Letter to The Tennessean, by Jordan Riak

A response to Deborah Mathis' pro-corporal punishment article of August 22, 1997, "Perils of sparing the rod can be ominous."

September 8, 1997

The Editor
The Tennessean
1100 Broadway
Nashville, TN 37203

Dear Editor:

In response to Deborah Mathis' pro-spanking piece ("Perils of sparing the rod can be ominous," The Tennessean, August 22), I would like to point out that those who sneer at serious scholarship and summarily dismiss ideas that threaten or irritate them, are saying more about themselves than about the subject at hand. With unabashed anti-intellectualism, she slams one mom who disapproves of spanking as a "New Age head-in-the-book mom"--a colorful label, and one sure to win points among the stubborn ignorant who are among spanking's most ardent defenders.

Had the spankings of her childhood taught Ms. Mathis to do her homework, she would be aware that Dr. Murray Straus, whose recently released findings have caused such a stir in the media, is by no means the first or the only investigator to demonstrate the connection between punitive childrearing and subsequent anti-social behavior. Philip Greven, Ph.D., Irwin Hyman, Ph.D. Adah Maurer, Ph.D. and Ralph Welsh, Ph.D. are just a few of the distinguished scholars who have explored the issue and have arrived at essentially the same conclusion. This body of scientific knowledge dates back at least to the 1940's with the work of Sheldon and Eleanor Glueck. Its beginnings can be found much earlier. Even Quintilian in the first century AD noted that beatings are a source of "shame which depresses the mind and leads the child to hide from the light of day." Today, when we talk about the connection between abuse and low self-esteem, we are merely restating Quintilian's observations, but in modern jargon.

Ms. Mathis fails to mention Dr. Straus' 1994 book, Beating the Devil out of Them: Corporal Punishment in American Families. She is apparently unaware of Dr. Philip Geven's book, published in 1991, Spare the Child: The Religious Roots of Punishment and the Psychological Impact of Physical Abuse. In it he writes: "The most visible public outcome of early violence and coercion in the name of discipline is the active aggression that begins to shape the character and behavior in childhood and continues, in far too many instances, throughout the lives of those who suffered most in their earliest years. Aggressive children often become aggressive adults who often produce more aggressive children, in a cycle that endures generation after generation. Corporal punishments always figure prominently in the roots of adolescent and adult aggressiveness, especially in those manifestations that take antisocial form, such as delinquency and criminality," (pp. 193-94).

The validity of Dr. Greven's and Dr. Straus' assertions with regard to spanking is borne out in every prison population. I challenge Ms. Mathis to document just one convicted felon who was brought up in a gentle, supportive, non-spanking family. She will not succeed.

What the experts say, and have been saying for a very long time, is that by making children feel worse, we do not prompt them to behave better. Hitting kids, like hitting wives, is bad behavior based on failed theory.

Jordan Riak,
Executive Director

Return to Table of Contents.