The caller sounded something like this: "Hello there in California! Are you the man who had that....the Oakland thing going...the City Council resolution back a couple of months ago?" He couldn't bring himself to utter the S word without being certain he was talking to the right party.

"You mean the no-spanking zone? Yes, that's me," I answered, anticipating the invitation I would accept, but against my better judgment. I do this every time. And afterwards I resolve never again to prostrate myself on the chopping block of another talk-radio host.

One of my more memorable recent radio gigs--out of Toronto, I think it was--started off uneventfully. The host, though uninformed on the issue, was better than most. He was not one of those barracudas that prowl the AM air waves during commute hour out in patriot land. He was cordial, allowed me to make a few points, and seemed to agree in part. During the first commercial break, he informed me off-air, "I've never seen anything like this. We're backed up 'til tomorrow with callers who all want to tell you that they were spanked as kids and that they turned out okay."

Against the background of advertising babble, I rehearsed my little speech about why personal anecdotes make bad science, and why people who rush to announce what good parents they had (or are) and how well they (or their children) turned out, are telling only the part of the story that makes them feel good and look good. We all tend to do it. It's only natural. We all have a built-in, rose-tinted rear view mirror. It's a feature of the species. I experimented with phrases that would get the idea across, without impugning anyone's honesty, that self-diagnosis is inherently suspect.

I planned suitable sound bites.

Choice A, borrowed from my good friend, Bob Fathman, who is a psychologist and Co-Chair of EPOCH-USA and President or the National Coalition to Abolish Corporal Punishment in Schools:

My grandparents didn't have indoor plumbing when they were children. They used out-houses. And they turned out okay. Do out-houses get the credit?

Choice B:
I was in a serious auto crash when I was a small child, and I turned out okay. But I don't go around recommending the experience.

Choice C:

When I was little, I lived in a house built with asbestos siding, painted with lead-based paint and I was always in the presence of one or more one adult smokers, and I turned out okay. Does that prove there are health benefits associated with exposure to asbestos, lead and smoke? We know better. We don't subject kids to that any more, do we?

But something extraordinary sidetracked my plans.

A caller came on touting the familiar benefits to children of the occasional spanking--only when needed, of course, and only by loving parents, of course. The host recognized him as a regular to the show and outed him with regard to his recent past calls on a different, but related, subject: adult spanking. Host and Caller had a friendly laugh over this. Then Caller proceeded to explain that the spanking of children for disciplinary reasons has nothing whatsoever to do with innocent entertainment between consenting adults who just happen to enjoy a bit of friendly buttocks-slapping on occasion. Furthermore, he argued, many of the recreational spankers in his social circle are fine, upstanding people, leaders in public life and such.

The very next caller was also a defender of "lower discipline" for children. He said that he bitterly regretted that when he was a young dad, he was unable to afford to send his sons (Lucky boys!) to a certain fashionable private school--a boys' academy favored by Canada's elite for their sons where corporal punishment is de rigueur. This school, the caller stated, has been made famous by its alumni, many of whom are pillars of the community and leaders in their various professions. Spanking never did them any harm. Astute listeners must have been wondering if the alumni, referred to by this caller, were among the buddies of the previous caller. I didn't have to say a word.

For more on this topic, see:

  1. Tom Johnson's Sexual Dangers of Spanking Children at
  2. "It never did me any harm," a compilation of excerpts from Ian Gibson's The English Vice, at
  3. Chris Dugan's "What Causes Spanking Fetishes? A Testable Model" at
  4. Christopher Middleton's "Is 'Christian Discipline' Porn's Best Ally? Oh, the Cheek of it!" at
  5. "Spanking, School Uniforms and Sadomasochism" at


Don't say you weren't warned.

We'd hardly recovered from the goings on in Oklahoma and Nevada before learning about Louisiana Dem. State Senator Don Cravins' plans for students. He wants them to be required to address teachers as "ma'am" or "sir" or to use "Mr.," "Ms." or "Miss" when calling them by name. This is not merely advisory. This is law aimed at prescribing and proscribing speech between students and teachers. What'll happen to the teacher who tells his class, "Good morning! My name is Jordan. In this class, we're all on a first-name basis." (I really did that once.) Lose his job? (I did that too, more than once.) And what'll happen to students who obey? Will they get paddled? Suspended? Expelled? Get their mouths washed with soap? We'll probably be reading about that sometime in the coming school year.

The push for mandatory (children's) good manners, Cravins says, is strongly supported among voters, especially in the wake of the Columbine massacre.

"Will it make a difference? Hell, I don't know. But we've got to try something...I've seen how polite and well-mannered the young inmates are, and if we can teach them that in prison, we can teach them that in schools..." Cravins told Reuters.

At the risk of being charged with practicing one of the mind sciences without a credential, I offer this thumbnail psychological profile of Senator Cravins:

He feels safe only in the presence of obedient subordinates--people who acknowledge his status as the duly authorized dispenser of rewards and punishments. He sees life as a contact sport between those destined to be winners and those destined to be losers, between teachers/jailers in charge, and pupils/prisoners who know their places and mind their manners, between the dominant few and the submissive many. "We'll have no more disrespect for authority in the schools of Louisiana, y'all hear that?" to which the only acceptable response is a bright-eyed, cheerful "Yessir!" The very thought of some upiddy kid failing to "snap to it, boy!" sends him looking for a switch. Incipient rebellion must be quelled; sedition rooted out. If senator Cravins is a man of The Book, Apostle Paul's, "Slaves, be ye subject to your masters...," must be his second favorite quote. All the lessons he received in his tender years on the topic of respect taught him mainly this: one had better be on top if one doesn't like being on the bottom. And now that he's all grown up, he drafts legislation.

I've written to the senator to ask if he would consider an amendment to his bill that would make respectful treatment of pupils by their teachers mandatory. I'll let you know if I hear anything surprising.

For additional relevant reading, see:

  1. Thomas Gordon's "How Children Really React to Control" at
  2. Adah Maurer's "A General Theory of Motivation" at
  3. Albert Einstein's "Fear and Force Have No Place in Education" at


At a fund raising dinner in Bethlehem, Pa., Governor Bush told his $1000-per-plate guests that he wants to give school principals more leeway in disciplining students. In case you are wondering what he means by leeway, I refer you to the following which I quote from his letter to me of October 21, 1997:

"We have made much progress in aligning authority and responsibility at the local level. Our new education code reduces state regulation and gives local parents, teachers and school boards more freedom to innovate and to design schools that fit their communities' needs."
Before you decide whether he is talking about freedom or license, consider the prevailing standard in his state. In Texas, school principals are permitted to batter and bruise any pupil, boy or girl, with a flat wooden board (they call it a paddle) applied with indeterminate force to the child's pelvic area (that's real close to the anus and the genitals) without the need to justify to anyone what they are doing, what they think they are accomplishing, or to assume responsibility for any damage they might cause. I have a problem imagining what disciplinary measures might be in store for schoolchildren that would require an even further relaxation of legal constraints and professional standards. The Texas model is a poor one for the nation. It's a poor one for Texas.

Many years ago, long before British educators cleaned up their act, Lady Wooton said this in a speech to the House of Lords:

"I find it anomalous that a law which forbids adults to assault one another should give less, rather than more, protection to children...In this country at the present time, the only people who can wield a cane with impunity are teachers and prostitutes."


In 1992, John Stossel's superb documentary on spanking in American families, "The Lesson They'll Never Forget," aired on ABC's 20/20. You may remember it. I play this 15-minute video as part of all my presentations. When I show it at Folsom Prison, the men are stunned. Nobody seeing this documentary comes away unchanged. ABC has given PTAVE permission to duplicate and share "The Lesson They'll Never Forget" noncommercially. Readers who have use for it can write to me at PTAVE, P.O. Box 1033, Alamo, CA 94507. I'll make a copy for you. But please be sure to enclose a donation to PTAVE that covers postage and our replacement cost for a blank tape. More, if you insist.

We are preparing an audio version of Plain Talk about Spanking. It'll be on tape and CD. We expect to be able to start delivering it soon. Next step will be an audio version via our Web site. We are exploring the technical details now.

If your organization can use Plain Talk... in booklet form, let me know. Over the past 8 years, we've supplied between 1/2 and 2/3 of a million copies to parents, educators, health care professionals and public and private agencies dealing in child-related fields. Write us for a free copy. Meanwhile, read the recently revised edition online at

Yes, you may forward this page to friends and colleagues or post it on other lists where you participate.

Jordan Riak, Exec. Dir.
Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education (PTAVE)

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