February 3, 2004
Dear Mr. Riak:
I am African-American woman, born and raised in Arkansas to parents from
small rural communities. I was born into a culture that believes totally in
the Bible; accepts the literal meaning of words and phrases written in the
Bible and always attempts to apply the Word of God to our every day lives.
Unfortunately, there have been times when this was very difficult.
As a young parent, I can remember discussing the Bible passage, "Spare the
rod and spoil the child", with my mother. Although, we both believe in God
and attempt to live our lives in a way that will be pleasing to the Lord, we
had difficulty with this passage. In our hearts, we knew it could not mean
that beating children was an acceptable form of discipline.
Although, I believed it wrong to beat children and refrained from doing so,
it was not until I began to truly study the Bible for myself that I totally
rejected the explanation of many and I came to understand the true meaning
of the passage.
"Spare the rod" was not about beating your kids: it was about herding sheep.
Although many choose to believe in the literal meanings of words in the
bible, you will find that the writers often spoke in parables. They told
stories and used common practices to explain difficult and complicated
concepts. Spare the rod and spoil the child is part of a continuing theme
There are many references to shepherds throughout the Bible. You see Jesus
himself was a shepherd, using his rod to provide comfort and protection to
his people. In Psalms 23:4, we come across the rod again, ".. I will fear no
evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me." The word
translated as "rod" was the Hebrew word for a shepherd's stick. Ancient
shepherds used this handy tool to reach over the flock and prod a wayward
sheep back onto the path; to move brush and other obstacles out of the
herd's way; and, in extreme cases, to grab an animal by the neck or leg and
tug it out of danger. Just as the shepherd guides the sheep, Jesus often
guides us, and we must guide and protect our children.
Beating a child is an unacceptable practice, either by a parent or an
educator. Beating is not allowed in prisons, mental hospitals, or in the
military. Beating pets and work animals is considered inhumane. Why then do
we allow anyone to beat our children?
About 400,000 children are hit each year in public schools, according to the
U.S. Department of Education, and those data don't even include private and
parochial school incidents. While corporal punishment is banned in the
schools of 28 states, it continues in Arkansas.
Like other punitive practices, it is a method of control. Because parents
and educators are not prepared to provide the guidance needed, because they
lack the patience needed, because they lack the skills needed, because they
need to be in control, and because a few just don't care, they resort to
hitting. It's fast. And, like the result Pavlov achieved with dogs, it
temporarily modifies behavior, but without providing understanding. The
benefits are short-lived while the harm is long-lasting. Typical results
are: increased dropout rates, abusive relationships,
lower financial attainment, low self-esteem and high crime rates.
Public schools are supposed to be incubators for teaching and learning.
Somehow we must assure that the lessons are those that would be pleasing to
the Lord and that they provide guidance to our children as they seek their
way in the world.
Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding. -- Albert Einstein
Shirley Bondon, a wife and mother, is an advocate for public education. She has served as Regional Vice President for Arkansas State PTA. She is currently President of the PTA at Southeast Junior High in Pine Bluff. She is chair of the Citizens First Congress, a statewide grassroots coalition, focusing on social, economic, and environmental justice and a life-member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).