For example, I remember a 6th grade classmate who wasn’t particularly good at keeping his listening ears on. One day, this student’s antics pushed our teacher so far over the edge that he threw the student against the blackboard. He tossed him so hard it left a dent in the metal chalk holder. Obviously, that’s extreme, but I also remember children being spanked just for “carrying on” in class. I even have my own memory of being such a chatty first-grader that the teacher finally gave up and Scotch taped my mouth shut. Not as traumatic as a spanking, but I was pretty shocked that she was allowed to do that and I still have vivid memories of the incident.
Any disciplinary tactics like that today would get a teacher fired for child abuse and kicked out of the profession, right?
Apparently that possibility depends on which state you live in. While we’re a society that shudders at the thought of animal abuse, and prisoners have protections against physical discipline, students in 20 states have no such safeguard. Pretty shocking in this age when Tiger Mother tactics at home cause a collective uproar.
Those students now have a surprisingly passionate ally in fashion designer Marc Ecko.
Ecko, just earlier this month, announced the start of his Unlimited Justice lobbying effort to persuade lawmakers to outlaw “the paddle” and the use of corporal punishment against children in public schools. In those 20 states, teachers have the legal right to physically punish children for a variety of transgressions — even getting a bad grade on a test – and we’re not just talking about a passing swat on the tushy. Thousands of children every year report injuries so severe they seek medical treatment.
So what got Ecko involved? He has three young kids of his own who attend public schools and he’s been an educational advocate in the past. But what really pushed him forward was the realization that it almost didn’t matter how much time we spent thinking about teachers or curricula or No Child Left Behind standards if children couldn’t go to school every morning knowing that they’re safe from harm.
Ecko told me by phone, as he was rushing down the streets of New York City, that as he learned more about the issues surrounding corporal punishment in schools — that students who are “paddled” are more likely to drop out of school and that most people don’t even know it’s still happening — he knew it was an issue that needed a “Buckle Up for Safety” moment. Few Americans paid attention to actually using the seat belts in their cars until that simple and direct safety campaign was launched. For Ecko, it’s well past time to see that happen when it comes to the in-school safety of our schoolchildren and convince educators that those who use violence as a problem-solving technique are giving our kids the wrong message.
And he’s come up with an uber-cool iPhone app to contact your lawmakers about the issue that’s been downloaded 100,000 times in just two days. Apparently, Ecko isn’t the only parent who’s concerned about this issue.
New Mexico legislators are voting on legislation this week that would outlaw the use of violence against students. And Texas is considering legislation that would ban the use of violence against students, as well — a state where, according to one report, 49,000 children were subjected to corporal punishment in the 2006-2007 school year.
I have to admit — I had no idea that in almost of half of our country, parents can send their kids off to school not knowing whether they’ll come home bruised or welted, or worse, and have little legal recourse against the teachers who harmed their children or the schools where they work.
As parents in the 21st century, we spend a lot of time talking with our children about keeping their hands to themselves and doing what we can to keep childhood bullying and hurtfulness to a minimum. But if public school teachers in so many states are permitted to exist in a “do as I say, not as I do” world, what hope do we have of convincing our kids that violence or meanness won’t be tolerated?
Ecko fairly pondered on one of the morning shows, “How do we live in a country where we can outlaw peanuts in almost every classroom, but paddles are still OK?”
I wish I had a good answer for that.