Having just watched the new on ABC, I'm writing in complete support the antispanking resolution in Oakland. I live in the deep south, a place where striking children is a given, and usually backed up with biblical quotations or Skinnerian psychology, which is deeply rooted in Calvinism. (Of course the phrase "spare the rod and spoil the child" is not from the Bible but from Samuel Butler's Hudibras, a book which, like his novel, The Way of All Flesh, exposes the hypocricy of Victorian "morality" firmly rooted in shame and violence against children.) After having grown up in a deeply conservative and punitive home and watching that same punitive ideology being used both in the family and in politics under the rubric of "family values," I've done a tremendous amount of research on the long term effects of punishment. My sister and I both suffer from chronic depression, which is in a sense punishment turned on the self and I see my nephew, whose father spanks and shames him all the time, suffering from the same symptoms--at the age of eight! I see absolutely nothing good that can come from punishing and shaming children. While it may stop some behaviors immediately--yes, it works in the short term--the behaviors it produces--aggressive acting out, depression, hyperactivity, anxiety attacks, bullying and the like--just keep the cycle of violence going from one generation to the next and the effects are long term. I am 44 and can attest to that fact. Oakland is a good place to start a movement which I gladly will stand up for.
I teach creative writing, and one of the things I can say with some certainty is that many of the creative, imaginative kids I've worked with have come from families which punished them for that very creativity, anything that might make kids different. And the stories these kids write are enough to sober anyone, or to break their hearts.
There is, of course, good reason why parents are afraid of such an initiative. It forces them to see that power arises not from might but from respect, mutual respect, loving supportive childrearing. The punitive outbursts of punitive parents are just further evidence just how important this initiative is. The more violent the opposition, the closer we get to the truth.
Asst. Professor of English and Creative Writing
University of Alabama