Six months after stalling the same measure, members of the Brookline Town Meeting last night narrowly defeated a nonbinding resolution that would have made it town policy to encourage parents and child-care workers not to spank children or use other corporal punishment.
The resolution, submitted again by Brookline resident Ronald Goldman, urged parents to consider alternative disciplinary methods that do not cause pain to a child for punishment and instead promote respect and understanding between parents and children.
"There's a lot of research that shows corporal punishment is harmful, and there's a lot of research that shows it's common," said Goldman, a consulting engineer who said he has studied the subject. "People just continue doing this, without questioning it. This resolution is intended to raise awareness."
The measure, which the town's Board of Selectmen supported last spring, was defeated by the board in a similar vote this fall. Last night, members of the Town Meeting voted against the resolution 75 to 73, with 26 abstentions.
After the vote, Goldman said he had not ruled out raising the issue at a future Town Meeting, a legislative body that consists of 240 elected residents, members of the Board of Selectmen, and any state representative or senator who resides in Brookline.
"I'm disappointed," said Goldman, who spent the past several months lobbying members of the Town Meeting. "I'd rather not have to do this."
The measure returned for another vote because it was not explicitly voted on in last spring's Town Meeting. In June, members voted 105 to 78 to indefinitely postpone a vote on the resolution.
One critic of the resolution last night criticized Goldman for wasting the members' time.
"I feel this is narcissism and grandiosity taken to the extreme," said Karen Wenc, a Town Meeting member.
Others criticized Goldman for telling parents how to raise their children, when he is not a parent.
"I'm exercising my right to walk out of the room," said Linda C. Dean, while Goldman spoke to the meeting. "This guy doesn't even have kids -- and he's going to tell me how to raise my kids?"
One town selectman, however, stuck to his original vote and praised Goldman for raising the issue.
"I support it because it encourages parents to consider alternatives, and I think it's a terrific educational tool," said Selectman Michael Sher, who favored the resolution.
While he recognized some people are uncomfortable telling others not to spank their children and some in the media have lampooned Brookline for debating the issue, Sher said after the vote: "I thought it would go down by more votes than it did, but I'm disappointed. I thought this was the right thing to do."
Massachusetts is one of 27 states that prohibits corporal punishment in public schools. Aside from discipline that rises to a criminal level of abuse, the state has no law regulating spanking or other corporal punishment by parents.
Goldman said his resolution was endorsed by the Massachusetts Society For The Prevention of Cruelty to Children, Massachusetts Citizens for Children, and the Massachusetts Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers.
Goldman said studies show corporal punishment tends to contribute to negative behavior in children, such as aggression toward other siblings, bullying and disobedience at school, and an erosion of trust between parents and children.
David Abel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
© Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.
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