about.com, December 1, 1999

Corporal Punishment: A Necessary Evil?, Rob Kennedy

I really thought that corporal punishment had been outlawed back in the 1890's! I really did! So I was caught off guard when I discovered Project NoSpank's Web site.

By way of background, we all know that corporal punishment in one form or another has been around in teaching for centuries. It certainly is not a new issue. See The Roman Family for a discussion of this.

When I was a school boy growing up in Montreal back in the 1950's, the popular method of corporal punishment was strapping. As I recall, the only person who administered the strap was the principal or the vice-principal of the school. It was pretty much a punishment of last resort. In other words, you had to have done something pretty dreadful to get a strapping. Persistent rudeness and insolence come to mind as reasons for a strapping. Other forms of abuse administered by teachers in those days included cuffing a student across the back of the head, rapping his knuckles with a metre stick or ruler and so on. All of that made quite an impression on me as I remember it quite vividly some forty-five years later.

There are actually twenty-three states which still have laws on their books permitting corporal punishment: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Wyoming.

So, let's not beg the question any further! Does corporal punishment have a place in education? I say that it absolutely does not have a place in education. I was Vice-Principal of a new high school in Nassau, Bahamas from 1994-96. One of the first issues we had to deal with was discipline. My Principal and owner of the school was a criminologist. He had very firm views about the subject: we had to find better, more effective ways. In the Bahamas, beating children was and still is an accepted disciplinary method in the home and in the school. We developed a Code of Discipline which basically penalized unacceptable behavior according to the severity of the infraction. Everything from dress code to drugs, weapons and sexual infractions were covered. Remediation and resolution, retraining and reprogramming were the goals. Yes, we did get to the point on two or three occasions where we actually did suspend and expel students. The biggest problem we faced was breaking the cycle of abuse. In my opinion we simply must break this cycle.

Leading associations have come out in opposition to corporal punishment.

"The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry opposes the use of corporal punishment in schools and takes issue with laws in some states legalizing such corporal punishment and protecting adults who use it from prosecution for child abuse."

The American School Counsellors Association states: "ASCA seeks the elimination of corporal punishment in schools and other places of caregiving."

The American Academy of Pediatrics states: "The American Academy of Pediatrics believes that corporal punishment may affect adversely a student's self-image and his or her school achievement, and that it may contribute to disruptive and violent student behavior."

The National Council of Teachers of English is on record since 1985 as being opposed to corporal punishment.

What happens in America's private schools? A good question and one for which I have no hard evidence. All I know is what I hear and read about schools: most of them would seem to frown on the use of corporal punishment. There are simply more enlightened methods for dealing with disciplinary issues.

How can you do your part to eliminate corporal punishment? Write the state education departments of the states which still permit corporal punishment. Let them know that you oppose its use.

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