To spank or not to spank
By Stanley Spiegel
Brookline Tab, May 12, 2005

Town Meeting, which begins a week from Tuesday, will once again be considering a resolution asking parents to refrain from employing corporal punishment when disciplining their children. The petitioner, former TMM Ron Goldman, had brought similar articles to Town Meeting last June, when the resolution was tabled indefinitely, and last November, when it was defeated by a slender two-vote margin.

November's vote was tainted by a personal attack and criticism directed at Goldman for refiling his article and voicing his intention to keep seeking an up-or-down vote after the previous June's vote-ducking tactic. Now, in the wake of November's narrow defeat, Goldman has again been criticized by the selectmen majority for resubmitting his anti-spanking resolution in the hope of having the matter settled this time purely on its merits.

The selectmen's criticism is unfair. After all, they were solidly behind bringing the B2 biolab rezoning article back to Town Meeting last June less than three months after it was voted down at a March Town Meeting. Most TMMs had no problem with revoting the B2 proposal so soon after its defeat, and enough of them switched positions to alter the outcome. The notion that it's wrong to ask Town Meeting to reconsider earlier votes has no basis in law or precedent. TMMs should only consider the merits of Goldman's resolution, not its past history.

And on the merits, the resolution should prevail. There's evidence that children who have experienced corporal punishment are more likely than others to resort to violence later in life. This doesn't mean that anyone who was spanked is likely to become an axe-murderer or that avoiding spanking will put an end to anti-social adult behavior, but it does suggest that discouraging the corporal punishment of children could lead to a less violent society.

This resolution merely asks parents to consider effective, non-violent alternatives to spanking as a means of deterring errant behavior. Certainly passing this resolution will not put an end to all spanking, nor would simply ending all spanking eliminate adult violence. Indeed, there are other factors at play that have led to our all-too violent society, and there are other important measures - reducing poverty, providing family support structures, etc. - that government should also take in this regard.

But the fact that passing an anti-spanking resolution will not by itself cure the violence problem is no reason to vote it down. The perfect should not be the enemy of the good, and passing this resolution at Town Meeting would be a helpful step in the right direction.

Some have argued that Town Meeting has no business instructing parents about how to raise their children. But it's long been accepted that parents are not totally free agents when it come to child-rearing. There are laws on the books that forbid the physical abuse of children, and that criminalize incest and the sexual exploitation of kids. It's mandatory that children be schooled, that they receive periodic vaccinations, and that they wear seat-belts. Child labor, a once-common practice in this country, has long been illegal. Parents rightly have enormous latitude in raising their kids but society can and does set certain standards in an effort to ensure healthy, well-adjusted, and educated children. Thus it's not unreasonable for Town Meeting to consider adopting a resolution against spanking that could be beneficial for our children and for society.

The acceptance of spanking as a method of discipline has begun to erode worldwide, and one hopes that this practice will soon go the way of wife-beating as a once-prevalent phenomenon that society no longer tolerates. Brookline can help by joining with other enlightened communities and voting to discourage the corporal punishment of children.

Stanley Spiegel, a regular TAB columnist, is a Town Meeting member from Precinct 2. His e-mail address is:


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