The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

Shouldn’t Corporal Punishment Be Abolished in American Schools?

on October 2, 2016

With “Education Week” coming out each week during the school year I get a little behind in reading everything I should.  Only this past week did I read two articles in the August 24th issue, both of them on corporal punishment in America’s public schools. Today I will summarize those articles and offer my own opinion on the matter.


Until I read two articles on corporal punishment (C.P.from here on) in Education Week , I wasn’t aware that it was still practiced in American public schools anywhere, let alone in 21 states. Since C.P. did not exist in the schools where I was a student or, later, a teacher or a principal. I thought it had been abandoned many years ago. According to the first article I read 21 states still allow C.P., and in 2013-14 more than 109, 000 students were disciplined in that manner. Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas and Oklahoma were the states to have the highest number of students so disciplined.

As might be expected, high poverty and black students are the ones most likely to undergo C.P. and they have no legal protection against it. In 1977 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against students in Florida who argued that C.P. violated their rights under the 8th and 14th amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Since then, families that have sued school districts for abusing or injuring their children by C.P have not won a single case.

Even in states where C.P. has been explicitly banned, some schools that reported using this form of punishment have not been penalized. Either the data was ignored or state officials claimed that the reports were in error. At the same time, the U.S. Department of Education has taken no stance for or against it.  On the other hand, several national education and welfare groups, and teachers’ unions have strongly come out against such practices for quite a while.

The second article I read focused on the situation of a particular student in Mississippi, who had repeatedly received C.P. at his school. The young man, Trey Clayton, now 19 years old, admits that he often misbehaved when he was a student and that he did not protest against the C.P. he received: “I’m not going to lie, I was in a lot of trouble during school. Every time they gave me the option to get a paddling or get sent home, and I took the paddling.” In many places school suspensions can last for weeks, even months.

Things changed for the worse for Trey when one paddling he received in 2011 led to a serious injury. After receiving three blows from the school principal Trey fainted and fell, breaking his jaw and gashing his chin. According to his mother, “When I went to pick him up, my son was spitting teeth into the trash can.”

As a result of his injuries Trey missed two weeks of school and the tests at the end of the semester, which he was not allowed to make up afterward. Consequently, he failed 8th grade. From then on he became less engaged with schoolwork than before and decided  to transfer to another school.  Ultimately, he dropped out of school altogether. Trey still lives with his mother and has two children of his own, who are one and two years old. He says that he hopes to earn a GED and go on to college. The article does not say whether or not he is employed.

After the disastrous C.P. Trey received, he and his mother launched a lawsuit against the school district, claiming excessive force against him and that the school disproportionately targeted boys for such punishment. Around the same time another student from Trey’s school also sued the district for excessive C.P.  Unfortunately, both plaintiffs lost their cases.

It must be noted that few parents in this area have voiced any objections to their children being disciplined as Trey and the other boy were. Apparently, they believe that schools have the legal right to do so and that corporal punishment is preferable to suspensions, which could last for weeks or months.

*****************************

I’m pretty sure that Ed Week intended to outrage its readers with these two articles and that it succeeded. I suspect that even many residents of the states where C.P. is still practiced were among them. Beating children with a paddle at school or at home is not part of the American image today. Nevertheless, I forgive Ed Week for playing on our heartstrings. We all needed to know what was happening in so many U.S. states and is likely to continue for who knows how long.

But aside from those facts, most educators, researchers, parents and educated people are against any form of school punishment that may injure a student physically, psychologically or socially. Clearly C.P. fits into all three categories. It is a powerful negative experience likely not only to produce more misbehavior from the receivers, but also to persuade them that they are bad people and their classmates that they should be shunned.

Although I don’t want to get into the full range of positive alternatives to school punishment that I am familiar with, I must insist that they are well known by educators and documented by research.  Such alternatives should be taught to all teachers and principals and adopted universally by schools. If we truly care about producing well-educated, productive, and responsible citizens, we must ensure that all students are treated humanely in our schools.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: