Presentation to the Sumner County Board of Education (Tennessee) by Tom Johnson
October 21, 2003

Good evening, my name is Tom Johnson, and I'm a member of Tennesseans for Nonviolent School Discipline. I'm here tonight to address the issue of corporal punishment, which is currently allowed by the board. I don't really know how common the use of corporal punishment is in your schools, and possibly there's already been a lot of debate here on the subject. You all may not be aware, however, that in addition to the usual concerns that kids may get paddled too severely or unfairly, there are some new liabilities in this day and age which need to be considered.

We all know the Internet has rapidly changed the world both for better and for worse, and often in ways nobody saw coming. So I imagine most of you will be surprised to learn that because of its corporal punishment policy, Hendersonville High School, along with several other U.S. high schools, is now featured on an adult website. This website, which is based in Holland but presented in English, calls itself the Daphne Foundation. I don't recommend you visit this site, as it's fairly disturbing as well as indecent, but basically it offers a fantasy in which young women in need of discipline live together in dormitories where they are subject to strict rules and correction of misbehavior in the form of spankings from an all-male administrative staff.

As validation for this arrangement, they point 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 paddling 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 listed 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 related matter, there is today a black market for images of minors getting spanked. Three years ago, a Canadian school principal was busted for posessing such images, and last year 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 an unscrupulous school official to accomplish this either, just anyone with access to places where paddlings are given. (I believe it was some of the custodial staff who planted cameras in the Titan's cheerleaders' dressing room at the coliseum.) 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?

Of course even without the risk of such exploitation, there are many good reasons to reconsider the use of paddling in your schools. Some of these are probably familiar, 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 the paddle has origins in American slavery. Or 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. So for anyone who's interested in learning more, I have some information packets

I appreciate having had this opportunity to address the board and the community. I'd like to close with this statement from a 1980 report by the British Psychological Society:

"Advocates of corporal punishment in schools should examine very carefully the weight of evidence now available and, particularly in light of the pornographic component, consider whether they can justify the continuation of a system with such a capacity for exciting unhealthy interest."

Thank you.

Tom Johnson is a Member of the Board of Directors of Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education (PTAVE)


Reaction was pretty mute for the most part. I couldn't look up much during the speech because of the microphone height, but I recall one of the board members looking bemused early in the talk. When I finished, the chairman invited comment from the audience (about 20 people), and when nobody said anything, he stated for his own part that the Bible says spare the rod, spoil the child and that he believed the decline of that attitude has spelled trouble for society (don't recall how he put it exactly, but something to that effect). I replied that if you look at the statistics for crime and other social problems, they're more concentrated in states which still allow paddling, adding that such analysis was included in the materials packet I handed to each board member at the outset. He seemed receptive to the point, albeit not swayed from his stance. There were no other comments or questions, so I took my seat.

I didn't see any media presence there, unfortunately. On the brighter side, though, I didn't have to wait for hours on end to finally get to talk like in Memphis last year. In fact, I was the very first speaker. I decided to stay until the end of the meeting just in case somebody wanted a packet afterwards, but also just to maintain a presence so my statement would be less easily forgotten. It was actually kind of interesting to observe the system at work, even if the topics were not riveting.

As the meeting adjourned, though, I was nicely surprised when one of the board members came up to me and said I'd made some good comments and that the material packet was strong as well. He said something like it was good to be reminded of things, which I took to mean the c.p. policy hadn't been examined in a while. He said not to worry that nobody had said much in response, it doesn't mean the presentation was lost on them. This was very encouraging to hear because I had sort of felt like my speech had fallen flat. So overall I feel good about how it went, and as a follow-up I'll send my statement in writing to each of the board members.


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