E1032--CONGRESSIONAL RECORD-- March 21, 1991
Extensions of Remarks


Wednesday, March 20, 1991

Mr. Owens of New York. Mr. Speaker, today I am introducing legislation which would prohibit the use of corporal punishment or the infliction of bodily pain against students in all educational institutions which receive Federal educational funds. It is long past time that we outlawed this barbaric practice in the Nation's classrooms.

This legislation is patterned after similar State and local laws which have banned corporal punishment in that it does not prevent teachers and school personnel from using reasonable physical restraint to protect themselves or others from injury, to obtain a weapon or dangerous object from a child, or to protect property from serious damage. The bill's definition of corporal punishment specifically excludes actions taken under these circumstances. What would be prohibited is the use of the infliction of physical pain as a means of punishment or discipline.

If you are an adult inmate in a Federal, State, or local correctional institution, you cannot be beaten or physically punished. It is against the law. If you are a patient at a public psychiatric hospital, you cannot be beaten or physically punished. It is against the law. If you are a member of the Armed Forces of the United States, you cannot be beaten or physically punished. If you are a teenager in a juvenile correctional institution, you cannot be beaten or physically punished. It is against the law.

Only if you are a child sitting in a classroom can you be beaten and physically punished. Incredibly, our schools today remain the only public institution in the United States in which battery and assault are legal, accepted forms of discipline.

This must end.

Every year an estimated 3.5 percent of American schoolchildren are subjected to corporal punishment. In some States, as much as 12.6 percent of the student population is corporally punished. These children are beaten, slapped, punched, whipped, paddled, thrown against walls, stuck with pins, locked in closets, forced to eat noxious substances and abused in countless other creatively sadistic ways.

Indeed, some of the horror stories about corporal punishment that regularly emerge from around the Nation sound as though they could have taken place in Kuwait under Iraqi occupation. Students being shocked with battery-operated cattle prods. Burned with tacking irons used to laminate name tags. Chained to the bumper of a car and dragged across a parking lot. Locked in coffin-shaped boxes for hours on end. But this is not happening in Kuwait; it is happening in America. And the victims are our children.

What is most shocking of all about these daily acts of cruelty in our schools is that they are completely and utterly senseless. Corporal punishment simply does not work. All of the research tells us that it does not promote better discipline, result in more orderly classrooms, or more obedient children. An abundance of other disciplinary methods and means of regulating student behavior which do not require physically harming children have been shown to be far more powerful and effective than corporal punishment in maintaining order in the classroom and changing the behavior of disruptive or uncooperative students.

While corporal punishment is not an effective means of disciplining schoolchildren, it is most certainly an effective means of hurting them. That is, after all, the point. In most cases, fortunately, the physical injuries children experience are relatively minor -- some redness and soreness of the skin -- and do not require medical treatment. But the vulnerability of young children's bodies is such that the potential for causing more severe injuries is great, including hematomas, ruptured blood vessels, massive fat emboli, sciatic nerve damage, muscle damage, and brain hemorrhage. Every year we hear of students across the United States who are seriously injured and even permanently disabled as a result of corporal punishment. As Prof. John R. Cryan of the Association for Childhood Education International noted in a 1987 article:

Adults plainly underestimate the amount of force they are capable of producing. Sometimes children are injured during even the mildest punishment when they jerk away and the blow lands off target, or when they fall against the sharp edge of some object. Eyes, ears and brains may be permanently damaged as a result of paddling. Whiplash injuries may result from shaking. Injuries from blows to the chest and abdomen are life threatening. Bones are easily fractured and even the slightest whack may produce a jolt to the brain through the bony spinal column and spinal cord, resulting in significant swelling or bleeding.

A more detailed inventory of the medical effects of corporal punishment and resulting injuries can be found in the book "Think Twice: The Medical Effects of Physical Punishment" by Taylor and Maurer. I commend that work to anyone who doubts the severity of the physical threat that corporal punishment poses to our children.


The pernicious emotional and psychological effects of corporal punishment on children can be as harmful as any physical effects. Researchers have found that corporal punishment can cause a loss of self-esteem; increased anxiety and fear; impairment of ego functioning; feeling of helplessness and humiliation; negative attitudes toward school; stifled relationships with others; increased aggression at school and at home; self-destructive behavior; sleep disturbances; and a limited attention span and hyperactivity in the classroom, leading to a deficient academic performance. Many of these effects, it should be noted, have been found not only in children who are themselves punished, but also in children who witness the punishment.

Corporal punishment also teaches schoolchildren that violence is the way to resolve problems, a lesson that no child should be taught. Perhaps not surprisingly, researchers have found a direct relationship between school corporal punishment and delinquent and criminal behavior later in life. The more a child is beaten, the more likely he or she is to grow up to become a lawbreaker.

As it is practiced in our schools, corporal punishment is not an equal opportunity abuser; it utilizes all the precision and selectiveness of a schoolyard bully in choosing its victims. Numerous studies of the incidence of corporal punishment have found that those children who are the least powerful and the most vulnerable are those students who are most likely to be hit at school. They tend to be the youngest children; the incidence of corporal punishment is highest in grades 1 through 4 and drops dramatically by the later grades. The victims of corporal punishment are also disproportionately poor and minority. African-American students are twice as likely as white students to be hit at school. This inequity only grows as the child ages. In the later grades, the frequency with which white students are hit declines significantly; for African-American students, it does not change at all.

Children with disabilities are also disproportionately the victims of corporal punishment, often because of their disabilities. In his testimony before the Subcommittee on Select Education last year, Kevin Dwyer of the National Association of School Psychologists explained that:

Their different behaviors are seen by the untrained as defiant behaviors. Children with attention problems, poor motor coordination or poor listening comprehension may appear to be defiantly not paying attention, or not writing neatly or not listening to the teacher. Some children with disabilities may not be cognitively, neurologically, or emotionally able to carry out the correct behavior required by the teacher to avoid corporal punishment.

Mr. Dwyer went on to relate the story of an epileptic student he knew whose seizures caused him to be paddled by his teacher for not paying attention in class.

Studies also indicate that corporal punishment is generally administered arbitrarily and is not used rarely and as a last resort, as some of its proponents claim. Children are beaten in our schools for such offenses as taking too long in the bathroom, talking back, forgetting gym uniforms, and incorrectly pronouncing words in a kindergarten phonics class. One young child, to the horror of his parents, was whipped 30 times by his teacher for crying on the first day of school.

With the evidence of corporal punishment's ineffectiveness as a disciplinary method and its pernicious effects on the minds and bodies of children so resoundingly clear, professionals who work with children have been speaking out for its elimination from our classrooms.

The American Academy of Pediatrics,
the American Medical Association,
the American Orthopsychiatric Association,
the American Psychological Association,
the American Public Health Association,
the Child Welfare League,
the Council for Exceptional Children,
the National Association of School Psychologists,
the National Association of Social Workers,
the National Committee for the Prevention of Child Abuse,
the National Mental Health Association,
and the Society for Adolescent Medicine
have all called for the banning of corporal punishment.

Other organizations which oppose corporal punishment include:

the National PTA,
the American Bar Association,
the American Civil Liberties Union,
the Association of Junior Leagues,
the NAACP,
the Society of Friends,
the Unitarian Universalist Assembly,
and Americans for Democratic Action.

EDITOR'S NOTE: For numerous additional organizations opposing corporal punishment of schoolchildren, see the Signatory List in file "An Open Letter to President Clinton about the Civil Rights of Schoolchildren"

Corporal punishment is also outlawed in 20 States, including

the District of Columbia,
New Hampshire,
New Jersey,
New York,
North Dakota,
Puerto Rico,
Rhode Island,

EDITOR'S NOTE: As of December 1996, the following should be added
to the list of non-paddling states:

South Dakota
Most major cities in States which permit corporal punishment have also prohibited the practice, including
Little Rock,
New Orleans,
and St. Louis.

Unfortunately, despite this impressive movement against corporal punishment, many children throughout the United States remain unprotected against physical abuse in the classroom. It is for the sake of these children that Federal legislation is necessary. The opportunity to grow and learn in a positive and supportive school environment, free from the fear of assault, should not be an accident of birth. The evidence against corporal punishment could not be more resounding. The use of violence as a teaching tool in America's classrooms must cease.

The text of my legislation follows:

H.R. - 1522
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

SECTION 1. PROHIBITION AGAINST CORPORAL PUNISHMENT, Subpart 4 of part C of the General Education Provisions Act is amended by adding at the end the following:

"Sec. 438A. (a) No funds shall be made available under any applicable program to any educational agency, institution, organization, or other entity that has a policy which allows an individual to inflict corporal punishment or bodily pain upon a child as a form of punishment.
(b) The prohibition described in subsection (a) does not preclude an individual, within the scope of employment, from using and applying such amount of physical restraint as may be reasonable and necessary --
(1) to protect self, a child, or others from physical injury;
(2) to obtain possession of a weapon or other dangerous object upon the person or within the control of the child; or
(3) to protect property from serious damage."

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