Britain: The Second Shoe Drops
13 years after banning corporal punishment in the nation's state schools, British authorities have extended the ban to include the private schools, but not without rumbling from a few religious educators. A group of 40 independent Christian schools, led by Philip Williamson, headmaster of the Christian Fellowship in Liverpool, plans to take their struggle to restore their right to hit kids to the European Court of Human Rights.
It seems to me to be a strange twist of logic to demand, as a human right, to do to children what is, by definition, a violation of human rights when done to adults.
Williamson told Reuters:"I believe the government should not intervene in how parents bring up their children. This is dictatorial and an example of the nanny state."He said he couldn't remember the last time he used his cane but that in a bad month he would typically reach for the ruler three times. Slaps and smacks were administered, he told Reuters, for "any breaking of the moral code."
Can't remember? Or is Williamson just not telling? Hitting a child is not the kind of event that would quickly fade from memory, particularly if done as rarely as he claims. If the Reuters article is accurate in its reference to "slaps," "smacks," "cane" and "ruler," then Williamson must be credited for his versatility as a dispenser of punishment. One would hope that his bad months are truly infrequent.
"Reach for the ruler," he says. Is it kept on a high shelf, just barely within reach? Or does he actually reach it but can't remember what he does next? Or is it his use of the cane, not the ruler, that he has trouble remembering? Or does he reach for the ruler just to scare students, but is really too nice a fellow to actually hit anyone with it? Keeps you guessing.
As for "breaking the moral code," just what code he was referring to, who wrote it, and where one might examine a copy, weren't reported.
You'll notice that battery of children, like a prescribed dosage of medicine, is administered, not inflicted, as in the case of adults receiving the identical treatment.
Slippery language and selective amnesia are the hallmarks of caners, paddlers, belters, switchers, slappers, smackers and spankers. If you follow closely their descriptions of their own behavior, you feel as though you're being marched on sand.
This fringe group's last-ditch struggle to retain the use of corporal punishment is not being waged because they fear being prevented from hurting their charges. There are plenty of ways to make children miserable without the application of sticks to flesh. Martinets and bullies know them all. What really bothers them is the symbolic significance of the new law. They sense that the alibis and rationalizations that have worked so well for them since time immemorial are suddenly becoming transparent. Everyone is getting wise to their game, and it has them squirming. Surely no one in their group, nor anyone else for that matter, realistically expects the European Court of Human Rights to experience an epiphany upon hearing Headmaster Williamson argue the merits of child beating.
I suspect that at least a few in their group are secretly pleased and relieved that outside forces are driving the reform. There are, and always have been, nonhitters within religious pedagogy, but, with rare exceptions, they are unwilling or unable to buck the system. They lack the moral courage to step outside their comfort zone, to risk irritating superiors and alienating colleagues. Now, what they couldn't do for themselves has been done for them. Some are probably going along with Williamson's protest more as a gesture of group solidarity than out of personal conviction.
As for the diehards and the hit-hards, all they can do is grumble and try to get used to teaching school in the 21st century. Alternatively, they might try to find some more suitable employment having nothing to do with children. They'd be happier and be causing less trouble for others.
In 1669, the Children's Petition posited that any teacher who:...is not able to awe and keep a company of youth in obedience without violence and stripes should judge himself no more fit for that function...[that such teachers are] taking on them an office which they have not ability to manage.After 330 years, their petition has been heard, and a sad chapter in the annals of British education is closed.
-----See UK school corporal punishment ban argued in the House of Commons, March 25, 1998 and Ban on corporal punishment now applies to Britain's private schools. Also, see how South Africa's high court handled a challenge from church schools: Christian school body loses case to make spanking legal in 'Christian' schools. Further reading on this subject: 'Christian' Child Abuse, by Rev. Marie M. Fortune (1983)
"...Schools are often perceived by parents as bearers of cultural norms concerning proper child rearing practices and discipline. Hence, when schools and other child care settings employ practices not conducive to optimal child development, e.g., corporal punishment and other demeaning and threatening, negative disciplinary measures, they convey a subtle message to parents, namely that such measures are appropriate, as they are sanctioned by educational authorities and 'experts.'..."
David G. Gil
Professor of Social Policy
Meanwhile, back at the ranch the spanking wars are deadlocked. 23 states--mainly the former slave-holding states--still allow schoolchildren to be sent home with contusions on their buttocks. There's little or no recourse for parents who object. But there's plenty of implicit encouragement for parents who perpetrate similar acts of violence at home. When challenged about the problem, Washington spontaneously delivers a canned homily on the virtues of local control (an argument that once warmed the hearts of segregationists) and redirects the complainant to the state in question. Mimicking their betters, the state defers to the county, the county defers to the local school board and the school board graciously defers to the wisdom of the school principal, a guy who, they'll tell you, "knows how to handle kids"-- that is, until he handles one in a way that incurs a budget-busting lawsuit.
The following e-mail, dated September 2, 1999, from a mother in Tennessee, is one of four such letters I received in that month."My 17 year old daughter has been paddled over 15 times by teachers at the high school she attends. My son attends the Intermediate School and begs me nightly to make sure the principal knows she cannot paddle him. He said everyday at least one child is paddled, and he is petrified! Please respond. What can I do? Email me."Here's an earlier one in the same vein, written by a mother in Ohio, October 30, 1985:"I am a mother of two children (6 & 7) in the Mt. Orab school. The teacher gave my 6 year old a swat as an example to show the other kids that anyone can get a swat. This is an "open class room." The teacher doesn't know who was whistling. I was told to write a note if I didn't want my children swatted. I did, but then I was told it didn't matter what I thought. My son has an enlarged heart on the right side. I don't feel corporal punishment should be in the schools. If I hit my child then the courts would send me to jail. But nothing happens to a teacher. What can I do? Is there anything you can do for me? Thank you for your help."What can I say to these parents?
Should I tell them to pack up and move to a nonpaddling state? Should I tell them to hang in there and lobby the the school board or the state education department or their governor? Should I advise them to withdraw their children to safety and then be charged with the crime of failing to send them to school? Should I tell them to write a letter of protest to the editor of the local newspaper, and expose themselves and their children to possible retaliation? Should I lecture them that children who live a chronic state of tension and fear are being damaged for life, and that the "education" they're getting in those circumstances is worthless? I tell them all that and more, but they've thought this through already, and the practical support they need I can't give them. They're outraged. They're hurting. They're desperate. They are being forced to stand by and witness their children's lives turn sour day by day.
After receiving the above-quoted letter from the Ohio, I wrote to many different branches of Ohio state government dealing with education, public health and child welfare related matters. I asked them to advise me how I should answer the mother. They all responded. Most told me I had written to the wrong party, directed me elsewhere and wished me well. A few offered vague expressions of concern. One sent me their version of the local-control sermon. One sent back a short, testy reply to the effect that my letter was unfairly accusatory and that I should refrain from such communications in the future.
Perhaps it's time to try again, this time with Tennessee or Florida. I'll write to legislators, public health department officials and education department officials. I'll send them a copies of recent parents' letters from their respective states. I'll ask them to pretend for a moment that those moms are family members or close friends. What would they advise? If they tell me anything useful about how to protect the children before those children reach drop-out age, I'll relay it to the moms and report it in this column.
Letter from a mother, September 23, 1999"Today I got a report from my son that a new teacher threatened the entire class with spanking in a closet and being strung up by the toes with string! He says that the spanking part was confirmed by other students. I plan to call the principal tomorrow, but since I live in Florida, I suspect this abuse might actually be legal! What can I do? Not what can I "try", but is there ANYTHING I can actually DO?"Second letter, September 25, 1999"I feel like such a wimp. I can't seem to bring myself to actually talk to the teacher or principal about this. I think it goes back to very negative experiences of my own abusive and intimidating school experiences. (I am 41 years old). I feel alone in this and I just can't believe that this is legal here! Abuse being legal! I am so outraged at the thought, imagine how angry I would be if they actually laid a hand on my child!! Please let me know how I can protect him."
My response, September 25, 1999"How do you expect them to know to keep their hands off your son if you don't tell them? They can't read your mind. Are you going to wait until he is brutalized and then speak up? If a stranger stopped your boy on the street and said, "here's a dollar, little boy, let me rub your behind," he'd start running and shouting for help--if he's been taught correctly. If apprehended, the perpetrator would be charged, convicted and possibly jailed. But school is a different world; it operates according to a different logic. There, he'll be expected to cooperate with a stranger who wants to beat his bottom with a wooden board. And everybody involved, including you, knows that the risk is real and imminent. You can see it coming.The mom's third letter, September 30, 1999
"If you remain silent, and thereby knowingly leave him in harm's way, you'll share the responsibility for whatever happens. It'll remain with you all your life. Your son will probably forgive you because he knows you're a truly loving and caring mom. But you won't forgive yourself. So don't let some twisted, misguided adults who fancy themselves teachers have an opportunity to assault your child.
"Once I heard a strange commotion in my back yard--a lot of squawking and squeaking. I went to the window and saw two birds doing frantic aeronautic maneuvers, circling and diving and circling again, and emitting as much noise as they were capable. Halfway up a tree, a cat was clinging to the tree trunk and waiting as the birds hurled themselves at it with all their energy. Soon, the cat apparently decided enough is enough. It jumped to the ground and ran off, abandoning any hope of eating nestlings that day. There's an important lesson in this scene for human parents.
"I speak with some authority on this issue. Some day, when your current problems are resolved, remind me to tell you what happened--correction: what my wife and I permitted to happen--to our youngest son when he was in school. He is now a grown man and a daddy, but that doesn't mean the past is erased.
"In Monday's mail I'll send you some things you can use, including the 'Corporal Punishment Exemption' form. Use one yourself, distribute the rest to other parents who share your concerns. Go to the next school board meeting. Give a copy to every one present whether they like it or don't. Do the same at the next PTA meeting. Distribute 'Abuse in Schools is Out!' the same way.
"If you can afford it, buy advertising space in your local newspaper big enough to print the exemption form. A few years ago, a family did that in Montana. They published the entire text of my 'Plain Talk about Spanking' in a major daily paper. It filled the whole page. It helped pave the way for abolition of corporal punishment in the schools of that state. If you can't afford to do that, place a classified ad letting readers know you have these materials available for them.
"You can make photocopies of anything I send you. Most of what I am sending, I print myself so I can supply quantities if you will use them and if that is easier for you.
"It shouldn't take long before other parents with the same concerns as yours find out what you are doing and join your effort. There are such people in your town. They probably feel intimidated and isolated too. They just need a little help in finding their voice.
"Sorry to rave at you like this, but if I don't tell it to you honestly, then I'll have to share the blame. Call me if you like. I'd call you, but the PTAVE telephone budget is very tight these days.
"Spend a little time on Project NoSpank. Borrow whatever you can use. --Jordan""Hi Jordan,
I printed out the exemption form that was on the web site and made two copies, one for each of my boys. Then I went in and talked to the vice principal. I told her what the teacher had said. She put her head in her hands and shook her head. She said that she understood my feelings and that she didn't approve of corporal punishment in schools either. She assured me that the district policy does not permit corporal punishment. The teacher involved came into the room as I sat there and she acted like she had gotten "caught" when the VP asked her about it. I found out later on in the day that she had embarrassed my son later that day by asking him in front of the whole class, "Did I scare you? Did I scare your mother?" I didn't appreciate this unprofessional attitude and I have a call into the school right now to talk to them about that. I asked the VP to enter the forms into the boys files and she said she would "be happy to."
"I hope that this is the last of the matter. I am still going to read everything you are sending and decide what more I need to do if anything. Thank you for your help and encouragement in all this. Can you think of anything else I should do?"
Teacher, teach thyself
I shudder to think how many trees are sacrificed in the course of a year for the sake of the promotional literature touting programs and products that promise to fix everything that's defective with the youth of today. I receive such material almost daily. Business must be booming. And since the spate of schoolhouse massacres, it seems a virtual gold rush has opened up for opportunists of every stripe to offer (for a price) their solutions to all the problems that beset the young.
The selection is dazzling. The titles run from scientific-sounding to New Age, from evangelical to jingoistic. One can build children's character, repair their damaged self-esteem, show them how to peer counsel, how to resist peer pressure, how to resolve conflicts non-violently, how to control their impulses, how to tap their inner strengths, how to say no. One can teach them team-work, team spirit and survival skills, how to walk on hot coals and find the god within, how to find God. And let 's not overlook the last resort for little rebels: boot camp, where they can be marched, marshaled and manhandled for as long as it takes before returning home as reinvented citizens, oh so grateful for having had their lives "turned around before it was too late," docile, domesticated, perfect for display on a shelf. What kind of marriages will these boot camp alumni have? What kind of parents will they become? Don't ask. Don't even think about it. That's work for the next generation of mental health professionals.
Some child-repair plans appear to have value. Time will tell. As for others, one must look hard to find their good points and be grateful they are, at least, harmless. Some are misguided and misleading. Some are scams. Some are dangerous and destructive to the very children who are purportedly being helped.
What concerns me is a feature of the child-fixing industry that is virtually absolute and universal: almost nobody talks about the most destructive practices to which children are routinely subjected. Adults' questionable behavior is not open for discussion. Savvy program authors know they had better waltz around the issue of corporal punishment, or else they'll hear from their publishers. (We all know the big names on the short list of experts who are exempt from this criticism.) Teachers won't criticize teachers and the behavior of parents is sacrosanct until they commit a felony. The mere suggestion that one must confront one's own bad behavior before one can hope to understand or deal with a child's (or a student's) is a suggestion few parents (or teachers) are prepared to sit still for. There is a virtual blackout with regard to critical self-examination. It's bad for adult morale and hurts sales.
While I was typing the preceding paragraph, the following e-mail arrived from a writer in a paddling state:"I am a guidance counselor at the Department of Juvenile Justice here in Georgia. I am very interested in starting a program in Character education. I would appreciate any information that you could send me or just pointing me in the right direction."I answered the counselor and pointed him in the right direction.
A medical student, now completing his studies, said this in his recent letter to me:"It's always aggravating when people try to do some good for kids while ignoring the great harm they're already causing or allowing to be caused. It's kind of like hitting a starving child on the head with a hammer. Everyone's concerned with feeding the child, but no one bothers to recognize that protecting the child from the hammer must come first. In medicine the golden rule is 'Do No Harm.' Helping someone means nothing if you are also intentionally harming them or allowing them to be harmed."
I believe that the only way to stop brutish behavior, whether by teenagers or adults, whether in the schoolyard, the street, the workplace, or the bedroom, is to stop justifying children's early brutalization, to stop misrepresenting it as something necessary, virtuous and done for their own good.
If only children were given the same protection against assault and battery adults take for granted, that reform alone would curb the brutalizers and send a clear signal to anyone who remains confused on the subject. Children would be made aware, from the very beginning of their lives, that their society values, respects, and protects them unequivocally. They'd return the favor tenfold. This is not a complicated or unproved theory. One does not need postgraduate credentials to understand it. This reform has been adopted by a number of other countries to good effect, but hasn't dawned on the public mind in the United States, let alone the minds of leaders. If they've thought about it, they aren't saying. Its mere suggestion in a public forum draws blank stares and derisive hoots.
Sometimes I have to stop, take a deep breath and remind myself that I live in a society that has been graced by such people as Jefferson, Paine, Susan B. Anthony, Margaret Sanger, Martin Luther King, Jr., and many others who have participated to make it a bellwether to seekers of freedom and the good life, a society with the perseverance, ingenuity and brains that has enabled us to be first to stand on the moon and is now making us the unchallenged pacesetter in technology. Yet, like a pathetic whipped puppy, we seem helpless in achieving a respectable world-class standard for the protection of our children. We trail the pack in the company of stragglers.
Announcement: A Hungarian translation of "Plain Talk about Spanking" is nearly ready. I think we'll be able to post it on Project NoSpank in about two weeks.
Advice needed: A few months ago, I approached several leading law firms with experience in class action suits and several high-profile human rights advocacy groups. I asked them to consider a class action lawsuit brought by sufferers of the consequences of school paddling. Of course, I was thinking about the successful class actions brought by smokers. Since I have no law background, I knew I'd need advice.
On the telephone, everybody sounded interested and supportive. All agreed that teachers beating schoolchildren was obviously dangerous and outrageous, and some victims have undoubtedly suffered lasting consequences. I asked them to review a questionnaire for prospective litigants that I had drafted and give me feedback. I sent copies to those who agreed. Nobody responded. Either my plan was hopelessly inept or the prospects for bringing such a lawsuit to trial are nil. Whatever their reasons, the legal experts did an instant vanishing act. That's where the matter stands.
If this interests you, please read the draft questionnaire at www.nospank.net/lawsuit.htm and let me know if you think this can fly, and to whom I can go for advice.
I want to apologize to Jim Richards of CFRB, Toronto for my unkind remarks in an earlier newsletter. I said Jim was "uninformed" on the topic of corporal punishment. I was dead wrong. I should have realized that sometimes a talk-show host has to ask the questions his listeners want answered, but not necessarily the questions his guest would like to have asked. I finally figured that out during last night's show--(Oct. 4). Thanks, Jim, for enthusiastically and repeatedly plugging nospank.net to your listeners. I'm glad we kept your switch board lit up with callers who wanted a piece of the action (in some cases, a pound of my flesh). This morning, the counter on my Web site showed extraordinary activity over the night hours. That's good for both of us! See you next time.
Please don't forget to make a donation to PTAVE that at least covers the postage for the materials you have requested. Requests for posters, leaflets and booklets keep rolling in. Meanwhile, money keeps rolling out through a huge hole in our bank account called POSTMASTER. For the past several months, I've been inviting the men in the groups I teach at Folsom State Prison to give me addresses of family members to whom they would like to have materials sent. Most take up the offer. Each packet I mail, containing a NO SPANKING ZONE poster, a copy of "Plain Talk about Spanking," a copy of "Old Woman in a Shoe" and a few other leaflets, costs $1.21 in postage alone. The total amount of money donated by readers of this Web site does not cover that expenditure. Without funds, I can't mail. If this worries you the way it worries me, click on donr2.htm.
Read the latest from Canada: Canadian study links spanking to psychiatric disorders By Vanessa Thomas, Reuters, October 5, 1999
Jordan Riak, Exec. Dir.
Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education (PTAVE)
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