The United States Public School System and Corporal Punishment:
To Beat or Not to Beat?
Corporal punishment has been thought to be a way of the past; however, it is used frequently across America. Thirteen of our states are using the method of physical punishment in our schools today. It is very popular in five of those states which makes it a very controversial issue among Americans. As explained in a report on CNN called “More than 200,000 Kids Spanked at School” the Department of Education showed that “The highest percentage of students receiving corporal punishment was in Mississippi, with 7.5 percent of students. The highest number was in Texas, with 48,197 students” (Foley and Sabo par. 3). Should we continue to allow this type of punishment in our public schools? This question has raised the eyebrows of many people including teachers, parents, religious groups, and psychologists around the world. Surprisingly, there are only two industrialized countries that allow this type of punishment in their public schools (McCarthy 235).
Corporal punishment is controversial in many ways. For instance, many Christians argue that the physical discipline of a child is perfectly acceptable and withholding that can be detrimental to the child. In the Bible, the Book of Proverbs goes on to explain that “He who spares the rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him promptly” (13:24). The Christian faith and conservative Jews believe that by not punishing the child, he will become spoiled, and therefore less healthy. They believe that it is not optional and is “the only biblically approved way to discipline children” (Robinson par. 5).
Physical punishment also raises the issue of constitutional rights. The eighth amendment of the constitution prohibits the use of cruel and unusual punishment as well as the fourteenth amendment’s protection of liberty to remain free from intrusions on bodily integrity. These amendment issues can be interpreted many different ways so the federal court decided to let the states handle this issue under the provision of state laws (McCarthy 236). However, excessive force does not constitute as reasonable punishment and is prohibited by federal law.
There are not too many people who remain neutral on this position; however, government is working hard to regulate it. In April of 2008, the Public Health Study Commission of North Carolina approved a recommendation that clarifies corporal punishment policies in schools. The new policies, as stated by the General Assembly of North Carolina, include that corporal punishment will only consist of “…a hand spanking on the buttocks through the student’s customary mode of dress” and “Only by a teacher, principal, or assistant principal of the same gender of the student and who has been trained in the administration of corporal punishment…” They are not allowed to do this in front of other students. They are also required to have a qualified teacher or administrator present, and must notify the parent of any punishment that takes place. These regulations make it more difficult to use unnecessary force and less dangerous for the child by preventing serious physical harm.
Teachers believe for this to be so effective because it is fast and efficient. CNN interviewed a teacher by the name of Farmer who explained, “It doesn’t take much time to administer corporal punishment, and you don’t have to hire someone to run a detention or an after-school program” (qtd. in Foley and Sabo par. 4). Many teachers and educators believe that it is the only way. Not only is it fast and effective, but it backs up their limits when their boundaries are crossed.
Teachers are not the only ones who support this type of punishment. It extends to the parents of the children as well. Many parents who use this type of punishment in their homes actually prefer it to be utilized at school. They believe that their children do not respond to verbal warnings or lighter punishment hence the sharp stimulus being the only way.
However, with the awareness of new science and research studies, more parents are becoming opposed of it. Parents are becoming more concerned about the emotional effects corporal punishment has on their children. One woman explains on a debate website that “No matter how orderly you make the beating of a child, there are number of adverse effects. They will lose trust in adults who administer the beating; they learn force is an acceptable factor in human interaction; they feel humiliated and lose self-respect; and they build up resentment that cannot be resolved at the time but may lead to severe misbehavior in the future” (idebate.org). More parents are accepting this view.
Psychologists and doctors support the adverse effects of corporal punishment. The American Academy of Pediatrics states that “Corporal punishment may adversely affect a student’s self image and school achievement and it may contribute to disruptive and violent behavior” (343). This goes with saying that violence begets violence and supports the idea that those who witness violence learn it to be acceptable. This was proven in 1961 by Albert Bandura in his famous Bobo Doll experiment. This study was performed to look at the social learning theory. Bandura used a doll which was approximately the height of a seven year old child, and placed it in a room along with other toys. He put the children into two groups. He allowed one of the groups to view a video of an adult hitting the Bobo Doll while the other group was let into the room without viewing the video. The first group, who had not seen the video, entered the room and played peacefully amongst each other. When the second group entered the room, they immediately began beating the doll and even used other toys to perform acts that were not performed in the video. This study supported the theory that witnessing violence enables it.
Whether someone believes that corporal punishment will prevent the spoiling of a child or cause them severe emotional harm, they both have one thing in mind and that is the best interest for the child. The people who are neutral on this position are limited and few have been able to regulate it. But if they are successful, they may be able to improve the situation in schools across America.
I believe that corporal punishment is not appropriate for the public school system because it cannot be monitored enough to prevent the severe adverse effects. I believe that in the home it is only appropriate when a child is doing something that can hurt themselves but should not be over used. Physical force can become addictive to some and I do not believe the government should control who is allowed to touch a child. The decision should be left up to the parents. Having worked as a preschool teacher I have witnessed this type of behavior on a regular basis. I have never known it to be effective as the children whose parents asked us to spank their children acted out more than the others. Corporal punishment is an easy way out of a situation that should be handled with patience and strong verbal communication.
American Academy of Pediatrics, Committee on School Health. “Corporal Punishment in Schools.” Pediatrics 106 (2000): 343
“Corporal Punishment (for Children).” idebate 24 July 2006. International Debate Education Association. 16 September 2008
Foley, Vivienne and Tracy Sabo. “More than 200,000 Kids Spanked at School.” CNN 20 August 2008. Turner Broadcasting System Inc. 16 Sept. 2008
General Assembly of North Carolina. Clarify Corporal Punishment Policy. 1st sess. D. Rept. 115C-391. 2007 General Assembly of North Carolina, 2007.
McCarthy, Martha M. “Corporal Punishment in Public Schools: Is the United States Out of Step?” Educational Horizons 83 (2005): 235-39.
Robinson, B. A. “Child Corporal Punishment: Spanking: Resolving Apparent Biblical Ambiguities about Spanking” religioustollerance 5 Feb. 2005 Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance 24 Sept. 2008
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