Corporal punishment in schools

What year is this? I can hardly believe that such a horrifying report as this Human Rights Watch article on corporal punishment in schools can be written in 2008. I knew that there were a few states that still allowed beating children in public schools, but I didn’t realize how prevalent it was: it is legal in 21 states and 13 of those states beat more than 1,000 children a year during the time the study was conducted. This excerpt from the article sums up my thoughts pretty well:

“Every public school needs effective methods of discipline, but beating kids teaches violence and it doesn’t stop bad behavior,” said Alice Farmer, Aryeh Neier Fellow at Human Rights Watch and the ACLU, and author of the report. “Corporal punishment discourages learning, fails to deter future misbehavior and at times even provokes it.”

Corporal punishment is a completely ineffective and cruel way of trying to get children to do what you want. I have a message for all you school administrators out there who use the paddle: children are human beings. That’s right, living human beings who deserve to be treated with respect. Not wild animals to be beaten in to submission. They have thoughts and feelings and reasons for behaving the way they do. Why don’t you try talking to them? Finding out why they did what they did? Maybe reevaluating whether the “rule” they broke makes sense? How about some mediation between the children involved in a fight? How about counseling and therapy for the distressed children from broken homes? A little communication can go a long way.

But there is a deeper problem here – the “trying to get children to do what you want” part of my previous paragraph. The real problem is the authoritarian environment of schools. There are rules, many of which are meaningless to the children, and authority figures who punish when the rules are broken. Children are required to sit in their seats all day when they’d rather be playing outside. They are taught to submit to authority without question. It’s a great system for turning out of bunch of dulled robots who no longer know how to think for themselves. And physically harming children as a way to get them to behave is extremely inhumane and illogical, as well as an excellent way to promote the continuation of a violent society.

Perhaps the most distressing part of the article is the mention of the fact that parents have very little say in the matter:

The report documents several cases in which children were beaten to the point of serious injury. Since educators who beat children have immunity under law from assault proceedings, parents who try to pursue justice for injured children encounter resistance from police, district attorneys, and courts. Parents also face enormous, sometimes insurmountable, obstacles in trying to prevent physical punishment of their children. While some school districts permit parents to sign forms opting out of corporal punishment for their children, the forms are often ignored.

If I were a parent in a school district that used corporal punishment, I would be up in arms about it, that’s for sure. It is horrifying that parents are unable (in some districts, at least) to request that their child not be paddled at school when they are required by law to send the child to school in the first place.

One more aspect that needs mentioning: the article cites statistics that black children are paddled at higher rates even though there is no evidence that they break rules at higher rates. So we have a little racism mixed in to. Black men are also in prison at much higher rates than white men. I wonder if by any chance the fact that black children are more frequently beaten in schools is one cause of black men being more frequently in prison…? I do not have any evidence for such a cause/effect, but I sure wouldn’t be surprised to find out there was some.

When will the world wake up and realize that children are sentient humans, not little machines or blank slates?

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One Response to Corporal punishment in schools

  1. A.S. says:

    Great post! You might be interested in the web site for an organization called “Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education.” (www.nospank.net).

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