May 10 —Thwack! Thwack! Thwack! The sound of a paddle connecting with a student’s backside is heard often in the hallways of Zwolle Elementary School. In the small Louisiana town of Zwolle, it’s long been accepted that kids who misbehave deserve a whippin’. But when 10-year-old Megan Cahanin came home bruised and crying after being paddled for elbowing a friend in school, her parents were horrified.
Dr. Robert Fathman
Opposes Paddling in Schools
THEY HAVE JOINED one of two class-action lawsuits recently filed against the school district of Sabine Parish. Their hope is to end the practice of corporal punishment in the schools. Corporal punishment-which literally means punishment of the body-isn’t standard practice just in Louisiana. Although it’s been abolished in 27 states, it remains legal in 23 of them and is most widely used in the South. Previous court cases brought against school systems that use physical discipline have failed to stop the practice. That’s largely because in 1977, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that paddling was neither cruel nor unusual punishment. On the other hand, the Supreme Court outlawed corporal punishment in prisons and mental hospitals. That paddling could be banned in prisons but still allowed in schools is something paddling opponents find hard to understand.
A BAD LESSON TO TEACH
“Almost every democracy in the world has bans on corporal punishment. We’re going in the opposite direction,” says psychologist Dr. Robert Fathman, who leads the National Coalition to Abolish Corporal Punishment in Schools. “You can’t whack a prisoner, but you can whack a kindergarten child.” Some 40 organizations, including the National Education Association, the American Psychiatric Association and the National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse, have joined forces to try to ban corporal punishment. They believe hitting a child can be damaging, not just physically, but emotionally, too. “It’s immediate and it’s loud, but it’s teaching the wrong lesson to children,” says Fathman, adding it teaches children that violence is acceptable behavior.
SPARE THE ROD, SPOIL THE CHILD Corporal punishment is as old as the Bible, which endorses the practice in Proverbs. For people like Shawn Fargerson, a father, pastor, and member of the Madison County School Board in Alabama, that’s reason enough to continue supporting paddling in schools.
Others see it as an effective way to deal with children who misbehave when all other punishments have failed.
“It should be a last resort, but it works when appropriately done,” says Ray Swaim, superintendent of schools in Madison County. Many people who favor corporal punishment were raised with it themselves. They argue it didn’t do them any harm.
“That’s the way that I grew up, that’s the way it’s always been in this society here,” says Sabine Parish school superintendent Dan Leslie. “You act ugly, you do something bad, you get a whipping.”
What do you think? Is paddling an appropriate way to maintain discipline in the schools, or should it be banned? Let us know firstname.lastname@example.org!