MACON - Educators and a handful of Georgia schools claim they have dramatically improved student conduct and achievements with a stringent new approach to discipline: putting away the paddle.
And, if reaction to their testimony here Wednesday is any indication, others who regularly spank pupils are eager to test the same approach in their schools.
At the heart of the new-fangled discipline practices - used in Gwinnett County's Knight Elementary School, Dublin's Central Elementary School and Coweta County's Newnan High School - is a belief that children should be taught to make good decisions and encouraged to do their best, not threatened with force or motivated by fear.
None of the 75 Middle Georgia educators attending the state- sponsored "Alternatives to Corporal Punishment" workshop here said they planned to completely ban paddling as a result.
"I would still rather reserve it as a last resort," said Penny Hudson, assistant principal at Tattnall Elementary School in Reidsville.
Counseling officials at the state Department of Education, which sponsored the Macon conference and five others around the state, say they oppose corporal punishment because it tends to legitimize violence to solve problems and further traumatizes youngsters who have been abused at home.
The conference was organized to give educators alternatives.
A legislative proposal to ban paddling in kindergarten through grade eight died without ever being discussed this session, and parents and educators remain divided over the issue.
But with public opinion and legal rulings increasingly going against educators who spank children, many Georgia school systems are deciding to use the paddle more sparingly - or not at all.
And principals and assistant principals who heard how well paddle- free discipline policies are working at Knight and Central Elementary and Newnan High said they'll now consider emulating them.
"This is something we need to look at," said Susan Radford, assistant princip al at Northwest Laurens Elementary School in Dudley, who sometimes paddles several children a day. "I was particularly impressed with what they're doing at Knight Elementary, and it may be that it might be more effective."
At Knight, all adults in the school helped set specific rules and concrete, logical consequences for breaking each one. Pupils repeatedly are told they choose those consequences if they disobey.
For the most serious offenses, such as biting or defying a teacher, pupils are sent to the school's "opportunity room" to write detailed strategies for avoiding future misbehavior.
"Corporal punishment does not change children, it only makes them tougher," s aid Knight Principal Burrelle Meeks.
To make the point that adults, too, have to obey rules, Mr. Meeks stands in line for lunch with the pupils, and Coweta High Principal Alan Wood uses the same bathroom as pupils - to set an example and keep an eye out for trouble at the same time.
Even educators who believe that sparing the rod spoils the child should think twice, cautioned Gainesville lawyer Sam Harben, a school law specialist whose firm serves about 50 Georgia districts. Georgia law permits corporal punishment, but puts restrictions on its use, and the courts increasingly are allowing legal challenges to school paddling, he said.
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