If you have been following the news out of Oklahoma and Nevada this past week, I am sure you are as appalled as I am about bills introduced by Oklahoma Sen. Frank Shurden, Democrat, of Henryetta, and Nevada Majority Leader Bill Raggio, Republican, of Reno.

Shurden's bill would insert a line into the state's child abuse statutes reminding parents that state law gives them the right to use "ordinary force" against children, including spanking, paddling or whipping with a switch. The Oklahoma House approved it by a vote of 96-4 and the Senate approved it 36-9. The bill now awaits Governor Frank Keating signature or veto.

In Nevada, Reggio's a bill codifies spankers' rights to do anything to children short of causing:

  1. a sprain or dislocation
  2. damage to cartilage
  3. fractures
  4. temporary disfigurement or
  5. internal injury.
It passed in the Senate 17-3, in the Assembly 24-17 and has been sent to Gov. Kenny Guinn for signature.

One has to wonder, how are spankers (who might not all agree about the meaning of "ordinary force") to keep from crossing that elusive boundary into the realm of extraordinary force? They'll know after they've crossed it, we have been reassured. And those who do will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, we have been reassured. And that will protect children, we have been reassured. (Will it?) Here we see proudly displayed the essential thought processes of the punishment junky: prosecute to protect; in other words, smash things to fix things. When toddlers do that, we call it a tantrum.

Obviously all the whippings they received in their youth failed to teach Reggio, Shurden and their colleagues-in-arms to do their homework. Nowhere in the scientific literature of the past half century is there any support for the notion that hitting children teaches them anything other than to become hitters. And there's plenty of proof of unintended side effects far worse than the problems spankers claim they are fixing. Thirty minutes of serious reading in the library of any college with a decent psych department would have qualified them to make an informed judgment on matters they were about to legislate. But facts and truth lack the allure of the quick and the easy. Had they legislated to encourage public stoning of witches, it would have made as much sense, and resulted in about the same degree of improvement to the quality of life for their constituents.

Events in Oklahoma and Nevada could signal the beginning of a storm. Lawmakers in other states might seize the opportunity to join this pogrom against the most convenient of all scapegoats: the young. Meanwhile, those who work to achieve real solutions to the very complex problems facing families and children might see their efforts further marginalized in favor of easily peddled, easily swallowed quack remedies. If that happens, there is no telling how long it will take our society, and those who pretend to lead it, to emerge from their collective trance.

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

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