OUR VIEW Spanking does not deter violence among students; in fact, paddling increases violent behavior.
News that corporal punishment is declining in the public schools hardly rates a cheer. That report, out today, also tells us more than a half-million kids still are whacked legally each year.
The total is lower than ever but still too high. It will remain too high as long as it's above zero.
In these days, when society is appalled at kids settling grievances with guns and athletes with fists, when parents who beat children can face criminal charges, when teachers can face sexual harassment charges for hugging students and cops lose jobs for beating suspects, professional educators in 23 states are allowed to pound kids' rear ends with a board as a disciplinary tool.
Not only is it legal child abuse, it's a message schools shouldn't deliver. Children are taught, by the example of authority-wielding adults, that violence is an acceptable response to inappropriate behavior. Well, it isn't acceptable, and signs exist that it's on the way out. A decade ago, 2 million students were paddled each year. The National Coalition to Abolish Corporal Punishment in Schools, which culls statistics from the U.S. Education Department, says the total was down to 613,760 in 1989-90,555,531 in 1991-92, the most recent year for which numbers are available.
In the mid-' 80s, corporal punishment was illegal in five states. Now it's banned in 26. In 11 other states, a majority of school districts have abolished the practice. But in Texas, where the paddle is most popular, the coalition reports 141,027 legal whackings in 1991-92. Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas and Tennessee each had more than 50,000 officially sanctioned whippings.
Paddling proponents argue that it deters violent behavior. Research shows the opposite. When the National Association of Elementary School Principals urged an end to corporal punishment last winter, it cited studies linking spanking to increased student violence.
The ban-the-paddle trend, prodded by the coalition, is moving in the right direction, but too slowly. A half-million cases of legal child abuse is a half-million too many.
Parents who cringe at violence on TV and fear it on the streets should demand that their kids not be officially exposed to it at school. If enough parents say so, school boards and state legislators will respond.
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