At the benign end of the scale, denial takes the form of trivialization: "My kids are all grown up and married and too big for me to spank!" (Now that we've had a little chuckle, shall we move on to another topic of conversation? Quickly please.) At the opposite end of the scale--the aggressive end--the tone is very different. The reaction to the "spanking" debate is as to a night prowler lurking beneath the bedroom window. The curtains are snapped shut and there is desperate scramble for any available weapons of defense. I remember once, at a conference on public health issues, a group of experts were participating in a panel discussion on child abuse. Though each expounded on the subject from his or her particular perspective, they all seemed to agree that it is an anomaly occurring only at the fringes of society. They talked about horrendous cases of babies being scalded, starved, strangled, etc. But there was not so much as a mention of the S word. During the question and answer period, I asked if it were really necessary to look so far afield of every-day experience to find child abuse. I pointed out that at the school just down the street from the hotel where the conference was being held, children were routinely, openly physically punished by their teachers with sticks and leather belts. That too is child abuse, I posited. There was a long, awkward silence. Not one of the panelists had anything to say. Finally, the moderator broke the spell, saying: "It seems to me the things you want to talk about are not the things we want to talk about."

Let me share with you a more recent event that seems to fit this pattern. It is in the form of an exchange of e-mail between myself and Jill (not her real name), initiated by my mailing of 10-9-97 to everyone on my list. That list, by the way, is composed of people with whom I have corresponded and who, I have reason to believe, share my opposition to corporal punishment. Occasionally a wrong name gets on that list, as we shall see.

My mailing:
I need your help. Schoolchildren are being terrorized and battered as you read this. We could stop this disgrace overnight and join the civilized world if a few good doctors agree to have their names and telephone numbers listed on the CORPORAL PUNISHMENT EXEMPTION form. Please show your doctor a copy of the form (attached below) and request that he/she join the list of endorsers. So far, as you can see, there are only 5 names. I have sent numerous solicitations to join, but nearly all have been ignored. I can only assume that most medical doctors don't open their own mail, so probably never get to see my request. As for those who see it but don't act, I can't understand that. It takes about 15 seconds to read the form. It shouldn't take half that long to arrive at the right decision since there is only one right decision. So, please help me get this project off the ground. Until there are at least 100 names on the form, it won't be effective and I cannot begin offering it. Please don't delay. Jordan

Jill's response:
Just so you know...corporal punishment is against the law in California and I work for a school district in central coast California. Please refer to California Ed Code 49001 (b) which reads: "No person employed by or engaged in a public school shall inflict, or cause to be inflicted corporal punishment upon a pupil." That is the LAW in California. If you know of a place in California where corporal punishment is being used in public schools, this should be reported to the police IMMEDIATELY. Our teachers are not allowed to TOUCH a child in any kind of abusive manner and are, in fact, very strongly trained in how to handle children who have severe behavioral problems and act out physically. They learn how to restrain them gently and how to calm them; they learn how to transport a hysterical child; they learn how to work with children with all kinds of disabilities and problems. And they know that they must not and can not do anything that would harm the child. Child Protective Services and Child Abuse Reports are put into action, and police are called when there is any suspicion of child abuse by ANY adult (family member, teacher, any employee, etc.). Corporal punishment has never been an issue here. I don't know where in the US this goes on, but it's not here, so you don't need to include me on this mailing. Good Luck. Best, Jill

My response:
Jill, Indeed, I know about the California corporal punishment ban since I drafted the legislation (AB 1617) for Assemblyman Sam Farr in 1985. My organization was the bill's principal sponsor and I spent two years working toward its passage (1987). During that period, the teaching establishment in California, for the most part, remained mute on the subject. Currently, 23 states permit pupil beating and between 1/3 and 1/2 million beatings are inflicted, mostly on pre-adolescent schoolchildren. As an American and a human being, this concerns me. Jordan

Jill's response:
Since Ed Codes are individual, by states, this has to be changed at the state level. Are you working with individuals in the states to do this? This means that legislators in the states must be contacted to draft a law to take it to the Senate and House for passage. You obviously know the procedure. Writing these petitions isn't going to do it; it's going to take concerted state-localized effort. Best, Jill

My response:
Jill, Thank you for the advice. We have been working state-by-state, as you describe, for the past 10 years. Every year, bills are introduced in some of the 23 pupil-beating states. Rarely does one get out of committee. And every year children are damaged. Working at the local level will eventually succeed, but my estimate is that it will take about 20 years. Considering the chronic, entrenched anti-child animus in American culture, now enjoying a noisy revival, it may take even longer. Meanwhile, Europe is busy outlawing spanking by parents. Seven countries do not allow anybody, in any circumstance, to hit children: Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Austria, Cyprus and Italy. (Italy, this past spring.) Anti-spanking provisions are currently being considered by other European governments. The list will grow.

As for the CORPORAL PUNISHMENT EXEMPTION form, let me explain how that will work. Obviously, it will not be legally binding. But it will be powerfully morally persuasive. There are gentle people in Texas, Mississippi and elsewhere who privately oppose scholastic buttocks-beating but they believe they are alone. For many, the form will be their first encounter with an authoritative expression confirming their sentiments. The effect on buttocks-beaters will be predictable. They well immediately scan the list of doctors' telephone numbers looking for a local number. They will feel exposed. They will wonder which of these doctors is involved with the family in question. They will be forced to contend, probably for the first time in their professional careers, with the unsettling fact that somebody in a position of authority knows what they are doing and disapproves. They will imagine a lawsuit with a long list of doctors as witnesses for the plaintiff. Being cowards--all child-beaters are cowards--they will back off and look for another, easier target. Some children, not all, will be protected. I would like nothing better than to force a confrontation between an enlightened medical community and child-beaters operating under the guise of education. At the moment, they pass each other in the dark, each side pretending the other doesn't exist. If you have better suggestions, I am always open to hearing them. If your e-mail system allows the viewing of GIFs, see the attachment below. It shows what happened to a 12-year-old Houston boy (1996) when one teacher held him down while another battered his pelvic area repeatedly with a wooden board. Perfectly legal in Texas. The batterer, by the way, has a very popular TV spot on 'parenting.' Jordan

Jill's response:
Thanks anyway Jordan. I can't look at photos of abused and battered children; it devastates me. I do what I can to help protect children with our grandparent support group, but I will not look at pictures. My own daughter, who I adopted when she was 9, was molested, raped, beaten, in a series of foster homes before I got her. Being in a group of adoptive parents who adopted older children who had been through terrible experiences, I found myself unable to sleep at night thinking about what those poor children had gone through. After that (and I mean HORRIBLE -- liked being dipped in hot boiling water so that the child is burned from neck to toe...) I thought it best if I did not view or hear about details. I deal with it conceptually so that I can keep it abstract and removed, except for my own daughter and grandchildren, and do what I can. I am not sure, anyway, that looking at pictures does much more than repulse people and make them feel even more hopeless. Anyway, that's my own personal take on it... Best, Jill

My response:
Jill, I can understand your reaction to pictures of abused children. It has the same effect on me. I do hope, however, you read my last e-mail in which I explained the rationale for the CORPORAL PUNISHMENT EXEMPTION form. The photo was not the essential part of the communication; just an addendum.

You, and the group with which you are associated, are to be commended for your courage and compassion. I would not be able to do what you are doing. When I raised my children, my parenting skills were only marginally better than those that applied to my own upbringing--which were lousy. As a grandparent, however, and after having thought about, and studied, this subject for a long time, my skills are improving.

When you read what I have said about the reasons for the CORPORAL PUNISHMENT EXEMPTION form, and come to understand my sense of urgency, you will see how it applies directly to your situation. Think of it this way for just a moment, painful as it will be for you: The people who horribly abused your daughter during her infancy and early childhood operated in a CLIMATE OF ACCEPTANCE for that kind of behavior. What they did was TOLERATED, it was NORMAL, it was OKAY to dump the poison of their own wrecked souls onto the person of a defenseless little girl--just like spitting on the floor, no big deal. Well, Jill, that makes me very angry and very motivated. That's why zero tolerance for child-hitting is my thesis. I want to help change the climate of acceptance for the mistreatment of children that prevails in our society so that children will not be damaged in the first place and then have to be rescued and fixed. Jordan

Jill's response:
Yes...I read your whole memorandum and understand what you are trying to do and why. No, it was NOT acceptable what was done to my daughter and to others like her and unfortunately when you make those kinds of accusations, it weakens your position and makes you sound like a hysteric. There are many parents and many fosters homes where horrible abuses go on. They get away with it until they don't get away with it anymore. It is not that it is acceptable; it is that like any criminal activity, it is done secretly and hidden. When it is discovered, then action is taken. Unfortunately, the foster care program is one of those government programs that is so overwhelmed by the number of children and the lack of available funding for social workers and case workers to keep tabs on these children, that it lends itself to the kinds of hideous activities that we read about so often. It is NOT that is OKAY for these people to do these things; it is that they are ABLE to hide it. I do not for a moment believe that it was a climate of acceptance, that it was considered normal, that it was okay for them to do what they did. It is the fact that we have people like Pete Wilson sitting up there in Sacramento like King God, waiting to become President (or who thinks he already is), and cutting off the feet and hands of agencies who try to do the jobs that they cannot do with the limitations they work under. The horror is exacerbated by the tremendous increase in the births of babies to drug addicted or minor or poverty level or just non-caring dysfunctional parents. When the children are removed, there is no good place for them if there are no caring, responsible relatives to take them. And no funding available for good places for the kids to go. That is where my group comes in; we are grandparents who HAVE taken the children in and are raising them and trying to help them grow into strong, healthy, happy, productive citizens, who hopefully will be good parents to their own children. I wish there were more grandparents or relatives available to do this. I wish...I guess I wish the need didn't exist to begin with. Good luck to you.

Here ended our exchange of letters. I acceded to Jill's explicit and implicit requests to have her name removed from the list. A colleague to whom I showed the above correspondence read as far as the end of Jill's first letter and said: "Some people just don't want to hear about it. She's obviously very hostile. You pushed her buttons. Don't waste your time. Talk to people who listen."

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