Snide editorial in The Oakland Tribune, January 24, 1999
No spanking zone is a dumb idea

Sunday, January 24, 1999

A nice fellow from Danville wants Oakland to be the first city in the nation to declare itself a "No Spanking Zone."

Lots of people are asking, why Oakland? Some are even asking, why not Danville?

Could it be that child welfare activist Jordan Riak, who is proposing the idea, wants to put us on the map? I guess he doesn't know we're already the center of the universe.

To be fair, Riak seems to be a well-meaning person who is unclear on the concept of Oakland, a city of self-determination. If Oakland wanted to pass a silly proclamation declaring the city a no spanking zone, it would do so. We've done sillier things than that many times.

Riak said he wanted to discourage parents from "hitting their children." He told Reuters news service: "At the moment people are whipping and beating and hurting their children with nobody telling them what they are doing is wrong and dangerous."

Hey, Mr. Riak, that's not spanking, that's child abuse. And we're not only telling people it's wrong, we're arresting them and putting them in jails. In fact, this newspaper reported extensively just last week the starkly horrendous problem of child abuse.

Whipping, beating and hurting someone, especially a little child, is vastly different than spanking. There are tough laws that deal with that kind of violence. As we reported, there is parental violence against kids in Oakland, but probably there's no more than other places where parents are under extreme stress.

Most adults I know were spanked a few times, some of them many times, and still grew up to be nonviolent, well-adjusted folks. I've even heard of young people who approve of spanking as a means of discipline. Remember I'm talking about spanking, not beating and abusing.

Riak isn't talking about spanking, it's violence he really wants to ban in Oakland. Nothing wrong with that. But we are doing what we can to stop the violence. More should be done but I doubt if another sign on the street is going to do any good.

Why not post a "No Violence Zone" sign? That would do as little as the "No Drug Zone" signs we now have, but at least it would address the real issue.

Riak is a one-man, nonprofit organization he calls Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education. So if its schools he's concerned about he should research California school law. The state Education Code, a bundle of statutes that govern California school districts, forbid any form of corporal punishment in schools. That includes even gentle spanking, slaps and other disciplinary touching of students. Ask any teacher.

A draft resolution that goes before the Oakland City Council on Tuesday, says "spanking teaches children that violence is an acceptable way to resolve differences."

Every parent knows spanking is not used to resolve differences, it's used to punish bad behavior, and to vent parental anger about what their child has done. Even good parents feel angry enough to spank sometimes.

Resolving differences between an adult's judgment and a 3-year-old can test anyone's patience. Most parents understand that, and stay well within the bounds of, shall we say, a quick slap on the butt.

NOT too much later, loving hugs and kisses make everything right again between parent and child. I think more than anything else, that defines the relationship between a child and parent.

Somehow I don't think we need government telling Oakland parents where the line is between spanking and beating kids. There are many excellent books at the public library and book stores on how to raise children and discipline them effectively, without resorting to, or giving into, spanking. And counseling is available for parents who feel they need it.

It's difficult to take this proposal for a no spanking zone seriously. If this organization wants to make a difference, it should drop its campaign for a no spanking zone.

It sounds like a public relations scheme on child abuse gone cutesy. And child abuse is never cute.

Peggy Stinnett is editorial page editor of The Oakland Tribune. E-mail:

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