Fiction and Fact about Corporal Punishment in Schools
By Jordan Riak
Revised 09/14/03

Parents of schoolchildren tend to trust educators who, after all, are highly trained in their specialty and are licensed by the state. And virtually all parents want to believe that those who take charge of their child at school are motivated by genuine, nurturant feelings toward children. Educators recognize this natural and powerful desire. Some honor it and do their best to live up to the standard that is expected of them - the standard for which they were trained. Some do not. Responsible, thoughtful parents should bear in mind that when they send their child to school, they are delegating their most important responsibility to a group mostly of strangers who vary widely in their level of competence. Few people would hand over their car keys so indiscriminately, with the same degree of trust.

FICTION - Corporal punishment is used only after all other means have failed and is governed by strict guidelines.
FACT - The number of pupils beaten will always be underreported because school administrators are careful not to alarm the public or draw critical attention to their own questionable practices. Often, violent punishments are used as a first response to trivial offenses. Guidelines, where they exist at all, exist more in policy than in practice. As a general rule, reliance on fear and summary punishment in educational settings is inversely proportional to the level of competence of the educators involved. The least competent tend to be the most punitive. They are also the most resistant to reform and most rejecting of constructive criticism. Some hit children to reassure themselves that they have power over someone. Some enjoy doing it.

FICTION - Teachersí right to resort to corporal punishment must be retained because certain students canít be controlled by any other means.
FACT - Violent punishment causes far more bad behavior than it corrects, if it corrects at all. The more children are subject to educator violence, the more misbehaved they tend to become. The very act of physical punishment destroys trust and engenders hostility toward the institution that is supposed to be serving them. As for children who conform outwardly due to fear of punishment, they are being obedience-trained. That isnít education. They are learning the use and abuse of power, and some of them will put those lessons into practice at the earliest opportunity.

FICTION - Well-behaved children have nothing to worry about.
FACT - Wherever pupil beating is allowed, all children worry about it. They know that punishers typically act on impulse and rarely have to justify their actions. A steady diet of fear and anxiety, especially in the earliest years, stifles learning and, moreover, is dangerous to childrenís emotional development and physical health.

FICTION - This method of pupil management has been in use for many years and it is overwhelmingly supported by the public.
FACT - It is true that violent pupil management has been used throughout recorded history. But today, the practice is associated with ignorance and backwardness. In almost the entire developed, democratic world, violent punishment of schoolchildren is illegal, and nowhere is it making a comeback. The dwindling number of people who approve of it are themselves most likely products of such mistreatment. Understandably, some feel reassured when they see the same management methods being used on children today that were used on them when they were little. Those who claim that corporal punishment is universally approved, and is in the childrenís best interest, are deluding themselves. One likely reason for their clinging to that fantasy is because it absolves them of personal responsibility for their failures.

FICTION - Abolition of corporal punishment will make teachersí jobs harder, resulting in an exodus of good teachers from the profession.
FACT - Were corporal punishment a legitimate part of classroom management, teacher training curricula would include instruction in its proper use. Furthermore, in light of the obvious risks inherent in the practice, that training would be mandatory. But no such training is offered. There is not one accredited college or university in the United States that instructs prospective teachers how to hit students. Any teacher who is incapable of managing students without recourse to corporal punishment should not be in the profession in the first place, and as long as the practice is allowed, places where it is used will remain sanctuaries for incompetents.

FICTION - Corporal punishment works.
FACT - If it worked, why do punishers have to keep punishing? And why are our maximum security prisons filled with violent felons who, virtually without exception, were brought up by these very same methods?

CONCLUSION - The number of legal pupil beatings in schools of the United States in 2000 was 342,038 according to the U.S. Department of Education. Some researchers believe the true number is considerably higher. No one should be surprised that the regions with the highest school corporal punishment rates also have the highest school drop-out rates and the highest incarceration rates. As of September 2003, twenty-two states still allow corporal punishment in their schools.

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