Letter to the Wall Street Journal by Jeff Charles, June 12, 2000

To: letter.editor@edit.wsj.com

I was very disappointed with the article in Friday's "Families" section called "Spanking Makes a Comeback." I thought it was more suitable for the National Enquirer or a fundamentalist Christian opinion piece supporting James Dobson than a scholarly analysis that a source news paper like the WSJ should be putting out.

The airline air quality article, by contrast, included some scientific analysis and also caveats that the air in any one airplane was not necessarily representative of a company's fleet, while the spanking article had no statistics and consisted of a lot of loaded language--calling it "politically correct" not to spank in an insulting way, assuming the US has not been spanking and is only now starting it up again, assuming it is growing in popularity with a few anecdotes and no study, and assuming nonviolent means don't work because a few people didn't make them work, ignoring millions who do.

Further they note some are promoting spanking as a response to school shootings--yet no news source has published a single article or done the least inquiry as to whether the shooters had ever been spanked. There are accounts on the Internet that the Jonesboro shooter was paddled just the day before his rampage, and the majority of shootings to date have occurred in paddling states. Even in other non-paddling states we often have hitting at home--as with the 6-year-old shooter in Flint, Michigan, whose mother was investigated for child abuse the year before.

It is noteworthy also that the sexual problems with spanking were never addressed.

One national window into the effectiveness of hitting children that can be measured is school paddling, banned in 27 states but widely practiced in the South to the tune of some half million paddlings per year. It has not solved any of the social problems supporters say it should. The high paddling region has higher murder rates, higher divorce rates, no academic advantage, higher school dropout rates, much smaller percentages of women in office, and higher sexually transmitted disease rates. The excess spanking and paddling there may not be the cause of these social ills, but it has certainly done no good, and there are thousands of documented cases of physical and psychological harm as well as sexually exploitive practices.

The zealous proponents of spanking and paddling, whether on the Internet or in books, have a particular interpretation of the Old Testament that pushes their agenda. Dr. Dobson is, not coincidentally, an evangelist who hawks his books and makes his name with his tax-exempt religious broadcast organization "Focus on the Family." This is the root of hitting kids in the US--not the idea that it "doesn't work" or that science has proven a need for it. Oddly they often cite how the US is falling behind Europe academically and bemoan the lack of paddling and the ten commandments on school walls here, but fail to notice that the European countries use no paddling and don't have the ten commandments on their walls either.

There has never been a study to date that has shown less than 70% of parents having spanked children. If the day comes that America actually does try non-violent child care we may find, as Western Europe largely has and have many individual states after dropping the paddle, that academic scores go up and violence goes down without it.

Jeff Charles
31299 Burton Ave
St Clair Shores, MI 48082-1464
810-294-1117 (evenings)
810-418-4376 (pager daytime)