Corporal punishment persists

It’s hard to believe that corporal punishment is still allowed in 19 states (“Where Lynching Terrorized Black Americans, Corporal Punishment in Schools Lives On,” Huffington Post, July 21).  Although it is rarely used, the fact that it remains legal is troubling.

I say that because it is almost always counterproductive. In the nearly 90 percent of school districts in Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi that reported at least one school using corporal punishment during the 2011-12 school year, I wonder what their experience was.  Did it change the behavior of students?  If so, how?  Were there any negative effects?  These are all important questions.

It’s not surprising that schools in counties with long histories of violent social control – typically in the Deep South – are more likely to use such punishment.  Nevertheless, when I was in high school on Long Island, N.Y. in the mid 1950s, P.E. teachers occasionally gave students a swat on their backside with a wooden paddle.  No parent ever complained.  But that was then, this is now.

I also vividly remember friends who attended Catholic schools in that era receiving slaps on their hands with rulers or pinches on their ears for misbehaving in class.  They told me that nuns were quick to use such punishment.  I wonder if that still goes on today.

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2 Replies to “Corporal punishment persists”

  1. Seems likely that support for corporal punishment in schools reflects political conservatism rather than racism per se. The Huff Post article notes that evangelical Christians and particularly black evangelical Christians parents were generally more supportive of corporal punishment than other groups. This is consistent with the longstanding Catholic school practices as well.

    I’m mildly anti-corporal punishment — mostly for the reason that, I think, research suggests it’s not effective for behavior modification purposes. If it were effective, then I’d probably support it. As I’ve argued in other comments, minor but endemic misbehavior is a huge obstacle to effective education in the low-SES inner-city schools. If reinstituting corporal punishment significantly reduced this misbehavior, then that would almost certainly be in the long-term best interests of the students in those schools.

    Of course, inner-city school systems that make it very difficult for teachers to impose even the mildest of traditional discipline (like after-school detention) for fear of negative parental or media feedback are never going to impose corporal punishment.

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  2. Labor Lawyer: Corporal punishment has not worked to improve behavior and learning. Why it persists is hard to understand. Punishment can be effective when it is seen by students and parents as reasonable. For example, detention. In today’s litigious society, teachers have to be careful or they will be sued for child abuse.

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