Our Students Deserve Better
Eileen Eady, Jackson Free Press, March 3, 2010

Three young boys waited on a wooden bench in a brown-paneled office on the hot May day. Anton stretched his legs out and slouched back, his face blank and eyes flashing with anger. Next to him sat Reggie, whose brown eyes darted around the room nervously. He was not a student I usually saw in the office. The third boy, Derek, was crying. He was hunched forward with his head in his hands, and I could see the tears hitting the floor. I wanted to go over and talk to him, but I was new and didn't want to be seen coddling the kids in the office.

The teacher came out of the assistant principal's office with a wooden paddle in her hand. She was sweating and out of breath.

"Let's go. Let's get this over with," she said pointing at Anton. He got up and followed her, strutting.

"Thwack, thwack, thwack."

The sound vibrated off the walls, and I became nauseous. Anton sauntered out of the office. Reggie got up and went in. I could hear soft murmuring from behind the door, then the sound again.

"Thwack, thwack, thwack."

With each strike, my stomach jumped. I wasn't emotionally prepared for this.

Derek was more upset now. He kept rubbing his face and running his hands over his black curly hair. Then Reggie came out of the office crying, the teacher followed him, still holding the paddle. She pointed at Derek and said: "Let's go. Your turn."

"No, please. No," Derek cried.

The teacher came toward him, and the assistant principal followed her out. They each took one of Derek's hands and half carried, half dragged him into the office. He screamed and pleaded the entire 15 feet from the bench to the door. The assistant principal shut the door, and from inside I could hear Derek's pleading continue.

"Please. Don't give me licks. I won't do it again. I'm sorry. Please no," Derek said.

Soft murmuring followed, and then the "thwack, thwack, thwack" again.

I was sick to my stomach. Never in my 10-year career in public schools had I witnessed a paddling. Not even in inner-city Baltimore.

I was angry for the students, and as a mother I was outraged. I never got used to hearing that sound. Not that day, and not on the spring day when the two male assistant principals took to giving "licks" in the hallway. Four times during first period, and then four more times during second period, they disrupted my class with the paddling. I thought the school administration had lost their minds. Later, the principal told me that she had sent out the two men to "tighten up a little" and get the students under control.

No one was under control that day. The random widespread paddling only amped up the agitation at school.

Mississippi has the highest rate of corporal punishment in the United States, and its use of corporal punishment is inconsistent and unfair. African American boys in Mississippi are punished 1.7 times more than would be expected based on their population. Yet there is no research that shows that African American boys are 1.7 times more likely to misbehave in school. Corporal punishment is not allowed in the prison system, yet it is an acceptable way to discipline students in 23 states.

Corporal punishment has no place in our schools. There is no research that proves it is effective at preventing misbehavior in students. In fact, eight of the states that have the highest corporal punishment rates are ranked among the top 10 states with the highest incarceration rates.

And its use is arbitrary. Some schools paddle students for leaving homework at home, while others reserve it for fights.

It escapes my comprehension that schools adopt a zero-tolerance policy toward bullying but don't hesitate to hit a child on the buttocks with a wooden board. Violence of any kind should not be tolerated. By allowing students to be paddled in school, we are sending them a message that violence is OK as long as someone in authority is doing it. It is an archaic and lazy way of handling discipline issues.

School systems all over the country find ways of disciplining without violence. Research-based systems of positive intervention and behavior management are proven and effective. From New York to San Diego, these techniques are implemented with success.

Our students in Mississippi deserve the same treatment. Students in Mississippi deserve an education free of violence.

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