Thoughts on the death of Osama bin Laden

May 2, 2011

I have felt disturbed since reading last night that US forces killed Osama bin Laden. Since then it has been sitting in the back of my mind but I had trouble putting words to my reaction. This afternoon I read an excellent blog post that helped clarify things for me: “Osama bin Laden is dead. One Buddhist’s response.” by Susan Piver. I wish I could quote the whole thing but I will restrain myself with these two parts that particularly hit home:

Was there even a hint of vengefulness or gladness at Osama bin Laden’s death? If so, that is a real problem. Whatever suffering he may have experienced cannot reverse even one moment of the suffering he caused. If you believe his death is a form of compensation, you are deluded.

When we hate, we cause hate. When we think we have won by vanquishing our enemy, we have lost. In killing Osama bin Laden, “they” lose because one of their leaders is gone. But we lose too, because we have deepened the causes and conditions that lead to more hatred and its consequences. This is not over.

I did not feel glad at his death. I felt sadness. And fear. And hopelessness.

I fear because I know that this death is not the end of anything. It will fuel the flames of hatred against the United States that bin Laden himself fueled. Do not be mistaken into a false sense of security: there is no doubt in my mind that there will be attempts at retaliation. It is just another peak in the vicious cycle of hatred and fear, of us versus them.

I feel hopeless that there will ever be an end to this vicious cycle. Hopeless that we will ever be able to move beyond us versus them. I do not believe that bin Laden was an isolated case, one sadistic individual, such that removing him removes all danger of terrorist attacks. No, rather I believe that he was part of a system, a system that the US helps create, in which the US is locked head to head with the terrorists from the Middle East. Another leader will rise to take his place and the cycle will continue. I feel hopeless that we will ever be able to break such a terrible cycle. Will we ever realize that violence is not a solution because it only fuels more violence?

And why do I feel sad? I feel sad because Osama bin Laden was a human being. I feel sad that we cannot see any solutions beyond violence and murder, that we are still stuck in the archaic attitude of an “eye for an eye.” I feel sad that societies do not have healthy ways of handling troubled individuals, ways that keep those individuals from turning into sadistic terrorists. I am sad that more people do not recognize the core humanity of every single human being on this earth.

Osama bin Laden will not harm any more people, but little else has changed. The United States still has an enemy. The people who died in the 9/11 attacks are not going to come back to life. The flames of hatred and fear continue to be fueled.

Lest we forget, we are all human. Every single one of us. I’ll end with this quote from Strength to Love, by Martin Luther King, Jr.:

Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction. … The chain reaction of evil — hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars — must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.

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Violence is not the solution

January 9, 2009

Last night I got into a discussion about Gaza, and, as is typical for me in a verbal discussion, I was not able to defend my arguments against violence very well. I was accused of “feeling” that violence is wrong, but not providing any rational argument against it or suggestion for an alternative in this particular situation. I think this is a valid point; I do “feel” that violence is wrong, but not everyone does, so in order to convince people to try something different it is important to show why violence is not just wrong, but ineffective, and to provide ideas for what to do instead.

I therefore would like to attempt to set feelings aside and argue that rationally-speaking violence is not an effective long-term solution to the conflict in Gaza, as well as propose some alternatives. I welcome thoughtful discussion; please feel free to leave a comment.

Why violence is not the solution

An argument in favor of Israel’s actions usually starts out with the point that Israel has a right – and perhaps even a moral obligation to its citizens – to defend itself. The word defend automatically brings up the image of force, but force is not necessarily the best defense. If what Israel really wants to do is ensure its security; that is, to protect itself and its citizens, then we need to stop thinking of violence as the only option.

Using force against one’s attackers will not ensure long-term security for one significant reason: violence breeds more violence. When people feel threatened and attacked, they naturally feel anger towards and fear of their attackers. They are not going to suddenly decide that they love the people doing the killing and want to make peace with them. No, they are going to continue to hate them and want to do violence in retaliation. Thus, Israel’s current actions are not surprising: Israel felt threatened and attacked by the rockets and decided to retaliate. However, the problem is that their retaliation will only increase Hamas’s hatred, anger, and desire to retaliate in return. Violence is a vicious, escalating cycle.

At this point one might argue that the vicious cycle does not apply in this situation because Israel’s military is so much stronger than Hamas’s. Israel can very likely “win” this particular battle, achieving through force their immediate goal of stopping the rocket attacks. They can perhaps even take down the terrorist-led government by killing many of the key people in it, leaving behind a seemingly subdued group of people. In the short-term, therefore, Israel may feel as if they have greater security after they have succeeded in this battle. However, their sense of security will be an illusion. The hatred will not have magically disappeared. No matter how many of the key militants they kill, there will be someone left behind in which hatred is brewing, someone who will become a new leader. Eventually the Palestinians will acquire more rockets or other weapons, and once again attack Israel. The violence, the battle that Israel appeared to have won, only ensured a short-term peace. There is no doubt that the conflict will spring up again, and another cycle of violence will begin. We do not need to only theorize about the future to be convinced; taking a look at the immediate past of the region shows clearly the cycles of violence and “peace.” Violence has been tried many times before and clearly does not work. Why should we continue trying to use an approach that will get us nowhere except to more violence?

In short, violence is not a solution because all it can do is lead to more violence and hatred. Violence cannot breed peaceful coexistence, because the use of violence requires an us versus them mentality that turns a group of people into the “other” and excludes mutual acceptance.

As I mentioned above, Israel’s actions are not at all unexpected given the situation. In the context of a society where we condone the use of violence as a solution to conflict, it does not make sense to condemn Israel’s actions. I condemn them in a larger context, one that says violence will not lead to long-term peace, as evidenced by history, sociology, and psychology, and therefore we should look for a different solution. I challenge Israel to take the high road, to break themselves out of the cycle of violence and try something different.

Alternatives to violence

Let me preface this section by pointing out that if I had all the answers, I would be over there helping them resolve their conflict, not sitting here writing a blog post. I am not an expert on the details of the situation and I have not studied the history of the region in depth. I do not presume to be able to solve a centuries-old conflict in one short examination of it. However, I have a few ideas of things they could try. Some of them may seem a bit out-there, unlikely to ever happen, but this is the type of problem that requires creative brainstorming of solutions. You never know until you try.

At the root of all conflicts are needs and feelings. Every human being has needs, and when those needs are not being met, conflict (and violence) often results. Every human being also has feelings, and when those feelings are not acknowledged and accepted, conflict (and violence) often results. (Note that accepting a feeling is NOT the same thing as accepting an action based on that feeling. It is possible to accept that Palestinians feel anger towards Israel without accepting their actions of shooting rockets at Israel). So one place to start with the conflict in Gaza is to do active listening with the key individuals involved. This means individual meetings where the person in the role of “counselor” listens to the other person talk about their perspective on the conflict. In order for it to be effective, the counselor needs to probe for the root needs and feelings (the person is most likely not aware of what these are; a good counselor can draw them out) and reflect back to the individual what they hear, thus acknowledging the person’s needs and feelings and making the person feel accepted.

I am aware that this may sound a bit too touchy-feely to many of you. Most of us are extremely uncomfortable thinking about our own or anyone else’s needs and feelings, let alone talking about them, because our society has taught us to repress them. This does not mean they are not important, however. In fact, I maintain that addressing each individual’s underlying needs and feelings is absolutely necessary to reaching permanent resolution of a conflict. As long as there are feelings going unacknowledged and needs going unaddressed, the conflict will not be resolved; people will continue to harbor resentments and bitter thoughts.

We cannot stop there, however. After individual meetings with the leaders as I described above, I would propose bringing the leaders together for mediation. I realize that negotiation has been tried and not succeeded numerous times. Perhaps true mediation has also been tried, but I do not know. By true mediation, I again mean something that includes needs and feelings. Negotiation by itself is not sufficient because it jumps right to the last step, of trying to come up with a compromise. True mediation starts by getting each party to truly hear what the other party is saying. They take turns explaining their position, and the other party is required to reflect back what they hear. The act of doing this results in each party gaining a better understanding of the other position. Only at this point will they be able to make progress together towards a solution. Furthermore, they should be seeking a win-win solution, one that meets ALL of their stated (true, root) needs, not a compromise with which neither side is completely satisfied.

It would be very difficult for Israel and Hamas to initiate these actions all by themselves. This is where the third side comes in. The rest of the world needs to put serious pressure on both Israel and Hamas to stop their censeless fighting and try something else. Some uninvolved third-party needs to step forward and lead the steps I proposed above. Someone needs to initiate individual meetings with each leader and work through their needs and feelings with them. Someone needs to lead the mediation (or most likely series of mediations) between Israel and Hamas. We cannot expect the involved parties to take these steps by themselves; the rest of the world must take action to help them work towards a non-violent solution.

However, perhaps none of this will work. Perhaps the Hamas leadership is simply too irrational, and there is little hope of doing enough individual counseling work with them to really reach to the root of the conflict. We of course cannot know this unless we give it the best try we can, but assuming that we do encounter failure, do we just give up and go back to violence? No, we should not go back to violence. There are other things to try.

I suggest to you that the majority of the people living in Gaza do not in fact harbor such virulent hatred against Israel. Yes, they elected a terrorist as their leader. However, I have read suggestions that this was because this same terrorist promised them social services programs, something the previous leader, being corrupt, did not provide. I do not know how accurate this evaluation is, but I don’t doubt that there is some truth to it. The people who elected Hamas likely made a very rational decision: when you are struggling for your survival on a daily basis, you are probably going to vote for the person who promises you the most hope of a better life, regardless of what other policies and beliefs that person might have. So instead of looking at the needs of the leaders, who may be beyond hope, let’s instead look at the needs of the people.

I can perceive a few needs from my perspective, although to really find out we could of course have to talk to the actual people living in Gaza and Israel. The needs that I see include the needs of those living in Gaza for sufficient food, water, power, health care, and education, and the needs of those living in Israel for assurance that they and their loved ones will not be hit by a rocket. I want to focus on the basic survival needs of those living in Gaza, because they are the ones who elected a terrorist. I suspect that if these people’s needs were met, they would be much more likely to elect a leader who is not a terrorist. Such a leader may be more rational, and thus more willing and able to enter into mediation with Israel. Furthermore, the people would not need to use Israel as a scapegoat for their problems (which they may or may not be doing now, and Israel may or may not actually have caused some of their problems – the point is that when people are struggling to survive they will look for someone to hate, someone to blame their struggles on). Essentially, meeting people’s basic needs for survival is a prerequisite to reaching peaceful coexistence. Thus, what can Israel and the rest of the world do to work towards a solution to the conflict? Ensure that everyone’s basic survival needs are being met.

However, meeting the general population’s basic needs is probably not enough. It is important to recognize that the mutual hatred and distrust between Arabs and Jews is centuries old. Many Arabs and Jews grow up with little exposure to each other, and they are taught – not necessarily explicitly (although that may be the case), but through their society and culture – to hate and more significantly to fear the other. Removing the centuries-deep layers of distrust and fear is neither an easy nor a fast process, but it is a necessary one.

Meaningful exposure and interaction is critical to removing fear and distrust. It is not as easy to fear a group of people as the “other” when you have a human connection with someone from that group. To bring this out of theory and back to the current situation in Gaza, I propose activities that bring Palestinians and Israeli Jews together in activities where they must cooperate to solve a problem. How about forming many small mixed groups and having them work together to tear down the barriers along the border of Gaza (if there are physical barriers)? Or having them work together half the day rebuilding a destroyed Israeli structure and half the day rebuilding a destroyed Gaza structure? Or perhaps building a community center together that sits right on top of the border, and then having them work together to come up with programs and activities that the community center could host. Some other ideas are an exchange program where a young college-age Palestinian spends a week living with an Israeli family and vice-versa, or bringing Palestinians and Israelis together to live in a Kibbutz-like setting for a month. Forming connections between children is also critical. How about a mixed Arab/Jew elementary school or after-school program that emphasizes cooperative interaction between the children, where they have to work together to solve some problem? Some of these ideas may sound impossible, but the point is that we have to be creative. We have to think of ways we can bring people together to build bonds and trust with one another. If we come up with enough ideas, we are bound to come up with something that is possible.

Building mutual acceptance, trust, and peaceful coexistence between two groups of people that have hated each other for a long time is anything but easy. It requires creativity and hard work, thinking of solutions and things to try that go beyond the easy, instinctual reaction of using force and violence. Violence may appear to solve conflicts in the short-term, but it is an illusion. As long as the two groups are using violence on one another, they will continue to fear and hate each other. Long-term security can only be guaranteed by breaking the cycle of violence and reaching beyond it for human connection and the gradual return of trust.


A role for the third side?

January 1, 2009

Well, after a two and a half week hiatus, you get two posts from me in one day! I guess I am in the mood to write today.

The situation is Gaza is awful. Just awful. I read the news and all I can think about is how much senseless killing is going on. I am not in favor of either side; I am simply against all the violence. You could say I am on the third side.

It seems like an intractable conflict. How will the violence ever end? On one side we have terrorists willing to do suicide missions and on the other side we have a powerful military. Does each side really think they are going to “win” if they keep on bombing each other? Currently Israel is refusing to hold a cease-fire, although they claim they are pursuing diplomacy at the same time. I do not think this is possible. How can they hope to come to some sort of diplomatic resolution while they continue to kill each other? Clearly these two sides see only “the other”, an enemy, when they look at each other. Until they can really see who the other side is and what that entity’s legitimate needs are, there is little hope for a permanent resolution. How does one bring about this sort of transformation? I only wish I knew the answer to that question.

I know little about the history of this region, but it seems clear to me from my outsider’s perspective that violence and force is not an effective way to resolve the differences between Israel and Hamas. Israel, Palestine, and now Hamas have been trying violence for a long time and it hasn’t gotten them anywhere. They are still in conflict. I do not understand how the leaders can continue to believe that there is any point in using yet more violence. What exactly does it gain them? They are just so locked into one way of thinking.

This is where I think the third side should step in. The rest of the world needs to let both Israel and Hamas know that their use of violence is unacceptable. That we do not support their continued attacks on one another. Perhaps with enough outside pressure, these two entities will come to their sense and see that what they are doing is pointless. I thus call on Obama when he takes office to condemn the attacks on either side and to halt U.S. support of Israel until they reach a cease-fire. I do not know how one should progress from there, but little is going to change except more people dying as long as the bombings continue.


Punishment

September 12, 2008

Punishment has no place in a peaceful society. The very concept of punishment is antithetical to peace. What is the “very concept of punishment”? Let’s start with the dictionary: my copy of The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines punishment as “retributive suffering, pain, or loss.” In other words, punishment is a painful or unpleasant experience imposed on one person by another, with the intention of making that person “pay” for something viewed as a wrong-doing. There is also a secondary intention of making the person suffer enough that they will not commit the same wrong-doing again, out of fear of receiving such punishment again. This intentional infliction of harm, either psychological or physical, is not a peaceful act. It does nothing to address the underlying causes of the individual’s actions, and it exists in a world of us vs. them. The person giving the punishment must separate themselves from the person receiving the punishment, seeing that person not as a whole human being with feelings and reasons for behaving a certain way, but only as a vehicle of wrong behavior. In a peaceful approach to wrong-doing, the person and the context of their behavior should be addressed as a whole. Conflict resolution techniques should be used to work towards creating a community where the person has no need to act in the undesired manner, or alternatively a community where the person’s behavior is in fact no longer viewed as a wrong-doing.

Punishment can only occur when the person meting out the punishment is in a position of authority or power over the person being punished. Although there will always be situations where one person has some form of authority over another, I maintain that punishment is in fact an “abusive or unjust exercise of power.” That definition in quotes is from thefreedictionary.com‘s definition of violence. Punishment is a form of violence in this sense (and sometimes in a more literal sense, such as corporal punishment).

In modern society there are two common condoned uses of punishment: of criminals and of children. I maintain that both uses are in opposition to peace. I have addressed the treatment of criminals in a few posts before (in Thoughts on restorative justice, and two posts on the death penalty), and I expect to write more on the subject at a later point. In this post, however, I wish to focus on the punishment of children.

Peace truly does begin with the children. Parents and teachers, as well as other adults in children’s lives, have the chance to raise children who will live at peace with themselves and others. Why would we want to ruin that with punishment? We cannot hope to create a peaceful society as long as we continue to treat the small human beings in our lives without the respect and care that we expect of them as adults. Raising children should not just be about teaching them to “behave.” Children are living, breathing, thinking, feeling human beings and they have the right to be treated as such. If we truly want to teach children how to function as members of society, we should give them the tools to use mediation and conflict resolution to solve problems, and to be in touch with their own needs and feelings. One of the most important ways we can do this as adults is to model the behavior we want our children to have. If we tell a child one thing (treat everyone with respect) but do another (punish them) they are more likely to learn from our action than our words. Punishing children only teaches them that the world is made up of us vs. them, that having power means harming others, and that there is no place for their own needs and feelings. If we instead engage in mediation and conflict resolution with the children in our lives, we will teach them how to solve problems peacefully while keeping in touch with their needs.

I was raised without punishment. My mother, Dr. Aletha Solter, is a developmental psychologist and parent educator. Her work is crucial in helping to create a world of peace instead of violence. For more information specifically about punishment, I recommend her articles Twenty Alternatives to Punishment, Why do Children “Misbehave”?, The Disadvantages of Time-Out, and Don’t spank your children.


Free speech

September 7, 2008

Amy Goodman wrote an excellent column about her arrest at the RNC. She describes the way in which the police violently arrested her as she was trying to find out why her two colleagues had just been (also violently) arrested. Repeated cries that she was from the press had no effect: “I repeated we were accredited journalists, whereupon a Secret Service agent came over and ripped my convention credential from my neck.” She feels, and I agree, that her and her colleagues’ arrests were serious violations of the First Amendment rights to free speech and freedom of the press:

Behind all the patriotic hyperbole that accompanies the conventions, and the thousands of journalists and media workers who arrive to cover the staged events, there are serious violations of the basic right of freedom of the press. Here on the streets of St. Paul, the press is free to report on the official proceedings of the RNC, but not to report on the police violence and mass arrests directed at those who have come to petition their government, to protest.

It’s as if we live in some Orwellian world. This can’t possibly be happening in the United States of America, with all its rhetoric of freedom and democracy, can it? Sadly and frighteningly, it most definitely is happening right here in the United States.

In addition to arresting the journalists, police arrested hundreds of protesters as well:

Police in riot gear swarmed the area outside the convention center, deploying tear gas and distraction devices known as “flash bangs” in an attempt to disperse the crowd.

Since when is a “crowd” illegal? In fact, doesn’t the First Amendment guarantee “the right of the people peaceably to assemble”? I suppose that this is open to interpretation; how do you define “peaceably”? Unfortunately, it seems the police have the power to be quite lenient in defining it: as these events illustrate, apparently they can arrest on the pretext of perceived threat, no matter how unlikely it is that their so-called perception is accurate (are they really perceiving threat, or just saying they do?). It sounds to me like the police were by far more violent than the protesters themselves:

The protesters, chanting, “Let us march!” and “No blood for oil, U.S. off Iraqi soil!” were non-violent in their actions. At one point, approximately 100 people sat down in the middle of the street, in front of more than two-dozen officers on horses, making the peace sign with their hands and singing the star spangled banner.

There was one phrase in the news article that confused me: “At 5pm central, the protesters’ permit expired, but demonstrators refused to leave.” Permit? I was not aware that one needed a permit in order to protest legally (and that it is thus illegal to hold a protest on a public street without a permit), but apparently this has been the case for quite a long time. In searching for more information about this, I came across this informative article, by a professor at Syracuse University, titled “Permitting Protest/Silencing Dissent.” According to the article:

It was not until 1939 that the Supreme Court finally declared that the use of streets and sidewalks for political assembly and speech was constitutionally protected. And when it made this declaration it immediately qualified it. Public speech and assembly, the Court declared, has always to be “exercised in subordination to the general comfort and convenience, and in consonance with peace and good order….”

That qualification was left open to interpretation by the states and cities, and it has been widely interpreted over the years. The primary system in use now is the permit system, where groups wishing to stage a protest must apply for a permit beforehand. Their application can be denied, and cities have not hesitated to deny permits. This, if you ask me, is blatant regulation of speech. Speech in this country is not so free as I thought: it is illegal to protest without a permit, and cities do not have to issue you a permit if they think your protest will present any sort of danger. In other words, if you are perceived as a threat. This doesn’t leave much room for dissent with the government, does it? As it says in the article:

…it is not just the corporate media, not just the condescending pronouncements of the current White House, and not just local, sometimes brutish police forces or vigilante groups that seek to silence dissent in America, but the very structure of the law that has grown up around the exercise of First Amendment rights. Reasonable as it sometimes seems, that law is stacked against dissent. True power, the writers of First Amendment regulations know, includes the power to control where and when and how dissent takes place.

The restrictions on free speech in this country are far greater than I realized. I can only conclude that the people in power make laws to protect themselves – that is, the government as a collection of people in power – rather than all the many individuals that make up this country who are not in positions of power. A person protesting violence and war does not present a physical threat or a threat to their neighbor, but he or she is a threat to the status quo and to the current government.

Free speech is a crucial and fundamental right in creating a peaceful society, and we should not let our First Amendment rights be taken away, even if it means breaking the law.


Police brutality

September 6, 2008

The police were disturbingly and frighteningly brutal towards journalists and protesters during the Democratic and Republican National Conventions. At the RNC, they arrested prominent journalist Amy Goodman, of Democracy Now!, for no apparent reason. As Cara says in her excellent post about this arrest, “But beyond all of that, the simple fact is that she didn’t do anything to deserve arrest. And yet, at the RNC, arrested she was. For doing her job as a journalist.” This video of her arrest is quite disturbing:

This abuse of power and use of violence by police officers is highly frightening. Not only does it make me wonder what happened to our first amendment right to free speech, but it is a stark reminder that violence is perfectly acceptable in our society – when perpetrated by someone in a position of power.

Brownfemipower wrote an extremely insightful post about the links between power, violence, and violence against women. I highly recommend that you read her post in its entirety, but here are a few excerpts:

Remember this incident at the DNC, where a Code Pink woman was slammed in the chest by a male police officer?

What makes that case of violence against a woman different or more justified than a random man slamming his wife in the chest?

If this cop wasn’t wearing his uniform, we’d be outraged, rightfully so. But as citizens of the U.S., as feminists, as women, when a man wearing a uniform slams a woman in the chest with a weapon, suddenly, there’s relative silence, or casual assertions that this is normal, and what the hell was she expecting.

How do you tell a man that abuse and violence is not ok while wearing plain clothes, but once he puts on an official uniform, it’s not only ok, but expected?

The logic of abuse, the logic of power is *ingrained* in our society, is taught to our very young children from the time they are little kids. This logic is *compulsory* for the existence of our government, how else would we justify the unquestioned authority lawmakers, presidents, and judges have over all of our lives?

Wow. I had never thought about power in such clear terms before. Yes, I have written about police brutality and abuse of power before, but brownfemipower is making the links between power and violence more explicit than I have ever thought about. Abuse is violence against one person by someone with power over that person. And yet, when that person with power is also in a position of authority, in a uniform, suddenly their violence is no longer abuse, but is an acceptable part of their line of duty.

Is it possible to have a police force that is there for the protection of the citizens without allowing this abuse of power? Is there any way that our current law enforcement structure is workable in a pro-peace, anti-violence society? Or is our law enforcement structure so fundamentally based on the concepts of power and the acceptability and expectation of violence that to create a completely peaceful society we would need to completely rethink police? I am strongly inclined to believe the latter, but there are many factors at play here. The members of the police force were raised in a society with an expectation of violence, so of course they are going to use violence. If they were raised in a completely non-violent society, I don’t think they would be so quick to use violence. Our violent society perpetrates police brutality by both creating and condoning people who use violence while in positions of authority.

Finally, there is brownfemipower’s excellent point that we can not possibly expect to eradicate violence against women as long as violence from men in authority is accepted. And the solution is not simply to put more women in to these positions of power. Violence is too fundamentally ingrained in these positions of power. It seems that perhaps the only answer is to start from scratch building society structures that have foundations of community and caring rather than violence and us vs. them.


Corporal punishment in schools

August 20, 2008

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?