DON'T PLAY WITH FIRE! A letter to Brownwood (Texas) Independent School District from Dr. Teresa Whitehurst DON'T PLAY WITH FIRE!
A letter to Brownwood (Texas) Independent School District from Dr. Teresa Whitehurst

July 26, 2004

July 26, 2004

Brownwood ISD Board of Education
PO Box 730
Brownwood, TX 76804

Dear Board Members:

As a member of ChristCentered Christians for Nonviolent Parenting (CCNP); as a clinical psychologist with decades of experience working with children, families and schools; and as the author of How Would Jesus Raise a Child? (Baker Books, 2003), I would like to encourage you to keep Brownwood schools free from the stain of adult violence against children. This violence poses as discipline but is in reality assault with a deadly weapon, and would merit a prison term for any school employee caught hitting any person over the age of consent with the very same wooden board. This assault with a weapon is euphemistically called "paddling".

But there's another serious problem with paddling, one that the pro-paddlers inevitably fail to mention...

Imagine if an employee in your school system decided to touch a child's private parts in order to "administer discipline". What would the school board's reaction to this kind of "bad touch" be? How would the press react? Might there be a lawsuit? In the psychology of sexual behavior, the buttocks are officially designated an "erogenous zone", and medical research tells us that the buttocks are one of the key areas of the human body that play a pivotal role in sexual intercourse. When touched gently or violently, the nerve endings of the buttocks activate, and lead to a cascade of sexual arousal.

The literature is replete with accounts of rape victims who never came forward to name their accuser or even to admit they'd been violated because they were so ashamed at their bodies' involuntary response to touch, thinking that this would suggest they enjoyed the assault. Nerve endings can and do function without our conscious consent.

The pendulum is beginning to turn against spanking and paddling as science amasses more and more evidence regarding the sexual role played by the buttocks, and the ways in which any touch--with a hand or with a paddle--can create unwelcome but unavoidable arousal. This, in combination with the humiliation of having to bend over in sexual-style positions so that the adult can touch the child on his or her buttocks for the "paddling", can and usually does lead to a lifetime of struggle with deviant, often dangerous sexual fantasies and behaviors. I invite you to do a Google search on the words "spanking" and "paddling"--the evidence of lifelong sexual deviancies acquired in childhood, when impressionable children are made to "assume the position", is readily available.

By the way, it's important to note that, if your fellow board members vote paddling back into the schools, this move may place all board members at risk. Lawsuits regarding inappropriate adult-child touch may not leave individual school board members immune from litigation. I once worked for a North Carolina program wherein the governor himself (!) and other state staff were personally sued, because the system for which they were ultimately responsible failed to protect a minor from physical assault by adults. In this time of controversy and litigation, this scenario, should Brownwood yield to the Southern Baptist preacher agitating for the return of paddling, seems not only possible but probable.

I have been working at Project Zero, Harvard's premier research institution on the needs of students and educators, for a number of years. Project Zero painstakingly studies the variables that lead to school success for children in elementary, junior high and high school, and takes special note of obstacles that interfere with learning. Great strides have been made at Harvard and at other research institutions towards discovering how educators can better help children to feel safe from ridicule, bullying and violence so that they can focus on what's being taught, think creatively, and speak up when they don't understand the material.

However, as any child could tell you, being hit--or trying to concentrate in the classroom while knowing that other children are being assaulted down the hall--is the ultimate obstacle to learning. Just as our society has finally cracked down on sexual harassment in the workplace, defining it as anything that creates "a hostile work environment," our educational system needs to crack down on adult violence, intimidation, and sexualized punishments that create a "hostile learning environment". Isn't a positive learning environment what Brownwood schools want to provide for their students?

In closing, you have an opportunity to make your voice heard for the sake of students throughout your school district by taking a stand against the return of painful, humiliating, sexually-charged assaulting of children who are posed in sexual positions, a very "bad touch" indeed. If it wasn't right for Abu Ghraib prison guards, surely it isn't right for Brownwood educators.

Best regards,

Teresa Whitehurst, Ph.D.

2822 Hillside Drive
Nashville TN, 37212

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