Delinquency, Corporal Punishment, and the Schools
by Ralph S. Welsh, Ph.D..
SOURCE: CRIME & DELINQUENCY, 1978, pp. 336 - 354.

There is a growing trend in this country to blame youth crime on parental over permissiveness. Available data fail to support this and show that all types of crime, including school crime, develop within families and school systems emphasizing aversive and authoritarian discipline techniques. Also, racism and personal injustice are more common in an authoritarian atmosphere. Of all types of aversive behavioral control, corporal punishment appears most apt to induce aggression. A theory relating delinquent aggression to the severity of parental discipline is sketched out, and it is suggested that a national effort be made to discourage the use of corporal punishment as a socially acceptable child-rearing technique. Since corporal punishment tends to produce both fear and anger, its continued use in the schools can only be counterproductive to the learning process. Fortunately, many who strongly advocate corporal punishment in the classroom have expressed a willingness to forgo its use if more teachers and staff could be trained in alternative methods of effectively handling the troublesome pupil. Therefore, a joint effort should be made to train teachers thoroughly in nonaversive but effective techniques of pupil control. In addition, individual teachers need the support of well-trained guidance personnel who are willing to enter homes and work with the behavioral problems at their source.

School vandalism now costs our nation $500 million a year. Incidents of violence in schools are also on the rise. The case of a New York City shop teacher, who lost six teeth and had his jaw broken by a burly fifteen-year-old student, is not atypical. 1

Many solutions to the problem are being offered, but the predominant theme appears to be a call for a return to "that old-fashioned discipline." Symptomatic of this conservative trend in education is the "back-to-basics" movement, which many people have linked with "forced patriotism, paddling, preaching and puritanism."2

Articulating this attitude, a black construction worker told a New York Daily News reporter,"When I was a kid and got punished at school, I got punished again when I got home. The teacher was always right, and you'd better believe it."3

This angry parent concluded that too many children do not obey their teachers or their parents because they failed to receive needed discipline. When two young boys caused $50,000 damage to a school in a quiet, upper-middle-class suburb of New York City, the angry townspeople blamed it on "the permissive attitudes of the schools," the leniency of the courts, and the "sparing of the rod."4 There is a growing fear of crime in the United States, and personal crimes tend to frighten people more than other crimes, even though the risk of personal injury that we run each day from other sources is much greater.5 It would seem that this fear, caused in part by the sensationalizing of crime by the media, has resulted in a growing reversion to an antipermissiveness bias.6


During the 1940s and 1950s, the progressive education movement of John Dewey and Dr. Benjamin Spock's venerated book on child care7 were believed to have exerted considerable influence in some parts of society. But the actual impact of the progressive-permissive- movement on child-rearing practices and on education was probably more illusion than substance, affecting only a limited number of families. During the mid-1950s, Goodwin Watson set out to compare the behavior of fifty elementary school children from "strict" middle-class homes with that of fifty children from "permissive" middle-class homes.8 An attempt was made to select children judged to be "good" by community standards. To Watson's dismay, he was able to find only a small number of "fairly permissive" homes (amounting to thirty-four children) and no "extremely permissive" homes. When the group of thirty-four children was compared with forty-seven children from "strict homes," the behavior ratings and psychological test data favored the children raised permissively. They tended to be more independent and more inclined to display initiative than did the children raised strictly, and they were more socialized and cooperative, more able to persist in the face of frustration, more inclined to express positive feelings toward others, and less inclined to express hostility. They were more likely to be highly
creative,9 imaginative, spontaneous, and original in their thinking and general behavior.

In spite of little experimental support for the antipermissiveness position, strong attacks against Spock's general propermissiveness stand began to appear in the literature on child care by the early 1960's. Thus, the embattled Spock has taken a much tougher line in his latest book. 10 Permissiveness has now become a bad word, and people are becoming increasingly less permissive in their attitudes. In 1965, 38 percent of those interviewed in a Louis Harris poll favored the death penalty; by 1977, 67 percent supported capital punishment. 11 Among respondents to a 1968 Louis Harris poll on child discipline, 86 percent agreed that the primary need of young people is strong discipline from their parents; 84 percent approved of spanking children; 49 percent approved of a schoolteacher's hitting a student; and 8 percent even approved of parents beating their child. Contrary to popular opinion, American parents are not permissive. They probably never have been and if anything they are becoming less so.

With the hard-liners gaining momentum, the Supreme Court's October 1975 and 1977 decisions to allow corporal punishment in the schools should not have been unexpected. Even though the National Education Association's Task Force on Corporal Punishment in Schools had voted to phase out corporal punishment in the schools over a one-year period, beginning in 1972,12 the Court reasoned in 1975 that outlawing corporal punishment "bucks a settled tradition of countenancing such punishment when reasonable." In April 1977, the Court jolted the clinical community by ruling that a schoolchild is not entitled to the same protections afforded criminals under the Eighth Amendment, suggesting that any redress indicated was obtainable under existing laws. With the highest court in the land behind school spankings, and with the climate of the community swinging toward the support of hard-line approaches to discipline, the NEA has little chance of changing the "settled tradition" of hitting children in the schools in the near future, especially now that the current president of the NEA has come out publicly in support of school corporal punishment.13


Lloyd deMause wrote,"The history of childhood is a nightmare from which we have just begun to awaken."14 In ancient Greece, the schoolmaster used the birch rod as a means of correction. Homer was flogged, as was Horace,15 and John Milton's wife complained that she hated the cries of his nephews as he beat them. Beethoven whipped his pupils with a knitting needle, and Louis XIII was whipped upon awakening for the previous day's transgressions.16

The practice of whipping children in the home and at school is frequently justified by Solomon's dicta:

He that spareth the rod, hateth his son; but he that loves him, chastises him betimes.
Withhold not correction from the child; for thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die.

The latter, unfortunately, is not always true, as those of us who work with child-abusing parents know. Western schools, particularly those of the nineteenth century, have a history of remarkable brutality. One nineteenth-century German school master estimated that he had given 911,527 strokes with a stick, 124,000 lashes with a whip, 136,715 slaps with the hand, and 1,115,800 boxes on the ears.17 The situation was not much better in England. At Eton, where the whippings were usually severe, each boy's bill included a half-guinea charge for birch, whether the boy was flogged or not.18 The last attempt to ban corporal punishment in the English schools was in 1972, during the Conservative government, but it went nowhere.19

The student's lot was not measurably happier in the United States and its territories. The New England Primer echoed the English tradition of school floggings:

. . . .
F The Idle Fool Is Whipt at school
. . . .
J Job feels the Rod Yet blesses GOD
. . . .

The "settled tradition" discussed in the infamous 1975 school spanking ruling by the Supreme Court is well documented in children's literature. Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the Little House on the Prairie series, tells us what it was like in the Dakota Territorial schools in the late 1800s: 20

Laura did not know until later that the ruler was to punish anyone who fidgeted or whispered in school. Anyone who was so naughty had to walk up to Teacher's desk and hold out her hand while Teacher slapped it many times, hard, with the ruler.21
Lois Lenski, who grew up in the Florida "cracker" country in the early 1900s, tells us that things could get a little rough at times in the country classroom. Lenski describes a confrontation between two roughnecks and a stick-wielding teacher. The teacher told the boys, "You'll do as I say!" and, as he raised a bamboo stick, books and slates went flying though the air, and the arms and legs of the teacher and the boys"became so mixed up, it was impossible to tell which was which." The teacher was subsequently "beat up to jelly" by these two young toughs, and the children were out of school for many weeks that year.

Mark Twain, whose writings frequently mention the beatings he received in school, also seems to have harbored a desire to get even. Compared with Lenski's young toughs, Tom Sawyer and his friends showed more creativity in commissioning the sign painter's son to guild the hated schoolmaster's bald head while he dozed. Twain writes:

Mr. Dobbin's lashings were very vigorous ones....He seemed to take a vindictive pleasure in punishing the least shortcomings. The consequence was, that the smaller boys spent their days in terror and sufferings and their nights in plotting revenge. They threw away no opportunity to do the master a mischief.22
With the availability of handguns in the twentieth century, the situation has become more dangerous. One of my own patients, a twenty-seven-year-old who left school because he refused a paddling, described one of his teachers in South Carolina. All of the children feared and hated him because
He'd whip you even if you didn't bring your homework in. He'd made this thing with a thick strap with a stick tied to it, and people hated that strap. Finally, some kids beat him up and put him in the hospital...and I guess it was probably for the whippings. After that he brought a gun to school.
Another of my patients remembers her father heading out the door with a loaded shotgun, fully intending to blow off the head of a kindergarten teacher whose paddle had dislodged a burn scab on the patient. The man was later subdued by school officials.

In 1975, the assistant principal of an Atlanta high school was critically wounded and paralyzed by a gun-wielding fifteen-year-old boy. The enraged student shouted,"You are not going to whip me anymore!" just before the shooting. Some schools have, indeed, become armed camps, with potentially lethal weapons being stockpiled on both sides.


Early in my clinical career, I was alarmed to discover the inordinate number of juvenile delinquents who had been exposed to harsh parental treatment during their developmental years. I took the time to question my delinquent patients and their parents carefully and to tabulate the information regarding parental punishment practices. In addition to the first-hand data on delinquents, I have also begun gathering data from adults and youths in the community. Using the information obtained from the above studies and supporting data from literature, I have constructed what I call my "belt theory" of juvenile delinquency,23 a theory which gets its name from my discovery that the recidivist male delinquent who has never been exposed to a belt, board, extension cord, or fist during his developmental years is virtually non-existent.

Whenever a patient is referred by the school for aggressive acting out, I am now sure that the child has a history of aggressive parenting. A fifteen-year-old boy referred to me recently after choking two pupils with a piece of rope was the product of a belt-wielding father who drinks excessively and continually accuses his fearful wife of infidelity. A fourteen-year-old boy, involved in setting fires in school, was found to have been repeatedly beaten with the fists by his well-educated, professional father, who also battered his mother until he was too exhausted to hit any more.

One extensive study helped to convince me that corporal punishment could not easily be viewed as a harmless American tradition, to be tolerated and supported. This study involved seventy-seven consecutive juvenile court referrals, fifty-eight boys and nineteen girls. Aggressiveness level was determined for each subject from the offense record provided by the juvenile court, and the juvenile was placed into one of three categories of aggressiveness. Severe Parental Punishment(SPP) 24 was found to be significantly related to delinquent aggression demonstrated by boys but not girls, although the trend was in the expected direction for the female sample. In fact, the only boys among the fifty-eight who were not really considered delinquent were two male subjects who had not been exposed to SPP.


For some time, I have been troubled by the fact that minority subjects, primarily black males, have consistently higher crime rates than have whites. Even more disturbing were the data reported by Marvin Wolfgang, Robert Figlio, and Thorsten Sellin,25 which showed higher crime rates for nonwhite delinquent males of high socioeconomic status(SES) than for low-SES delinquent whites. Since I had long suspected that SPP was a better predictor of aggressive level than was socioeconomic status, the minority subjects in our sample were compared with the white subjects as to the severity of discipline. As predicted, more minority subjects than white subjects were found to have been exposed to SPP. Delinquent subjects were then separated into two SES levels: those whose parents were blue-collar workers or in the trades, and those who had parents in professional/managerial fields. Comparison, across professional levels, of those subjects who had received SPP and those who had received only moderate to mild punishment did not reveal significant differences. Clearly, within this sample of delinquents, SPP was related to minority-group status but not to social class.

In another study, based on interviews of 132 laundromat patrons, this relationship was quite apparent. More minority (black and Puerto Rican) subjects who had attended college (our measure of SES) were willing to use a strap on an eight-year-old child than were white subjects with no college training, although minority subjects who had some college background were less physically punitive than were those who had none. It would appear that the use of the strap on a child is a cultural phenomenon which can be attenuated by higher SES but not eliminated in one generation. Perhaps this is why Spock's recommendations were admired but, if Watson's data are to be believed, not really followed by the majority of parents. It would seem that parents learn far more about child rearing from their own parents then they do from child-rearing manuals. My own clinical data seem to support this.26 However, poverty may well be a significant source of frustration, driving the poor parent to beat his or her children harder and more often. In fact, it appears that relative poverty is more criminogenic than is abject poverty. 27

In a study of 100 delinquents and their parents, still in progress, I ask the parents the Louis Harris poll question,"Do you feel that a parent is ever justified in beating his or her child?" Approximately 80 percent of the black and Puerto Rican subjects and approximately 40 percent of the white subjects are answering yes; this is a stark contrast to the 8 percent of the national sample responding to the Harris poll in the affirmative.


Learning theorists have long since known that punishment is a highly complex means of control. In fact, the same punishment may act to accelerate or to retard performance of the same behavior, depending upon whether it is given in such a way as to produce responses that are compatible or in conflict with the behavior in question.28 In other instances, punishment may serve no useful purpose because its inhibiting effects tend to wear off.29 Further, the timing of the punishment, the intensity of the noxious stimulus, and the opportunity for alternative response elicited by the punishment. 30 Finally, it has been found that experimentally induced pain can produce violent aggressive attacks in a wide variety of species.31

Although no investigator has been foolish enough to use laboratory experimentation to investigate the relationship between corporal punishment and aggressiveness in children, there is ample evidence from field studies to indicate that the relationship is a strong one. Robert R.Sears, Eleanor Maccoby, and Harry Levin found that mothers who severely punished aggressive behavior in their children had more aggressive children than did mothers who lightly punished aggressiveness.32 Leonard Eron, Leopold Walder, and Monroe Lefkowitz found that schoolchildren who were rated by their peers as the most aggressive in the classroom tended to have parents who used corporal punishment frequently.33 When samples of delinquent and criminal subjects are investigated, the findings are similar. Climent, Rollins, Ervin, and Plutchik found five nonmedical variables associated with violence, one of which was severe parental punishment. 34 Even more convincing is the recent work of Thomas S. Langner, Joanne C.Gersten, and Jeanne Eisenberg, who found that punitive parenting (the use of a stick or belt in physical punishment and frequent withholding of privileges) was the most powerful derived predictor, and that the behavior it predicted best was antisocial conduct.35 In 1962, the behavioristic psychologist Albert Bandura sketched out the learning principles underlying the behavior of Rusty, a delinquent youngster who had been raised by the strap.36 Bandura's work illustrated how pain- avoidance contingencies produced running-away behavior through severe punishment served only as a model for ways to counteraggress toward them.

The cross cultural studies are equally impressive. Twelve investigators carefully studied six cultures and found a strong relationship between punitive, restrictive child rearing and cultural aggression. 37 For example, the Nyansongo of Africa used fear, threats, and physical punishment to socialize their children, and homicide, rape, and assault were common in their culture. In contrast, the Taira of Okinawa primarily used denial or withdrawal of love; their crime rate was low, and respect for the police, law, and order was high. Thomas J. O'Hanlon suggests that the extremely violent acts committed by members of the Irish Republican Army in Northern Ireland are a natural product of the brutal child-rearing practices of the poor, tense, distressed, and unhappy Irish Catholic mothers and fathers. 38

Of growing interest is the work of those studying the physiological characteristics of violent or aggressive people. Kenneth Moyer has gathered impressive evidence that the male of the species, whether hamster or human, is the more aggressive sex.39 The data strongly implicate the androgens. This is, of course, consistent with the crime statistics gathered over the years. Moyer freely admits, nevertheless, that the aggressive threshold of an animal can be altered by external events, particularly stress.40 In fact, he points out that possible inherited tendencies for hostility can be even more readily and intensely aroused if the organism is forced to live in a deprived, frustrating, and stressful environment. I submit that the strap clearly qualifies as a cause of stress.

Another avenue of research which may closely related to the corporal punishment issue, although this link has yet to be established, involves the conditionability of delinquents and psychopaths.41 We know that adult psychopaths and delinquents condition poorly,42 but the reason remains obscure. Hans Eysenck has argued that the psychopath is a neurotic extrovert whose poor conditionability is probably an innate personality trait. 43 The psychopath's impulsive insensitivity to others, lack of moral values, and failure to profit from past experience or to respond favorably to psychotherapy are well known to those of us who have worked with such subjects. However, Stanley Schacher and Bibb Latane,44 K. Jeffrey Schlichter and Richard Ratliff,45 and Robert Hare46 have all shown that, while the psychopath is particularly poor in learning pain-avoidance tasks, he learns adequately with reward. This suggests the possibility that the psychopath has either adapted to or discovered some way to ignore pain and punishment. In fact, Hare reports that physiological measures of autonomic reactivity suggest that the psychopath does not seem to have a normal anticipatory fear response. Hare suggests that the psychopath is unusually adept at modulating aversive cues, which, in turn, reduces the emotional impact of a situation. He writes:

The picture of psychopathy that emerges, therefore, is of a disorder in which there is ready activation of psychophysiological defense mechanisms when aversive stimulation is threatened or anticipated.47
Our data are quite clear regarding the punitive childhoods of virtually all delinquents. Since a child, no matter how harshly treated, is forced to rely almost totally upon his or her parents for food, shelter, and whatever security they might provide, it would seem only adaptive for that child to learn to ignore the parental mistreatment.

In related research, Widom reports that psychopaths consistently report less emotional impact than do normals when asked to visualize a number of anxiety-producing or embarrassing situations.48 Again, the psychopath's behavioral pattern shows him to be a person who emotionally perceives the world differently than do most of us. It is not surprising that psychopaths, with their blunted emotional response systems, tend to be stimulus seekers.49 That such blunting can be produced by severe parenting is certainly possible.


During a recent symposium on school spanking at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association,50 several pertinent points were made, both pro and con. Dean Westmoreland, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators and a supporter of school corporal punishment, likened the teachers to buck privates on the front side:

And like war, sometimes it can be hell...The abolition of corporal punishment has not reduced violence in some of the schools in the North, no matter what you say. In fact, I believe it has probably increased.
Dr. Kenneth Newbold, superintendent of the North Carolina's Scotland County Schools, said:
If other forms of discipline can be shown superior to corporal punishment, then I think rational thinking people would support its being outlawed. But, at this point in time, it is basically an effective deterrent. I do not wish to see knives abolished because a surgeon happens to slip up and misuse that knife in an operation. I do not want to see food abolished because some people misuse food by the overeating of food. Corporal punishment is a deterrent.
Dr. Gertrude Williams, editor of the Journal of Clinical Child Psychology, summed up her own position and that of the other three persons on the panel who opposed corporal punishment:
Psychologists, pediatricians, surgeons, radiologists, and psychiatrists have documented injury to children who were beaten in the public schools...And the schools are not presenting an example of peacefulness to the new generation coming up. Corporal punishment is not discipline. It is a lack of discipline. Numerous studies indicate that it is the most inadequately trained teachers who use violence. Advocates of corporal punishment say they have no discipline problems in their schools, and I bet they don't. What you have in your North Carolina classroom isn't discipline or respect, but seething hatred, terror, helplessness, and, oh, so often, psychic numbing. . . .

Corporal punishment and child abuse are on the same continuum, namely, violence. . . .

Most abusive parents and teachers don't plan to abuse their children. They start out to "discipline" them physically, or use corporal punishment, and then violence intensifies. . . . No one starts out being an abuser. It just escalates. . . .

Outlawing corporal punishment, the [Supreme Court] says,"bucks a settled tradition of countenancing such punishment when reasonable." Get a load of that!...If a court can remove a child from his parent because of battering, how can they hand that child over to the school for abuse?. . . .

Now, the irrationalities: Violence against children by parents and teachers is discipline: violence against parents and teachers by a child is assault. A teacher's lack of discipline is called discipline;a child who strikes a teacher creates disorder; a teacher who strikes a child creates order in the classroom. War is peace, peace is war, 1984; doubletalk and violence are alive and well in this country.

During the debate, it was painfully obvious to me that those favoring corporal punishment were not acquainted with data of the type presented above.


Even after teaching in the worst and toughest ghetto schools in New York City, Herbert L. Foster maintains that corporal punishment is not the answer.51 Streetwise youngsters, from both working-class and welfare-class families, use many teacher-testing devices which clearly interfere with the learning process. Foster points out that while the white, middle-class teacher may take on the job with idealism and warmhearted optimism, that person is ill- equipped to deal with the children, the tough streetcourner kid has experienced the home life typical of the very poor families, where discipline is harsh, ridicule is frequent, and punishment is based simply upon whether the behavior bothers the parents. As Foster puts it:

He was controlled largely physically and there was a limited verbal communication within the family. There was little acceptance of him as an individual. He was most often reared through the authoritarian methods. His mother usually ran the house, and when the father was home, he was primarily a punitive figure. 52
With low self-esteem and a sense of defeat, the ghetto boy learns he must outhustle or outagress the other guy, all the time. Every day he faces another test of his machismo and toughness.

According to Foster, many teachers are afraid of their students--despite their protests to the contrary. A teacher's fear emboldens the child, causing him to exhibit even more acting-out behavior. As many as 80 percent of teachers who remain the inner-city schools fixate on discipline, staying constantly on guard, never trusting, never expressing any positive feelings, and subjecting their students to meaningless busywork.

Describing a number of techniques for keeping one's cool, Foster stresses that the ghetto teacher can only succeed by conveying to the students, without hurting them emotionally or physically, that teachers are mature adults who demand to be treated as such. The student who habitually tests the teacher presents a constant problem, and a physical encounter (e.g., squeezing a pressure point on the arm that is blocking a teacher from entering a classroom) may sometimes be necessary to earn the respect of a particularly difficult youngster. Yet, some of the frailest and most unassuming teachers are the most successful with angry, macho youths. One rule of thumb appears to be common to both the teacher in a tough ghetto school and the therapist working with violent offenders: Learn not to be threatened and be calmly respectful.


A number of other interesting trends have been suggested by our studies, although the following are generalizations and remain tentative:

Girls are beaten less often than boys, probably because they tend to elicit less parental aggression. Mothers tend to beat daughters, and fathers tend to beat sons.

The uptight, sexually inhibited, and authoritarian father tends to shy away from hitting a girl in a dress, but not one in jeans. My guess is that recent changes in female attire may result in girls being increasingly exposed to brutalizing abuse by their fathers. This may contribute to the current rise in crimes committed by females. (Mothers seem never to have had these inhibitions about hitting their daughters.)

It seems that a girl has to be hit harder and longer before she becomes as aggressive as the average beaten boy, and often the more a girl is beaten the more passive she becomes. She may, however, try to escape her tormentors by running away and thus end up in the juvenile court.

Puerto Ricans usually strap the legs; one Puerto Rican social worker feels that this may be because of beliefs about the sanctity of the body.

The primary tool of discipline in the United States (excluding the open hand) is the belt, followed by the fist, the extension cord, and the wooden paddle. Disciplinary tools tend to be used at random and include cat-o'-nine tails, two-by-fours, coathangers, bullwhips, belt buckles, lead pipes, and a whole host of weapons that I scarcely could have imagined before my studies. Mothers use a wider variety of disciplinary tools than do fathers and frequently use tools at hand for housekeeping (spatulas, wooden spoons, and brooms): fathers usually limit their weapons to fists and belts.

School personnel appear unwilling to use the hand in punishment and prefer paddles and straps. These are somehow viewed as more humane than the hand, and they certainly help the teacher to feel removed from the act of abuse. One school system I am familiar with has a supply of automobile fan belts. Large paddles, with air holes to cut down wind resistance, are a favorite, and often the children must make them in shop class.

Children in the lower grades are hit the most. Schools wholly composed of black students and black teachers use the most corporal punishment. When I find corporal punishment being used in a Northern school, the school usually has a high minority population. Schools in the Southeastern and Southwestern United States are the most supportive of the Supreme Court spanking rules. Possibly coincidentally, the FBI Uniform Crime Reports for years has shown that the deep South is the most violent section of this country. North Carolina, whose teachers vigorously support the Supreme Court spanking rulings (an outgrowth of an incident in that state), in 1973 led the nation in incidents of assault. North Carolina was eighth in murder and tenth in all violent crime.


Perhaps the leading proponent today of nonpunitive school discipline is Dr. William Glasser, a psychiatrist turned educator, whose technique for dealing with behavior problems in the schools has gained national recognition.53 Glasser's disciplinary philosophy consists of several steps:

1. The teacher gets personally involved with students.

2. He deals only with the present and avoids bringing up past indiscretions.

3. He attempts to get the student to make a value judgement about the behavior.

4. He works toward getting the student to make a plan to change that behavior.

5. The student, now with a plan, makes a commitment to change.

6. The teacher never inflicts punishment on the student. He or she keeps dealing with the student positively until there is a change in behavior.

Glasser believes that school violence and crime result when young people are failing in important areas of their lives. Seemingly bright youngsters with a good home background can survived even the most meaningless school tasks, but the inner-city child, who may be equally bright, is defeated by them. Glasser is convinced that the whole punitive structure of the schools needs to be reworked. 54

Glasser has taken a firm stand against corporal punishment by school personnel, arguing that it will keep people in line only if it done hard enough, but that "it sure won't encourage many kids to do much learning."55 Further, he points out that the youngsters who are punished are the losers, not the children heading for Harvard, observing, "The losers are being kept in line in school because the community doesn't want them out of school and on the streets." 56

Roger McIntire, a behaviorist, insists that for most parents punishment is a dangerous practice more related to the parent's frustrations than to the child's behavior."57 His four alternatives to corporal punishment follow:

1. Ignoring bad behavior, then praising good behavior. Most parents tend to react to the bad, then ignore the good, thus failing to reinforce positive behavior.

2. Time-out procedures. Place the child in a room for a short period of time until the behavior is under control.

3. The Repose Cost approach: require the child to do something that "costs" more, in terms of energy or inconvenience, than does the unwanted behavior. For example , the parent might show little anger at a refusal to go to school but immediately put the child to work cleaning the house during the time school is in session.

4. Overcorrection: Arrange a situation where the child suffers the consequences of the misbehavior. For example, the child might be asked to practice an unwanted behavior, following demonstrations of that behavior, until fatigued.

All of the above procedures can be used by the teacher in place of the frequently destructive punishment techniques. They may require more thinking and planning, but the outcome is usually more rewarding than is that of punishment.58

Perhaps the most important point here is that parents and teachers learn the difference between withholding rewards and taking away privileges. There is big difference between saying to a class, "If you don't get your work done you are going to miss recess, and telling them, "When you get your work done, you can go to recess." The first approach is authoritarian and threatening. The second is positive,; it makes the reward contingent upon the desired act and places the responsibility on the children. Parents who maintain a distrustful, tight control over their children well into their teen years should not expect particularly adult, responsible behavior from them when they move out of the parents' home and into lives of their own. The most such parents should anticipate is conformity to the demands of others; at worst, openly antisocial behavior.


Since the prime shaper of human behavior is the home, it is doubtful that the schools directly contribute to our high rate of violent crime in a major way. In the short run, a grater factor in the high rate of homicide and other violent crimes is probably the easy availability of firearms.59 This does not mean that the schools do not have a major responsibility for setting good examples for our children, and for actively avoiding the exacerbation of situations already near the flash point. When a school principal uses the strap, the student is demeaned. In addition, the principal serves as an aggressive model for many of the people in the community, especially for the poor and unsophisticated who may be overly impressed by professional status. As one uneducated black mother put it, "Sure I beats my kids; if the principal in our school thought that beating was good for chilluns, beatins must be good for them. He's got a whole lotta education; he oughta know."

Since our data show that parents' authoritarian and punitive attitudes provide fuel that feeds antisocial conduct, it seems particularly unwise to use threats and physical punishment on aggressive children; yet this is the very group of youngsters in our society who receive the most punishment. Threats seldom work; they make the fearful child feel worthless and ineffectual and the rebellious child feel challenged and goaded. Further, since the threats are seldom carried out with any consistency, they serve to undermine respect for school authority.60

Kenneth Woodman reported that schools with rigid structures and strict enforcement of rules regarding dress, attendance, and behavior tend to suffer from racial tension and high suspension and dropout rates.61 This is consistent with the findings of Liehter, Rapien, Seilbert, and Sklansky, who show that when the angry dropout leaves school a positive shift in the child's other attitudes may occur. Apparently the school can be very aversive and frustrating for an angry, impulsive youth already primed for violence by intrafamily punishment and conflict. When a student comes up against the authoritarianism of a "rule-by-force" administrator,62 neither party is likely to win.

Although it would appear that the home is the primary source of a child's anger, at least one study suggests a strong link between school vandalism and school discipline. A 1975 community survey in Portland, Oregon, found a high correlation between the use of corporal punishment in a school district and the cost of vandalism for that district. 63

In addition to corporal punishment, other punitive practices engaged in by the schools seem destructive, or at best, counterproductive. Murray Levine and Anthony Graziano have surveyed the literature on nonpromotion back as far as 1908.64 They estimate that as many as 20 percent of children in the lower grades are held back, although there is no evidence that this practice accomplish any of its stated goals and there is much evidence that it may be terribly destructive emotionally. The practice of suspending a child for nonattendance is irrational, often working as a reinforcement for school avoidance. Probably even worse is the common practice of calling the distraught mother of an aggressive child, which often results in the child's getting a beating when he or she next walks in the door. The only alternative to these practices is a positive school discipline code, free from vindictiveness and punishment.


School crime is clearly a reflection of the crime problem affecting all of society and is, from our own data, due primarily to factors existing in the home. While poverty, alcoholism, broken homes, and racism all contribute to crime, I contend that they do so only to the extent that these factors impel parents to batter their children physically65 and psychologically. Parents who respect the humanity and the rights of their children do not produce delinquents.

Although all of society should develop an attitude condemning corporal punishment, as Langner recommended 66 after finding that punitive parenting was the best of his derived measures for predicting antisocial behavior, the schools can make at least a beginning.

The following would seem to be some of the priorities for a community or school program treating acting-out youths:

1. The schools must become more humane. This means that the practice of corporal punishment must end. The 1972 NEA plan for the abolition of corporal punishment in the nation's schools should be instituted.

2. Schools must move toward more positive approaches to discipline, those which emphasize others' values and rights other than authoritarian control. The "force" approach is self-defeating. Children learn responsible behavior much faster when they are given responsibility and trust than when they are threatened or oppressed. In even the "toughest" school, there are many alternatives to corporal punishment. In fact, even the staunchest advocates of corporal punishment avoid striking the larger and more menacing students.

3. Training for parenthood programs should be instituted more widely in the schools. Much relevant material is available through HEW.

4. An adequate number of well-trained school guidance personnel should be available in the schools, as should staff trained to go into problem homes. Long waiting lists for service should be discouraged. A school system can save on guidance personnel by developing good working relationships with outside mental health clinics and private practitioners. The schools do not have to be all things to all people, but neither should they shirk their responsibility for their students' mental health.

5. Police need to be better trained. Studies show that police who have attended college are less authoritarian in their attitudes than are those who have not.67 Officers should know better than to tell parents of delinquents to go home and beat their kids, or to roar up with clubs drawn to a small-scale schoolyard fight, thereby fanning it into a full-scale riot.

6. Many professionals, including policemen, teachers, school administrators, social workers, psychologists, and psychiatrists, need training to recognize and accept the relationship between severe parenting and aggressive behavior in children. Beatings, like sex, occur behind closed doors. Many of the punitive parents of my most aggressive delinquent patients are the neighborhood good guys, the people who can always be counted on to volunteer for lofty community causes, the ones about whom others reflexively say, "he would never beat his kids." The abusing parents of delinquent children are usually not bad people--only misguided.

Dealing with crime is a community problem, but preventing crime is a parental responsibility. The school, which is a part of the community but which functions at times in loco parentis, must therefore accept a dual responsibility. At the least, it should never contribute to the problem by hitting children or crushing their self-esteem. Ideally, it can be a positive model that systematically rewards all good behavior ad sets an example of reasoned, nonviolent ways to deal with those who habitually misbehave.

1. J. Hand, "Teachers Call for That Old-Time Discipline," New York Daily News, Nov. 12, 1975, p. 48.

2. J. Egerton, "Back to Basics," Current, Oct. 1976, pp. 27-33.

3. Hand, "Teachers Call for That Old-Time Discipline," p.48.

4. H. Faber, "Vandalism of School by Two Boys Stuns Upstate Town," New York Times, July 11, 1975, p. 28.

5. James Brooks, "The Fear of Crime in the United States," Crime and Delinquency, July 1974, pp. 241-44.

6. See Ralph S. Welsh, "Violence, Permissiveness and the Overpunished Child," Journal of Pediatric Psychology, Spring 1976, pp. 68-71.

7. Benjamin Spock, The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care (New York: Duell, Sloan, Pearch, 1945.)

8. Goodwin Watson, "Some Personality Differences in Children Related to Strict or Permissive Parental Discipline," Journal of Psychology, June 1957, pp. 227-49.

9. Leonard Steinberg, "Creativity as a Character Trait: An Expanding Concept," California Journal of Instructional Improvement (1964), pp. 3-9; and E. Paul Torrance, "Toward the More Humane Education of Gifted Children," Gifted Child Quarterly, Winter 1963, pp. 135-45. Steinberg and Torrance show creativity to be essentially opposed to authoritarianism, and creative persons to function best in free, open environments.

10. Benjamin Spock, Raising Children in a Difficult Time (New York: W.W. Norton, 1974).

11. During the course of counseling twenty violent prisoners in San Quentin, Hobart Banks found that each had been the victim of a severely punitive childhood. (Adah Maurer, Personal correspondence, May 11, 1975) Extensive research by the media indicates that all of the major assassins and would-be assassins of the past fifteen years suffered a similar background.

12. National Education Association, "Report of the Task Force on Corporal Punishment" (Washington, D.C.: National Education Association, 1972).

13. "Pro and Con: Should School Discipline Include Physical Punishment?" Family Weekly, Mar. 13, 1977, p. 2

14. Lloyd deMause, ed., The History of Childhood ( New York: Harper Torchbook, 1974) p. 1

15. G. R. Scott, The History of Corporal Punishment (London: T. Werner Laurie, Ltd., 1938), p. 95

16. Lloyd deMause, "Our Forbears Made Childhood a Nightmare," Psychology Today, April 1975, pp. 85-88.

17. deMause, ed., The History of Childhood, p. 41.

18. Scott, The History of Corporal Punishment, p. 100.

19. R. Coffey, New York Daily News Foreign Service, news clipping, 1976.

20. Laura Ingalls Wilder, On the Banks of Plumb Creek (New York: Harper Torchbook, 1937) p. 151.

21. Lois Lenski, Strawberry Girl (New York: Dell, 1945), pp. 34-38.

22. Mark Twain, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (reprint ed., New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1963), p. 169.

23. Ralph S. Welsh, "Severe Parental Punishment and Delinquency: A Developmental Theory," Journal of Clinical Child Psychology, Spring 1976, pp. 17-21.

24. SPP was defined as any type of physical discipline involving a weapon capable of inflicting physical injury. Weapons included belts, boards, extension cords, fists, and the like. They did not include open hands, switches, and similar things.

25. Marvin E. Wolfgang, Robert M. Figlio, and Thorsten Sellin, Delinquency in a Birth Cohort (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1972).

26. See Ralph S. Welsh, "Delinquency and Parental Exposure to Severe Parental Punishment" (Symposium paper presented at the American Psychological Association convention, Chicago, 1975.)

27. Eric Hoffer, The True Believer (New York: Harper & Row, 1951).

28. H. Fowler and N. E. Miller, "Facilitation and Inhibition of Runaway Performance by Hind-and-Forepaw Shock of Various Intensities," Journal of Comparative Physiological Psychology, October 1963, pp. 801-05.

29. B. F. Skinner, The Behavior of Organisms, (New York: Appleton, 1938).

30. Richard L. Solomon, "Punishment," American Psychologist, April 1964, pp. 239-53; and R. M. Church, "The Varied Effect of Punishment on Behavior," Psychological Review, September 1963, pp. 369-402.

31. R. Ulrich, "Pain as a Cause of Aggression," American Zoologist, November 1966, pp. 643-62; and N. H. Azrin, "Aggression," (Paper read at the American Psychological Association convention, Los Angeles, 1964).

32. Robert R. Sears, Eleanor Maccoby, and Harry Levin, Patterns of Child Rearing (New Your: Harper & Row, 1957).

33. Leonard Eron, Leopold O. Walder, and Monroe M. Lefkowitz, Learning of Aggression in Children (Boston: Little, Brown, 1971).

34. Carlos E. Climent et al., "Epidemiological Studies of Women Prisoners, I: Medical and Psychiatric Variables Related to Violent Behavior," American Journal of Psychiatry, September 1973, pp. 985-90.

35. Thomas S. Langner, Joanne C. Gersten, and Jeanne G. Eisenberg, "The Epidemiology of Mental Disorders in Children: Implications for Community Psychiatry" (Paper presented at the Fourth International Symposium of the Kittay Scientific Foundation, New York, March 1976).

36. Albert Bandura, "Punishment Revisited," Journal of Consulting Psychology, August 1962, pp. 298-301.

37. See B. Whiting, ed., Six Cultures (New York: Wiley, 1963).

38. Thomas J. O'Hanlon, The Irish (New York: Harper & Row, 1975), pp. 206-44.

39. Kenneth Moyer, "Sex Differences in Aggression," in Sex Differences in Behavior, R.C. Friedman, R. M. Richart, and R. L. Van de Wiele, eds. (New York: Wiley, 1974).

40. Kenneth Moyer, "Psychological Model of Aggression," in >Neural Basis of Violence and Aggression, W. S. Field and W. H. Sweet, eds. (St. Louis Mo.: Warren H. Greed, 1975).

41. Most investigators differentiate between ordinary offenders and psychopaths, generally using the definition of psychopath first suggested by Harvey Cleckley (The Mast of Sanity, [St. Louis Mo.: Mosby, 1964]) and later extended by Robert D. Hare (Psychopathy [New York: Wiley, 1970]). However there are data to suggest , at least at the cognitive level, the psychopath is probably at an extreme of the continuum of emotional insensitivity. See Cathy S. Widom, "Interpersonal and Personal Construct Systems in Psychopaths," Journal of Consulting Psychology, August 1976, pp. 614-23.

42. Robert D. Hare, "A Conflict of Learning Theory Analysis of Psychopathic Behavior," Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, January 1965, pp. 12-19; Robert D. Hare, "Psychopathy, Autonomic Functions, and Orienting Response," Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, Monograph Supplement, June 1968, pp. 1-24; D. T. Lykken, "A Study of Anxiety and the Sociopathic Personality," Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, July 1957, pp. 6-10; and Cyril M. Franks, "Conditionability and Abnormal Behavior," in Handbook of Abnormal Psychology, Hans J. Eysenck, ed. (New York: Basic Books, 1961).

43. Hans J. Eysenck, Crime and Personality (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1964).

44. Stanley Schachter and Bibb Latané, "Crime, Cognition, and the Autonomic Nervous System," in Nebraska Symposium on Motivation, D. Levine, ed. (Lincoln, Neb.: University of Nebraska Press, 1964).

45. K. Jeffrey Schlichter and Richard G. Ratliff, "Discrimination Learning in Juvenile Delinquents," Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, February 1971, pp. 46-48.

46. Hare, "Psychology, Autonomic Functions, and the Orienting Response."

47. Robert D. Hare, "Anxiety, Stress, and Psychopathy" (Paper presented at the Conference on Dimensions of Stress, Symposium on the Psychological Aspects of Stress and Anxiety, Athens, Greece, September 1974), p. 9.

48. Widom, "Interpersonal and Personal Construct Systems in Psychopaths."

49. Frank H. Farley and Trevor Sewell, "Stimulation-Seeking in Delinquent and Nondelinquent Black Adolescents," Criminal Justice and Behavior, December 1976, pp. 315-20.

50. Ralph S. Welsh, chairman, "The supreme Court Ruling: An Issue in Debate" (Symposium-debate, presented at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association, Washington, D.C., September 1976), available through Counseling and Personal Services Information Center, University of Michigan, School of Education, Ann Arbor, in early 1978.

51. Herbert L. Foster, Ribbin', Jivin', and Playin' the Dozens (Cambridge, Mass.: Ballinger, 1974).

52. Ibid., p. 239.

53. See William Glasser, Schools without Failures (New York: Harper & Row, 1969); and William Glasser, "Roles, Goals, and Failures," The Educational Digest, December 1971, pp. 25-27.

54. "Youth in Rebellion - Why: Interview with Top Psychiatrist," U.S. News and World Report, April 27, 1970, pp. 42-46.

55. M. K. Murphy, "Glasser on Discipline," Scholastic Teacher, junior/senior high school teachers' education, September 1973, pp. 16-20.

56. Ibid.

57. Roger W. McIntire, Child Psychology (Kalamazoo, Mich.: Behaviordelia, 1975).

58. An excellent summary of alternatives to corporal punishment and other aversive procedures in the schools is available in Scholastic Teacher, junior/senior high school teachers' edition, September 1973, pp. 21-27. See also Ralph S. Welsh, "The Use of Stimulus Satiation in the Elimination of Juvenile Fire-Setting Behavior," in Behavior Therapy with Children, Anthony M. Graziano, ed. (Chicago: Aldine-Atherton, 1971).

59. R. S. Mumford et al., "Homicide Trends in Atlanta," Criminology, August 1976, pp. 213-32.

60. S. O. Liehter et al., The Drop-Outs (New York: Free Press, 1962), p. 175.

61. Kenneth Woodman, "Dealing with Vandalism" (Report to the annual convention of the National Association of Secondary School Principals, on Violence and Vandalism, 1976).

62. T. W. Adorno et al., The Authoritarian Personality: Studies in Prejudice (New York: Harper & Row, 1050), found that, as a rule, the authoritarian person has been subjected to harsh parental discipline during childhood. Such persons are often so rigid in their attitudes that a board of education wishing to liberalize a school's disciplinary policies might find itself stymied unless a few administrators were changed as well.

63. Adah Maurer, "Reaping the Whirlwind: Vandalism and Corporal Punishment," mimeographed, 1975.

64. Murray Levine and Anthony M. Graziano, "Intervention Programs in Elementary Schools," in Handbook of Community Mental Health, S. E. Golann and C. Eisdorfer, eds. (New York: Appleton, 1972).

65. See Adah Maurer, "Corporal Punishment," American Psychologist, August 1974, pp. 614-26, for an exhaustive bibliography and discussion of the corporal punishment issue.

66. See Robert J. Trotter, "East Side, West Side: Growing Up in Manhattan," Science News, May 1976, pp. 315-16.

67. See B. Locke and Alexander B. Smith, "Police Who Go to College," in The Ambivalent Force: Perspectives on the Police, Arthur Niederhoffer and Abraham S. Blumberg, eds. (San Francisco: Rinehart Press, 1970).

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