Last Tuesday, John B. King Jr., the United States Secretary of Education, sent out a strongly-worded, yet heartfelt open letter urging a state officials to end corporal punishment in schools. His letter was directed specifically at the governors and school officials of the 22 states where it is still legal for school staff to use corporal punishment (i.e., paddling, spanking, flogging, etc.) to discipline children.
Yep, you read that right. It is 2016, and yet 22 out of 50 states in America still allow the use of physical force in the classroom.
It’s OK, I’ll wait for you to pick your jaw up from the bottom of the floor.
All good? Great; now let’s continue.
There is some consolation: According to The Washington Post, a study earlier this year found that only a minority of these 22 states actually still practice corporal punishment. In fact, the Post reports that seven Southern states account for nearly 80 percent of in-school corporal punishment in the U.S.: Mississippi, Texas, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee and Oklahoma.
But honestly, even that news doesn’t make me feel any better about it.
I personally do not use physical punishment to discipline my kids, period. But even if I were OK with the occasional spank here and there, there is no way in hell I would allow a virtual stranger to do it.
And while it’s true that the majority of American parents don’t agree with me, and believe that spanking at home is an acceptable means of discipline, a recent ABC News poll found that 72% of parents don’t believe it should happen at school.
Honestly, I can’t believe I even have to type these words in defense of the parental right to ensure that our children are not spanked or paddled when we send them off to school.
And even though I may be in the minority when it comes to spanking in the home, almost all available research on the safety and effectiveness of corporal punishment — whether at home or at school — is on my side.
In his letter to school officials, King highlights some of the research himself:
“The use of corporal punishment is also ineffective as a strategy to address inappropriate behavior,” writes King. “When used in an attempt to compel behavioral change, corporal punishment often has antithetical results; for example, physical punishment may make a child more aggressive, defiant, and oppositional.”
Yep, not only does corporal punishment not work to quell negative behavior in the long-term — it even exacerbates it in many cases. And it has a myriad of crushing effects on our kids, many of which King lists in his letter, including lower cognitive functioning, hindered brain development, overall lowered academic success, as well as anti-social behavior as children reach adulthood.
King also points out that corporal punishment is inflicted more frequently on children of color, citing the statistic that more than one-third of the children who are subject to corporal punishment in school are black students, even though they make up only 16% of the total public school population. He also points out that children who have disabilities are more likely to be the victims of corporal punishment. King calls these glaring disparities a “shock to the conscience.”
Of course, King does not have the power to change the laws in these states; his letter is more of an impassioned appeal to those in power to do something — anything — to put an end to this reprehensible, antiquated practice.
“This practice has no place in the public schools of a modern nation that plays such an essential role in the advancement and protection of civil and human rights,” King states at the end of his letter.
The idea of this happening with any frequency whatsoever really is hard to stomach; and yet, it is absolutely happening, and on a regular basis too. Earlier this month, a Texas teen alleged that she was paddled for not saying the pledge of allegiance. The school’s response is that she was paddled because she was being disruptive, and not because she declined to stand for the pledge. But either way, SHE WAS PADDLED. At school. In the principal’s office.
We’re talking about a teenage girl, in 2016.
This one story alone is beyond disturbing. But to know there are countless others just like it happening regularly? It honestly makes my blood boil. That level of harm and humiliation has absolutely no place in a public institution in the United States, much less any place we send our children, expecting them to be safe.
Just this past April, the mother of a 5-year-old boy who was paddled at his school in Georgia took to social media to share her own rage over the experience. According to NBC News, Shana Perez alleged that her son was paddled at school without her consent, explaining that she signed a form prohibiting administrators from using corporal punishment on her son (although the school later disputed this claim).
Perez posted graphic videos of her son being paddled on Facebook that soon went viral. After watching it myself, I don’t encourage you to do the same — I couldn’t even make it past the sounds of the little boy crying to watch the entire video. But I will say this: I applaud Perez for making something like this public — and for anyone who is willing to speak about this issue in clear terms, without mincing words.
At the end of his letter, King hits the nail on the head when he states in no uncertain terms that corporeal punishment has absolutely no place in our schools, and should be abolished immediately.
“It is difficult for a school to be considered safe or supportive if its students are fearful of being physically punished by the adults who are charged with supporting their learning and their future,” writes King.
A million times, YES.
When it comes down it, corporal punishment is a human’s right issue. No child should have to go to school fearing the very people who are supposed to be role models and protectors. And as much as it pains many of us to find out that this sort of thing is still happening — daily — at schools in our nation, we should all know the truth, and urge school administrators and law makers to do everything in their power to outlaw it.