Presentation to the Rutherford County Board of Education by Tom Johnson
October 21, 2004

Good evening, my name is Tom Johnson, and I'm a member of Tennesseans for Nonviolent School Discipline. We have a website at I'm also here tonight to talk about paddling, and more exactly to explain some of the serious problems that this type of punishment can have. The information packets I've handed out to the board members contain a variety of articles as well, and I have some more stuff here for anyone else who's interested. Just come and see me after the meeting.

Before I start, I'd like to thank the board for allowing me to speak, and especially thank Mr. Byrnes for taking this issue seriously, and for the thoughtful arguments he just made.

First, a little bit of history. Not many people know this, but the paddle [paddle held up] was not invented for use on schoolchildren. No . . . it was originally created as a tool for beating slaves. Let me repeat that: The paddle was invented as a tool for beating slaves. The idea was to have something that would inflict terrible pain without causing the kind of permanent tissue damage that could lower a slave's market value. While the corporal punishment of slaves has most often been portrayed as using a whip, it was also fairly common practice by the mid 1800's, at least in certain states, to use a paddle instead. This will not be news to anyone who has studied American slavery in depth or seen the 1975 movie "Mandingo."

Now of course, nobody would suggest that students today are paddled with the same degree of severity that slaves were. But it's important to recognize that severity IS what this instrument was designed for. So we really shouldn't be shocked when kids end up with bruises like this [flyer held up] as a result of being struck with something like this [paddle shown again]. What's hard to understand is why teachers get away with doing this to kids, while a parent who did the same would have the cops and DHS all over them. This double standard was noted by Mrs. Martinez regarding the case of her grandson.

Although . . . I will say this in defense of teachers or principals who leave these kind of marks: Seeing as how they've never received any professional training in how to paddle students, never been required beforehand to demonstrate competence at doing it safely and judiciously, probably never had their paddles inspected and approved--let alone measured the velocity of their swing--it is definitely possible that they often hit harder than they intend to. Or in some cases, hit parts of the body they don't intend to.

The risk of physical injury is hardly the only downside to paddling, however, even though it's the clearest liability. This is especially true now that we live in an Internet age. As you probably know, there's an abundance of adult websites out there, but you may be surprised at how many adult websites have corporal punishment as their main focus. It turns out that the idea of young men and women receiving discipline in the form of spanking has drawn a lot of interest that's not particularly wholesome. One such website based in Holland points to the American practice of men paddling high school girls (some of whom, they note, are 18 or 19 years old., and they back this up with examples of real-life high schools located in Pennsylvania, Indiana, Missouri, and Texas, as well as Tennessee. To quote: "The same goes for the Hendersonville Highschool, or even better: all schools in Sumner County, Tennessee. All teachers and members of the school staff have the right to administer corporal punishment, with a paddle on the buttocks."

I'm not trying to argue guilt by association here, but I also don't imagine that having your school discipline policy celebrated on this kind of website is desirable. What's much worse, though, is the fact that this site and several others not only name actual schools, they sometimes name actual students who have been paddled--girls in particular. Often the student's picture will accompany the discussion of the paddling she received. Ask yourself, how would that girl feel to know her name and image were being circulated on the Web, juxtaposed with pictures of naked women and other unseemly content? How would she feel about the fact that a bunch of strangers were entertaining themselves by reading about the painful smacking of her buttocks while she bent over a desk? How would that girl's family feel? I'm guessing not very good.

Now, the only way paddlings become a public matter, generally, is if the parents complain that their child was paddled to the point of bruising, or without parental consent, or without just cause. That's how it makes the local news, from whence it eventually gets distributed on the Internet. So the dilemma now for parents is that they cannot make a complaint of this nature, let alone seek redress, without running the risk that their son or daughter will become fodder for any number of spanking or paddling fetish sites. And with parental recourse so inhibited by this fear, there's no longer much to keep abusive paddling in check. The availability of such remedies, including civil action, was essential to the Supreme Court's decision in 1977 upholding school corporal punishment.

On a separate but closely related point, there is also today a black market for images of minors getting spanked. Four years ago, a Canadian school principal was busted for posessing such images, and in 2002 the FBI broke up a nationwide child-spanking pornography ring. Especially with the tiny cameras they make nowadays, it wouldn't be very hard for someone in a paddling school to obtain marketable footage. It wouldn't take a school official to accomplish this either, just anyone with access to places where paddlings are given--or possibly even a receiver that can pick up security camera signals from outside the school. Even if you're absolutely positive that none of your schools' personnel would ever do such a thing, can you be sure none of the students would?

Some of the other reasons to reconsider the use of paddling in your schools are probably familiar to you, like the psychological impact of intense pain infliction, or the ideal of "zero tolerance" for hitting of any kind. Other reasons are more academic but compelling nonetheless. For example, the fact that school paddling violates Title IX because girls and boys are impacted differently. Unlike boys, girls who are maturing would have to reveal intimate personal information in order to avoid the chance of this punishment being unfairly compounded by menstrual discomfort. It's also worth noting that among the top 100 U.S. schools ranked by Newsweek in 2003, not a single one is a paddling school.

Finally, let me say that the arguments for corporal punishment are frequently at odds with the available facts. Contrary to what defenders of the paddle may suggest, a number of social problems ranging from crime to illiteracy to sexually transmitted diseases are actually most concentrated among states and localities where paddling is still allowed. And while some folks point to all the school shootings of recent years as evidence that the decline of paddling has brought tragic results, the great majority of those shootings took place in states where school corporal punishment has not been banned. In fact, paddling may have even been a catalyst for the one in Jonesboro, Arkansas.

So whatever decision you all make, I hope you'll take these concerns to heart and reflect honestly on whether the benefits of paddling truly outweigh the negatives. I realize that some of the things I've brought up make a lot of people uncomfortable, but when it comes to children's well-being and their experience of education, we have a duty not to shy away from unpleasant realities that may leave them vulnerable to injury, abuse, or exploitation under the banner of discipline.

Thank you.

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