop moral judgment, self-control, responsibility and consideration for others by imitating the good example of the significant adults in their lives.

12. Corporal punishment teaches submissiveness (alternatively to provoking rebellion). Children are expected to cooperate in the act and usually do. This conditions them to become easy targets for predators who molest or exploit children sexually. One cannot reasonably expect a child who obediently bends over for a smacking on Monday to be able to say "no" to a molester on Tuesday.

13. In the overwhelming majority of cases, the perpetrators and victims of spousal battery were routinely exposed to corporal punishment when they were children - receiving it, witnessing it or both. The seeds of domestic violence are planted early in the growing season by corporal punishers.

14. Corporal punishment can cause serious physical damage. Hitting a child's buttocks can cause injuries to the muscles, the sciatic nerve, pelvis, genitals or spinal column. Hitting a child's hands can injure delicate bones, joints and ligaments resulting in reduced dexterity or permanent impairment. Shaking a child can cause whiplash injury, brain damage, blindness or death.

15. Medical science has long recognized a direct link between violent punishment in early childhood, particularly battering to the buttocks, and the subsequent development of deviant sexual behaviors.

16. Any line of work, including teaching and parenting, that permits persons in authority to inflict pain on others, will attract some people who are mentally disturbed and who enjoy inflicting pain. Such people will do it at every opportunity and will even create opportunities to do it because they are addicted to the feelings they experience when they are hurting somebody.

17. The very existence of corporal punishment as an option tends to legitimate a wide variety of acts which are as degrading and humiliating to children as being struck. In circumstances where children's physical integrity is violated, it is illogical to expect that their psychological integrity will fare any better.

18. Children of poverty are corporally punished far more frequently than children of the middle or affluent classes. Such unequal treatment further handicaps and discourages the very children who most need to be encouraged. It helps plant the illusion in the minds of all children that certain people are inferior, that they deserve to be beaten and when they drop out of school, it's their own fault. Corporal punishment is a powerful reinforcer of bigotry, class discrimination and collective hatred.

19. Corporal punishment is a degrading and humiliating treatment. Some children, upon seeing an adult in authority behave this way toward a child, interpret it as a license for them to do the same. For this reason, the use of corporal punishment promotes bullying, cruelty and capegoating among children.

20. Schools are role models for their communities. They should set the highest possible standard. When teacher violence is condoned, abusive parents and other abusive adults feel exonerated. Corporal punishment in the schools promotes child abuse in the general community.

Jordan Riak,
Executive Director
Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education

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