Is Corporal Punishment School-Sanctioned Child Abuse?

Thu, March 17, 2011

Changing the World

If you’re an adult of a certain age, you probably have a memory or two of a teacher taking you or a classmate “out to the woodshed” for some classroom offense.

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.

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12 Responses to “Is Corporal Punishment School-Sanctioned Child Abuse?”

  1. Caroline Says:

    When I was growing up in the 1970s, Indiana allowed paddling/corporal punishment. I was a shy little girl and was scared to death of school in first grade after I saw my teacher pick a little boy up by the ears and shake him. Kids were constantly sent to the principal’s office for paddling. In 4th grade, my teacher slapped a classmate (boy again) across the face and left a horrible scratch mark from her wedding ring. If parents do that, it is child abuse. I’m shocked to hear that it is still allowed (here in Illinois, I know that it is not).

  2. Colleen Says:

    Corporal punishment may not be as wide spread as you think, even in the states without a law against it. In New Mexico many school districts including the largest, Albuquerque Public Schools, have already banned it. Still I agree that the new law is a good idea.

  3. Debbie Owensby Moore Says:

    Yes, our school district in Texas also bans corporal punishment.

  4. Mitch Says:

    I grew up in North Carolina, and my home town district just banned CP this month. I understand it was not used for as number of years, but now it can’t be per regulation.

  5. Jan D Says:

    I started school in 1966 and graduated in 1978. I still remember the names of the teachers who were allowed to abuse students.

  6. discount teaching resources Says:

    I grew up in India and it was normal for teachers to punish the students who were misbehaving. Still remember the ones that used to punish me.

  7. Sheri Says:

    Wow, I had no idea either! Will def share this! Thanks for this informative post.

  8. Corey Feldman Says:

    I’m really glad Maryland isn’t one of those states. I’m pretty sure I would end up in jail if a teacher (or anyone for that matter) put a hand on one of my kids.

  9. Becky Says:

    Wow. I just wrote about this (in a roundabout way). I remember kids getting paddled in grade school and a principal throwing boys against the wall in high school.

  10. safik Says:

    wow, this idea is a factual sanction in indigenous society

  11. robert butler Says:

    I was paddled in school many times,along with many others waiting in the office,I never considered it abusive though,but I remember we’d all get to listen to others get their licks..3,5,10 times,and yes I remember that they did issue the licks hard,because they did sting,and the smacking sounds were very loud as the licks were being applied,and I also remember that the office used to always stay smelling like the strong,ammonia-type odor of urine..(like wet pee-pee diapers)..and the reason why the office always smelled all pee-wet,was because sometimes the students would have to wait an hour or more,until all of the parents could be contacted..(to get their okay)..before any students would start being called into the rear part of the office to get their licks with the paddle,and so many times some of the young girls would get all nervous and scared and end up accidentally wetting themselves,and on the chairs also,so that would keep the office smelling all pee-pee stinky for everybody to get to smell who’d visit there for a paddling!

  12. Robert B. Says:

    I was paddled in school many times,along with many others waiting in the office,I never considered it abusive though,but I remember we’d all get to listen to others get their licks..3,5,10 times,and yes I remember that they did issue the licks hard,because they did sting,and the smacking sounds were very loud as the licks were being applied,and I also remember that the office used to always stay smelling like the strong,ammonia-type odor of urine..(like wet pee-pee diapers)..and the reason why the office always smelled all pee-wet,was because sometimes the students would have to wait an hour or more,until all of the parents could be contacted..(to get their okay)..before any students would start being called into the rear part of the office to get their licks with the paddle,and so many times some of the young girls would get all nervous and scared and end up wetting themselves,and on the chairs,so it would always keep the principals office smelling all pee-pee stinky to remind everybody what the office was used for everyday.


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