Back To School: Corporal Punishment For Students

Like any parent, now that the summer is winding down, I am excited to get my boys back to school.  As much as I love the time that we have spent together, they need to get back to a routine.   They are whining like any other young kid would, about the loss of freedom and the late nights but what they do not feel is fear.  My children are well aware of the behaviour standards for both home and school. They know that if at anytime they should decide not to adhere to the rules that they will receive discipline, however; for them discipline does not involve any form of physical violence.

In Canada corporal punishment has long since been outlawed but this is not the case in the United States.  As millions of children return to school they do so with the knowledge that along with new friends and lessons the paddle is also awaiting them.  Despite much documented evidence that spanking is bad people continue to be violent with children in the false belief that it encourages them to  alter behaviour that we have unpleasant or dangerous.  I have spoken at length about my own dances with the belt and the trauma that is caused but many today feel that because they were spanked and turned out fine, that violence against children is acceptable

The state of Tennesse allows school districts and in some cases individual schools to set their own standards for corporal punishment. For decades, Memphis City Schools (MCS) were criticized for allowing spanking to continue in its schools. The MCS school board reviewed the policy several times over many years before deciding in 2004 to stop corporal punishment. However, paddling is still an accepted practice in the Shelby County Schools and some local charter schools.

The Shelby County Schools 2008-2009 Handbooks states, “As part of a progressive discipline plan, corporal punishment is permissible in Shelby County Schools. Corporal punishment may be administered by the principal or principal’s designee in the presence of another professional employee. Corporal punishment shall not be used as the disciplinary action on a first offense, shall not be used as a choice in lieu of other disciplinary action, and shall only be used after other corrective measures have been attempted. The parent(s) or guardian(s) shall be notified when a student has been paddled.”  The handbook is available here.

This policy is presented as though spanking and or paddling can be administered without emotion, as just another form of discipline.  Clearly the goal is not only to punish but to shame.  Students are paddled at assemblies so that their peers may witness.  Not only does this further shame the child, it serves to terrorize those that must witness this physical abuse. How can this possibly be a healthy environment for children to grow and learn in?

Even parents who have opted out of this form of discipline, have learned that their children have been paddled by mistake.  This means that a child can never really be secure that they will be free of violence.  We also know that race plays a part in who gets spanked, as Black girls are more like than anyone else to be forced to endure corporal punishment in schools.

The punishment is disproportionately applied to black students. According to the organizations. During the 2006-07 school year, for instance, black students made up 17.1 percent of the nationwide student population but 35.6 percent of those paddled at schools.

Black girls were paddled at twice the rate of their white counterparts in the 13 states using corporal punishment most frequently. And although boys are punished more often than girls, the report found that African-American students in general are 1.4 times more likely to receive corporal punishment.

With stressors like larger class sizes and economic pressures, how much more likely is spanking to be administered?   If we know that race is a factor on who gets abused, it is not a leap to assume that class could also factor into the equation.  We have a tendency to devalue bodies based in social construction and therefore at some point the class of the child in question must factor into the equation.

Children feel stress just like adults do and a change in family circumstances can lead to a change in behaviour for the negative.  Instead of dealing with the reason that a child may be acting out, violence is being offered as a solution.  Beating a child leads to fear and resentment and little understanding of why the behaviour must change, other than the threat of physical violence.

I wish that all children could return to school with the safety that mine will.  They will learn new lessons, meet new friends and have experiences that will guide them on the path to adulthood.  No child should ever associate learning with fear.  If we love children as we claim to, how can we continue to abuse them?

Cross posted from Womanist Musings

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45 comments for “Back To School: Corporal Punishment For Students

  1. Sarah
    August 21, 2009 at 12:21 pm

    Thanks for writing about this issue here, Renee. Human Rights Watch has done several studies which demonstrate that students of color and students with disabilities (particularly autism) are disproportionately likely to suffer this kind of physical abuse. So this is also very much an issue of racism and ableism.

  2. KidsRpeople2
    August 21, 2009 at 12:35 pm

    Our children are more than test scores and FUNDING, they are our most precious future, our leaders of tomorrow! 20 STATES STILL ALLOW CORPORAL PUNISHMENT IN SCHOOLS, and, earlier this week, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that almost a fifth of students struck by teachers suffer from disabilities. Teachers legally can spank an autistic student whom they feel is acting out of turn. To receive federal funds, states should be required once and for all to ban school corporal punishment. After all, beating prisoners is illegal. Beating school children should be, too. A SHOCKING Children’s Civil Rights INEQUALITY exists in 21st Century Classrooms! SHOCKING news headlines of injuries suffered by children abused by school employees in states where the practice is legal are all too common! I live in Tennessee and my 3 children attend schools in an UNRESPONSIVE Paddling School District where middle school teachers keep wooden paddles in their desk drawers and take them out to threaten students with physical punishment. Students are paddled in hallways just outside of class, in view of some kind of security cameras, for minor infractions like not turning in homework, where all the other students overhear the paddling, then the paddled student must face classmates when they immediately return to their seat with no parental consent or notification. A publicly funded charter school in Memphis, TN made news headlines recently for physically punishing middle/high school boys and girls by paddling them with a wooden paddle or whipping their hands with leather straps IN FRONT OF ALL THE OTHER STUDENTS TO PUBLICLY INDUCE SHAME/HUMILIATION AND FEAR AS A DETERRENT! The Governing Board Members, Administrators and Faculty of this PUBLICLY FUNDED CHARTER SCHOOL state their “Discipline” practices are within Tennessee State Laws! Physical or Corporal Punishment is HEAVILY ASSOCIATED WITH THE PORNOGRAPHY INDUSTRY, just type corporal punishment or spanking into any internet search engine to verify. U.S. Congress is currently holding hearings on Abusive and DEADLY (kids have died at the hands of government employees entrusted with their care and education) practices in schools and MUST ABOLISH PHYSICAL/CORPORAL PUNISHMENT OF ALL CHILDREN IN ALL SCHOOLS, ALREADY ILLEGAL IN 30 STATES!

  3. earlRichards
    August 21, 2009 at 12:39 pm

    Corporal punishment is still legal in Canada, under Section 43 0f the Criminal Code.

    Earl richards

  4. August 21, 2009 at 12:44 pm

    In terms of the argument,

    …many today feel that because they were spanked and turned out fine…

    In my own experience, those who most vociferously press that argument in defense of corporal punishment don’t actually seem to have turned out fine. Some of them are a long way from fine.

    I recall, for example, being present at a session of court where a young man was being sentenced to jail, I no longer remember the crime, when his father interrupted the sentencing. He suggested, in the form of an angry outburst, that the judge should let him take his (adult) son into one of the conference rooms to administer a whupping.

    What exactly does it mean, though, “I was [spanked/paddled/etc.] and I turned out okay”? You turned out okay because you were paddled, or in spite of being paddled? If it’s the former argument, aren’t you really stating, “I had so little respect for the adults in my life, including my parents, that without a threat of physical violence I would not follow their rules.” In which case maybe, just maybe, you’re confusing cause and effect?

  5. August 21, 2009 at 12:52 pm

    Clearly, the only thing to do is to make sure that your children get a tattoo on their ass with a hand and the universal “no” symbol on it. Right? Right?!

    Here’s what I find an interesting juxtaposition:

    Corporal punishment may be administered by the principal or principal’s designee in the presence of another professional employee. Corporal punishment shall not be used as the disciplinary action on a first offense, shall not be used as a choice in lieu of other disciplinary action, and shall only be used after other corrective measures have been attempted.


    Even parents who have opted out of this form of discipline, have learned that their children have been paddled by mistake.

    The “rules” surrounding how paddling is to be administered would mean that there would be adequate time to check to make sure that the student in question was “ok” to paddle (as it were). You have to get the student off to the principals office and confirm that it is not a first offense and that other corrective measures have been attempted, etc etc. In fact, if it’s not allowable on a first offense, then you would think that the teacher would check to see if there was a parental waiver form for that student “in case” the misbehavior continues so that they know ahead of time. So what’s actually happening is that the student is being paddled for a first offense, by the teacher.

    Now, whether or not you’re anti-spanking, it’s pretty clear that the policies of the school board are not being followed and that the paddlings are happening out of frustration and anger, with a tool, for first offenses, and futhermore that there is a heaping helping of shame and humiliation on top. Time to make a stink.

  6. August 21, 2009 at 1:00 pm

    @earlRichards as far as I am aware, parents may still spank their children but corporal punishment in schools is no longer allowed.

  7. August 21, 2009 at 1:05 pm

    What exactly does it mean, though, “I was [spanked/paddled/etc.] and I turned out okay”? You turned out okay because you were paddled, or in spite of being paddled? If it’s the former argument, aren’t you really stating, “I had so little respect for the adults in my life, including my parents, that without a threat of physical violence I would not follow their rules.” In which case maybe, just maybe, you’re confusing cause and effect?

    All children are different.

    If you’d put me in a corner and told me to sit quietly, it wouldn’t have been a problem for me at all, because I would have just sailed off into some imaginary place and been quite content to hang out staring at the wall.

    Most children under the age of 8 (or later) don’t have any sense of empathy. So while it’s great to try to instill “how would you like it if someone pushed you and took your toy away” on a 2 year old, they’re not going to be able to apply it until they’re much older because they’re too busy figuring out their own autonomy to try applying their feelings to someone else.

    And yeah, a lot of kids don’t want to follow the rules, it’s part of identity formation! When your parents tell you “stop doing that” and you want to keep doing it, there are going to be parts where you ignore their instructions and keep doing something.

    As far as I can remember, I can count the number of times I was spanked in my life on one hand. Spankings were administered only after I had ignored clear warnings to behave, only in worst-case scenarios, never with a tool, and not out of anger. After one or two spankings, I learned that tone, I knew that it was the “shit, my bottom’s about the hurt” tone, and that more or less got me to behave. I would never have learned to behave if I got plunked in a corner because frankly “time out” was simply not a punishment for me.

    I’m not pro-spanking by any stretch, but it makes me really uncomfortable when people make the assumption that all spanking is always abuse (I knew the difference between when I was being spanked and when I was being abused, trust me). It worked for me, it’s not like I loved it, and it really seems like a lot of people who spank their kids just haul off and whup their kids for even the most minor of infractions.

  8. Lyndsay
    August 21, 2009 at 1:05 pm

    Section 43:

    Every schoolteacher, parent or person standing in the place of a parent is justified in using force by way of correction toward a pupil or child, as the case may be, who is under his care, if the force does not exceed what is reasonable under the circumstances.

    However, I have never heard of corporal punishment being used in Canadian schools.

  9. emjaybee
    August 21, 2009 at 2:03 pm

    “Most children under the age of 8 (or later) don’t have any sense of empathy.”

    That is patent nonsense. Very young children can and do identify with fictional characters, inanimate objects, and other people and protest them being mistreated/ignored. Not consistently, not predictably, but it happens. Otherwise, the scene where Bambi’s mother dies would not be so traumatizing in so many of our memories!

    There are non-spanking options for children who are acting out; if those options fail, then the school should call the parent to come pick them up, and perhaps initiate counseling for the child who cannot control themselves.

    A child who is out of control to that extent needs assistance in managing their emotions and actions; spanking will (sometimes) suppress those behaviors, but it will not address underlying causes. On top of all the other ethical issues about letting adult teachers and administrators strike a child.

  10. Crys T
    August 21, 2009 at 2:14 pm

    What emjaybee said.

    And also, how does teaching that Might Makes Right in any way help children to learn now to behave? Surely all you teach them is fear of being beaten?

  11. August 21, 2009 at 2:16 pm

    To clarify earlier posts: All school corporal punishment in Canada is banned. Parents make strike kids over 3 and under 13, but only with a hand, and never “about the head.”

    All who read this article and who live in the 20 states that have not yet banned school physical punishment should contact their state representative and senator and ask for a law like the one just passed by the Ohio legislature last month that bans school corporal punishment.

    Meanwhile, here in Ohio, when our children attended schools with paddling in years past, each child had in their bookbag a letter from us to the school that give the child pour permission to refuse to submit to any form of physical punishment. We said it was against our religion [uh, not true, but the R word scares school officials]. The kids also had a few quarters taped there to call us from a phone booth for a pick up if necessary. The letter said the children had our permission to leave the school property if necessary to avoid being hit. We cc’d an attorney on the letter, another act of intimidation to protect our children. None were hit after that. For more info see .

  12. August 21, 2009 at 2:32 pm

    That is patent nonsense. Very young children can and do identify with fictional characters, inanimate objects, and other people and protest them being mistreated/ignored.

    Yes, but like you said, it’s not consistent or predictable. If you put a toy bear on one side of a fake mountain where it is facing a tree and a bench and put a young child on the other side where he or she sees a house and a road and ask the child to describe “what the bear sees,” he or she will reply plainly that the bear can see the house and the road, because children by default are ego-centric. When they cry and are traumatized because Bambi’s mom died, it’s often less a function of feeling bad for Bambi as they are feeling terrified that their own mother could die. It’s definitely the beginning of empathy — no argument there — but there was nothing there competing for that emotion. When a child pushes another child and takes his or her toy, telling the kid “how would you feel if someone did that to you” often can’t make it past the child’s ego of “I wanted my toy back, dammit.”

    And again, before you all start gangpiling, please bear in mind that I made it very clear that I was not at all pro-spanking. I was answering Aaron’s question.

  13. bongobunny
    August 21, 2009 at 3:47 pm

    I think “spanking,” which, in my opinion, is not an appropriate term for being hit with a wooden paddle is always inappropriate in a school setting. If a child is doing something serious enough to merit corporal punishment, their parent should be notified and allowed to weigh in.

    I personally was paddled at ages 6, 8, and 9 for “inability to pay attention” (undiagnosed ADD), falling asleep in class and basically being unable to see the board, but not saying anything because I had passed the crappy eye test the school administered.

    I think paddling is very detrimental to a shy or fearful child. Also, consider that I was being paddled for “offenses” that stemmed from problems resulting from my parents’ separation and divorce due to domestic violence. I know that I am not the only person traumatized by this, and of my friends that are African American (I am Caucasian myself), most were paddled for similar or even more ridiculous offenses—one was paddled for “giving the teacher a look!!!”

    (BTW, I do not think spanking is a useful punishment in the home, either.)

  14. S. Rose
    August 21, 2009 at 4:01 pm

    What a complicated issue. Where to even begin. First I think it’s important to be clear about the face that I am a teacher in a low income school in a low income community with a great deal of gang/drug/violent activity and that I myself grew up in that same community. I say this only to be clear about where I come from and where I am as I believe those two things impact my perspectives on this particular issue.

    That being said, I teach between thirty and forty (that’s right forty) children in a classroom every day, a number that fluctuates depending on what’s happening in the lives of my students. To say that discipline is a problem would be a severe understatement.

    I start every year in the same way. I talk about community, I talk about respect, I implement a comprehensive system for behavior and enforce relevant consequences, I go well out of the way of reasonableness and time efficacy to invest my students in learning, all of this tends to consume the first three weeks of school.

    Yes, you heard right. For the first three weeks of school my fourth graders learn nothing but how to line up, how to behave in the halls, how to speak to me, and how to speak to each other. We line up again and again, sometimes as often as 20 times a day until everyone gets it right, and those who get it the quickest help those who straggle behind. If this seems excessive know that often, many of my students have never been given clear expectations for behavior or consistent consequences.

    The previous is not a question of fault or laying blame, rather it’s a reality of life for many people from low-income backgrounds who are forced to spend more time working to keep their children clothed and fed than actually being with their children. A reality we all face in a time when three incomes is a more realistic measure for financial stability than one or two.

    In spite of my lengthy preparations, many students in my class still exhibit severe behavior issues. These issues stem from a variety of sources, some are cries for attention, others stem from mental illness, differing learning capabilities, boredom and sometimes just a plain old bad day.

    I would love to say that all of these behavioral situations are handled by me with aplomb and grace. But sometimes I yell, loud, like really loud, and sometimes I lose my temper.
    I think some of the judgment I’ve heard in previous responses, people who seem to think that a policy that is easily implemented at home with one or two or three children is just as simple to implement in a classroom of thirty or forty children ought to reconsider, or better still, give it a whirl.

    How do you call a parent that doesn’t have a phone to pick up an unruly child? How in good conscience can you call any parent to pick up a child when you know that doing so means that parent misses a day of work and the income that goes with it, a decision which directly impacts the health and well being of the child in question? Or, and here’s a really good one for all the anti-spankers out there, how do you call a parent when you know, for a fact (and I face this situation like clockwork every year) that a call home is as good as a spanking because it means that the child will receive a spanking or worse when they get home? You don’t have to be holding a belt or a paddle to do the damage, sometimes, all it takes is a phone.

    Color change charts, taking away recess, and trips to the principal’s office (provided that’s even an option, at my school, it’s not) only go so far, especially in situations where what does or does not happen in the course of the school day, regardless of what it is comprises the least of student’s problems, and yet that same school day often comprises the most face time some children have with an adult all day.

    I say all of this as someone who is charged with the care of other people’s children not to promote one side or the other of the debate, but clarify what the debate is about. This is not about how you manage the one or two or ten children you have at home, children who, I’m sure are perfectly lovely little well adjusted beings who have the privilege of attending school in a place where class size is small, teachers are under worked, and everybody shows up to teacher parent conferences (oh wait, that isn’t you?). This is about how you deal with a class of thirty or forty in a less than ideal situation, this is about thinking beyond knee jerk outrage and armchair liberalism.

    I know our educational system is broken so please, spare me the platitudes about systemic reform and educational revolution. I know about and even believe in those things too. . .but, with all due respect such lofty ideals are best left in academia and in the board rooms and offices of administrators. They have little to do the day-to-day realities I and other teachers face. We have real problems; problems that today, in this moment can’t be fixed or even dealt with by tomorrow’s promises.

  15. Gabriele
    August 21, 2009 at 5:02 pm

    Thanks for writing on this. I recently moved to Mississippi to teach and was shocked to find that corporal punishment was prevalent in the schools. Teachers literally beg parents to sign the forms so they can start paddling their kids. I have even had some parents tell me to give their child a good paddling! It’s almost impossible for teachers not to be ensnared into corporal punishment here. If you send a kid to the office, they may get paddled. If you call home about a child who isn’t behaving, their parents might beat them.

  16. beth
    August 21, 2009 at 5:05 pm

    I’m completely horrified. I live in a country (NZ) where teachers hitting childrens has been illegal for decades. There is currently a debate raging ona law that stops parents from using physical force to discipline their children. One of the arguements in favor of this is ‘force isn’t allowed in schools, and teachers manage with this’. I was busy being horrified at the numbers objecting to this law, but arrgh. I feel sorry for those who have to put up with this.
    I wouldn’t say that there is a clear link between porn and corporal punishment, but there is a sexual element to it sometimes. I believe one of the contributing factors to nz making it illegal was a principal from a large school filming himself administering punishment.

  17. libdevil
    August 21, 2009 at 6:10 pm

    And also, how does teaching that Might Makes Right in any way help children to learn now to behave? Surely all you teach them is fear of being beaten?

    Might Makes Right is a foundational principle of conservatism. Teaching that to children in the most direct way possible is not an accident.

  18. August 21, 2009 at 7:01 pm


    I cannot eve begin to imagine how difficult it is to teach under those circumstances. Last year my child was one of sixteen. I do however have a problem with referring to those of us that advocate and end to spanking as arm chair liberals. Kids that are growing in poverty already have enough issues and don’t need the trauma of physical abuse added to it. Many psychologists agree that spanking is harmful ever mind the moral aspect of teaching a child that a bigger person may hit a little person. How are we to teach them to respect their bodies when we violate them by spankings?

  19. Cactus Wren
    August 21, 2009 at 8:08 pm

    Maybe the pro-spanking advocates would change their attitude if the anti-spanking groups insisted that schools stop using cutesy euphemisms. Instead of being “paddled”, getting a certain number of “licks” from a “paddle”, say that children are being HIT or STRUCK, getting so-or-so many BLOWS with a BOARD.

  20. Bushfire
    August 21, 2009 at 8:36 pm

    Teachers literally beg parents to sign the forms so they can start paddling their kids. I have even had some parents tell me to give their child a good paddling! It’s almost impossible for teachers not to be ensnared into corporal punishment here. If you send a kid to the office, they may get paddled. If you call home about a child who isn’t behaving, their parents might beat them.

    I find this completely surreal. In Canada, a teacher would be fired for this kind of behaviour. I think they would have been fired 20 years ago for this kind of behaviour. There is so much research out there about how to teach effectively and create a positive atmosphere for learning, and most of it comes from the U.S. Who are these sickos who get a teaching job just to hit people?

  21. Bushfire
    August 21, 2009 at 8:38 pm

    Sorry folks- I quoted Gabriele and didn’t take the italics off, so now my own writing is quoted with Gabriele’s. The second paragraph is mine.

  22. August 21, 2009 at 8:53 pm

    S. Rose,

    I also teach in a high needs high school in a low income community. (I did not grow up in the community, although I live here now.) I absolutely agree that the conditions in which we have to teach, in which we are expected to make a difference in our students lives, are extremely challenging, if not impossible.

    You say that charts and detentions only work to a certain extent, but do you think that corporal punishment will do that those punishments don’t? As you said, a lot of times students who misbehave are already getting hit at home, so where is the good behavior that spanking (or worse) is supposed to produce? I didn’t get the sense that you were advocating corporal punishment, but you do seem to suggest that it might fill a void left by “time outs” and other forms of discipline. If this is the case, I could not disagree more.

    I think the original poster said it best when she described her own family’s discipline system:

    “My children are well aware of the behaviour standards for both home and school.”

    Consistancy is everything. Without it, parents and teachers alike are lost. Obviously, no one is perfect, economic and other conditions sometimes make consistancy difficult, but it goes hand in hand with discipline, no?

    The probelm with the school in which I teach is that there are no consistant standards, no consistant consequences. I can do what I can in my own classroom, but in the school at large, discipline is metted out on the whims of the administrators, the deans, based on who is having a bad day, based on who prefers the Latino students to the Black students. And this is my fear about corporal punishment, that it will be metted out with the same caprice that suspensions are at my school currently.

    My first year teaching I was frustrated on a daily basis, with my students, with myself. It was common to hear in the teachers’ lounge comments like, “God, that kid needs to get her ass kicked” or “God, that girl needs to be slapped.” I would nod, recognizing that feeling of frustration. But then, towards the end of the year, I witnessed one of my students getting her “ass kicked” by one of the security guards. The girl had mouthed off at her, and the security guard was having a bad day, so she taunted the girl, waving her finger in her face until the girl slapped the guard’s hand away. “That’s assault,” said the security guard, and proceed to “detain” the student, which consisted wrestling her to the floor, ripping her hair, calling her a fucking bitch. Everything was by the book, though. Or, at least that’s what the internal investigation said. The security guard had done no wrong. The girl spent the night in jail.

    I’ve had my bad days as a teacher, and I’m grateful that the only regrets I have are about losing my cool and yelling, and not losing my cool and hitting a kid with a paddle, or sending them to the principal for them to be hit.

    In such a flawed system, I don’t support introducing any more violence than there already is.

  23. nderaney
    August 21, 2009 at 9:05 pm

    To paraphrase Ingersoll, if corporal punishment is a positive influence, why must it be reserved for the bad and not the good?
    A hundred-plus freaking years and we’re _still_ here!?

  24. August 21, 2009 at 9:28 pm

    I have never been spanked/whipped/whooped/made to bleed with finger nails by any but my parents, whom felt that it was a necessary practice. Along with the trauma inflicted (including the void and mistrust it creates between the parent and the child) and the advocating of violence as an answer to problems (which I specifically place a great deal of blame on for how my brother turned out [up to and including his suicide]), I further place blame on this outdated and barbaric practice for the illogical way in which people think and act in society.

    Corporal punishment simply serves as a violent outlet for the anger of a parent/guardian/authority figure. It does NOTHING to explain to the person being punished WHY what they did was wrong, nor what the consequences of their actions will be, nor how they can help to rectify their actions. It is nothing more than a cop-out for the lazy, angry parent/guardian/authority figure which additionally serves to create another generation of people who have been taught to reflexively believe others when they say something is bad/wrong/evil without any proof of what harm it does (the “bad” thing could be anything from being gay, women doing “men’s” jobs, sex acts done in private between consenting adults, etc). I sincerely hope that enough people will start to question the nonsensical practices of previous generations and turn their backs on this barbarism.

  25. Trouble
    August 21, 2009 at 10:50 pm

    I wouldn’t say that there is a clear link between porn and corporal punishment, but there is a sexual element to it sometimes. I believe one of the contributing factors to nz making it illegal was a principal from a large school filming himself administering punishment.

    Even if the person adminstering the corporal punishment isn’t getting a sexual thrill out of it, I’d argue that the sexual connotations that it can hold for the child being punished are enough reason to ban it. My father was abusive, and that abuse often took the form of “spanking” (with a belt). By the time I hit puberty, I was very aware that I did not feel comfortable bent over a bed with my ass in the air while my father smacked me. It wasn’t because of porn, which I had never seen; it just crossed a line in terms of my awareness of my body, and felt violative in a new way. And that’s not even getting into the sense of violation that comes from being struck against your will, of course. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be put in that position by a relative stranger. Girls have enough issues as their bodies develop without adding to that body anxiety by being put in such a charged, subjugated position to a strange adult (or a parent, or anyone, come to that). There are also enough societal messages out there saying that females don’t really “own” their bodies without giving their school administrators free rein to lay hands on them as punishment.

  26. Shadowesque
    August 21, 2009 at 11:51 pm

    Since when is spanking considered corporal punishment?

    However, it should not be done by schools. It is for the parents to deal or not deal as they please. Teachers and other school staff should never, EVER be allowed to lay a hand on a student like that. There are other ways to punish children that don’t go against certain parents’ ideologies.

    I maintain, however, that spanking from parents/guardians is fine.

  27. Reha
    August 22, 2009 at 9:06 am

    Oh, god, that’s the school system I grew up in. When I was attending school, no teacher or staff member was allowed to lay a hand on a student — in fact, a teacher’s wife was banned from the school when she slapped a student. Now I wonder how much protection I got because I attended a majority-white suburban school.

  28. Julie
    August 22, 2009 at 9:26 am

    I am appalled…. I can’t actually believe that this is still legal in the U.S. Sometimes I think I am too sheltered in my lovely blue state of N.Y. My daughter is starting Kindergarten this fall and I can’t imagine what would be going through my or her mind if we knew that she could be hit by an authority at her school. Honestly, it would be enough for me to consider a private school and I’m lucky that I even kind of have the resources to consider that. I don’t hit at home either- I slapped my daughter’s hand once and I cried for 45 minutes afterward and decided that I would never, ever willingly inflict harm on my children again. We use time outs when necessary, but honestly I usually only have to tell them to knock it off. I do yell when I have completely had it, but that’s usually out of frustration and I always feel like shit afterwards, and I always talk with the kids about why I lost my temper, why it’s not a good response, how much I love them, etc… I grew up in constant fear of my parents and I absolutely refuse to allow my children to grow up in that environment. It makes me sick that people actually advocate this as good for children.

  29. Sass
    August 22, 2009 at 11:39 am

    I am in total agreement with the position stated in this article, but I would like to correct a couple of misconceptions.

    The first is what I believe to be an error in the post: that black girls are paddled at the highest rates. I believe the original article referenced says the difference between black and white girls is bigger than the difference between black and white boys, but implies that black boys are the most likely victims of this punishment.

    The second is the notion that’s being put across that this is somehow a pervasive American problem. Yes, apparently 21 states allow corporal punishment, but I think it’s extremely important to note a tremendous regional issue. The list of the states where corporal punishment is used “frequently” is: Missouri, Kentucky, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee and Florida. I’m sorry, but this is a Southern problem. The large majority of the US did outlaw corporal punishment decades ago, but the US is a large country and tends to leave education to the states. I think the nearly 50 million students in states that don’t allow corporal punishment need to be taken into account too, as well as the counties, cities, and school districts that choose not to allow it in their own schools.

    Now, there were still 223,000 more children victimized last year by this than there should have been. But as a total portion of the population, it’s hardly more than a cultural pocket in a huge country. And the numbers keep dropping at a decent rate — maybe it’s time for the vast majority of the US that doesn’t believe in hitting children to put pressure on the few remaining ones that do? Or to otherwise try to change that cultural attitude?

  30. August 22, 2009 at 3:19 pm

    I cannot agree more with this. I don’t see any circumstances, even those described by S. Rose which are certainly challenging, in which corporal punishment is critical or uniquely effective. Both colleagues and family members who’ve experienced it are still bearing figurative and in one case literal scars.

    RE Julie’s comment about the “lovely blue state” that apparently shelters one from this kind of violence. I too live in such a state, and have encountered many kids as well as adults who experience or have experienced it here. The dynamics S. Rose describes are not partisan in nature.

  31. Julie
    August 22, 2009 at 6:30 pm

    Well, it’s not that it shelters me from that kind of violence- I was beaten by my father as a child on more than one occasion and I can describe scenes that to this day make my skin crawl that involve the things he did to my sisters. My father and his siblings were abused even worse then we were- to the point that I want to cry when my dad talks about his childhood. I certainly have not been sheltered from violence. I was more referring to the fact that it’s illegal in NY to use corporal punishment in schools and has been since I was in Kindergarten over 20 years ago, so I can’t imagine the fear that these children and their parents feel. I work in an area where I see the kind of dynamics S. Rose described on a regular basis. I think I may have expressed myself badly- of course violence is not partisan in nature, but more progressive states tend to have better laws protecting school children from this kind of abuse at the hands of teachers. This post was a shock to me- I had no idea it was legal to hit school children with a paddle anymore. That’s what I meant.
    As far as corporal punishment, I agree that it is neither effective nor moral. My dad used to hit us across the face to the point where he would break glasses, he’s left welts, bruises, blood blisters you name it, and my mom wasn’t much better. She has hit people with muffin pans, belts, etc…, she threw a soup can at my sister’s head. It wasn’t really a fun place to grow up. I learned nothing about being a responsible human being, but I did learn that my parents were scary as hell and under no circumstances to be trusted. I wasn’t scared of doing wrong- I was scared to death of getting caught. I just learned to be very, very careful in not getting caught. I don’t think spanking teaches anything and I refuse to expose my children to it. It makes me sick when my co-workers talk about their spanking of their children or when I see friends use physical punishment on their child.

  32. Nyara
    August 22, 2009 at 6:50 pm

    I wish I could be surprised that this was still allowed. Unfortunately, society still tends to see children as property. Just look at how the pro-spanking debate is often framed- “I have a right to punish my children as I see fit!” This, of course, utterly ignores the child’s right to bodily integrity.

    I was raised by my grandmother, who, well before I was born, completely repudiated physical punishment. That doesn’t mean that I wasn’t disciplined- far from it. But the number of people who were actually offended by this was rather astounding. Teachers, other parents, extended family, at least one therapist- I was actually called a liar, more than once, for explaining that my grandma didn’t believe in spanking. And this was is supposedly liberal California, so it isn’t just a red state thing.

  33. August 22, 2009 at 7:12 pm

    “I wouldn’t say that there is a clear link between porn and corporal punishment, but there is a sexual element to it sometimes. I believe one of the contributing factors to nz making it illegal was a principal from a large school filming himself administering punishment.”

    I’m pretty uncomfortable with even intimating a not-so-clear link between porn/alternative sexualities and corporal punishment. Those in the feminist BDSM community ( or women who like to watch porn, for that matter) get VERY tired of the “oh, you must have been traumatized by your parents as a child, poor thing!” arguments.

    Yes, a sexually abusive parent can use spanking as a means of illicit sexual abuse, but I don’t think spanking per se necessarily does much to the child’s sexuality or inclination to watch porn. It CAN, of course, but I don’t feel there is a generalizable link there.

    RE: corporal punishment in schools. It was theoretically legal in ours but no one ever used it. I’m pretty against it being used in schools. At home I’m not against mild spanking on younger children–but NEVER with an instrument, NEVER in anger, and never anything that would leave marks. Characterizing everyone who spanks as ipso facto violating their child’s bodily integrity, or striking out in anger seems to be a straw man.

  34. August 22, 2009 at 8:40 pm

    Julie — gotcha. That is true — there’s only one blue state (New Mexico) in which corporal punishment is legal, whereas it is legal in about 50% of the red states (predominantly, the Bible Belt states — apparently no pun).

    The issue is both school and home related, though. Most states in which it is legal have opt-out policies that vigilant parents can choose. Problem is, these are often buried in boilerplate, which penalizes families who are less skilled in legal self-help or less fluent in English, and therefore result in racist/classist application. And often, per S. Rose’s comment, poverty is linked to abuse happening at home. So the school policy is an important part of the equation, but as per your tragic experience at home, the two environments are linked as contributors.

  35. Julie
    August 22, 2009 at 9:17 pm

    Yeah, that is terrifyingly scary. The thought of that happening to my daughter without being able to stop it is beyond horrible.
    Oh yeah, absolutely. One of the most heart breaking things that I see at work is children who are in abusive home situations and the thought of them not being able to have a safe environment at school either is tragic. I definitely agree that the two environments are linked- my sisters and I often say we are doing okay in spite of our parents and their shitty parenting skills, and I really think it’s because we had a great school experience with teachers we trusted (though none of us were ever able to tell the full extent of what we went through, because we were scared my dad would find out and our lives would be hell) and other adults who were willing to step into the roles my parents refused to fill. If we had been just as scared at school? I have no idea what my life would be like today.

  36. Julie
    August 22, 2009 at 9:21 pm

    Nyara- people rarely believe me when I say I do not spank my children. I hear things like “I don’t know of any child who hasn’t had a pop on the ass” or “Never? Really? You’ve never spanked them? Even if they ______?” I just don’t get what is so hard to understand about that. Then people assume my kids are horribly behaved, and they really aren’t. I get a lot of comments about how well behaved they are. In fact, I have a friend who is a huge believer in spanking who I stayed with about a week ago and I think my children are far better behaved than her daughter, who was mean and bossy to my kids most of the weekend.

  37. August 24, 2009 at 11:30 am

    I got a rap on the behind once or twice as a kid. Not often, not much. But to my knowledge it didn’t teach me anything either. I can’t even remember what I got them for. And no, I wouldn’t call them an outright spanking, because it was more like one hard rap on the bottom that was also the gesture that sent me in the direction of my room. Sort of like you’d rap a horse on the rump to get it moving.

    But this was few and far between, I recall my brother getting an actual spanking just once. Didn’t help either. And, I think, once my folks realised it didn’t actually help, they just stopped doing it. I don’t think it’s happened ever since.

    Here in DK it’s forbidden to corporally punish your children. Because around here we acknowledge that despite child-raising being the responsibility of parents, freedom from abuse is secured by law – nevermind that sentences are light, that’s something we need to work on, but at least the law is there. And it has been for several decades.

    In fact, the right to physically punish your children was taken away alongside the right to physically punish your servants. I think it was in the 50s – I could be wrong, though. Children and servants attained human-hood at the same time. Imagine that.

    If ever I have children (unlikely, but just in case) I’ve resolved to never ever hit them. According to a friend of mine who has children, that resolve can vanish if you get really really angry o really really scared. It’s happened to her, she admitted, and she’s struck her boys a few times. Every time she was also very ashamed of having lost control of herself so badly, and have afterwards apologized to the boys and explained why she reacted the way she did and why it was not okay. And I think, since we’re all human and we all fuck up once in a while, I think that’s a real good way to go about it, if you do manage to abandon your principles in a moment of fury or fear.

    Goodness knows those two boys have a real close and real good relationship with their mum – from what I can tell. And there’s a mutual respect between them that I often don’t see between other parents and children.

    Anyway, with no children being corporeally punished in schools we still manage to teach children to read and calculate. Spankings can’t be all that necessary, then.

  38. littlepitcher
    August 26, 2009 at 7:06 am

    Spanking has one virtue, and probably only one: A child spanked in school has a basis of comparison to actual abuse. This is not just important, but essential in the event that a child ever has to file an abuse complaint. Any and all abusers will claim that they only spanked the child, and that the child and the state are persecuting a responsible parent.

    I’ve been spanked in school and had bones broken and a lung punctured at home. In many cases, acquaintances will invalidate my experiences, as the abuser, with relatives on the police force, had. The only credibility I, and many others, possess is the ability to say “I’ve been paddled by the principal, and that was not abuse. Humiliation, perhaps, mildly painful for sure, but not abuse. “

  39. August 27, 2009 at 6:40 pm

    I don’t think that anyone outside of a child’s parents should ever spank them. They haven’t earned the right.

    We have an interesting debate going on at with teachers who deal with these students weighing in. The link below goes directly to the conversation.

  40. August 30, 2009 at 9:43 am

    I thought we were trying to end patterns of violence in schools? There is no conclusive research that coporal punishment is effective.

    Check out for somre more insight about paddling in schools.

  41. Lola
    September 22, 2009 at 7:35 pm

    I would like to add something to the conversation that I originally thought was well known by most high school graduates and certainly all college graduates but, based on the content of the article I was clearly mistaken. This is taught in any introductory psychology class (which, at least in the different Universities my friends and I attended – ranging from community college to Stanford is a required course for most majors and certainly for education majors) both in college and many high schools.

    -reinforcement is when an event following a response increases an organism’s tendency to make that response and punishment is when an event following a response decreases an organism’s tendency to make that response

    -why isn’t punishment as effective?
    -ex. if a girl is starting to cross the street and you say ‘no, stop, bad girl’ you are stopping the behavior but not letting them know what was wrong
    -can also lead to inaction – people just don’t do anything because it’s better than being punished
    -ex. if a little girl is always hitting her brother and she keeps getting punished for it she may eventually stop playing with him all together (instead of ceasing the hitting)
    -the fear of punishment can generalize to the person delivering the punishment
    -not only do you fear the punishment but you fear the person giving it
    -sometimes it doesn’t lead to an eradication of behavior, you just engage in the behavior when you know you won’t get caught

    -what can make punishment more effective?
    -don’t want it too mild or too severe
    -deliver the punishment immediately after the transgression
    -an explanation along with the punishment
    -what did you do wrong and why is that a bad thing
    -make the punishment something that involves loss of privileges instead of a onetime thing (ex. spanking)

  42. Lola
    September 22, 2009 at 7:37 pm

    oh, I dont know if this was clear but in my last point I meant that spanking would be the one time thing and loss of privileges would be something else (ex. no recess for a week, that way with each missed recess the idea that what they did was wrong is reinforced)

    additionally, I thought I’d add that its probably harder to teach children not to hit (even light hitting) when the person teaching them that lesson…is hitting them

  43. Lola
    September 22, 2009 at 7:40 pm

    Also, while i realise children from ages 2-7 tend to be ego-centric (more so with younger and less so with children around 6 and 7) when I was in first grade I was more than capable of understanding basic explanations of why something is wrong and why I shouldn’t do it anymore. And I imagine most others could as well.

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