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corporal punishment

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Over 109,000 Students Endure Physical Punishment Every Year

by Judy Molland, Care 2

August 26, 2016

Trey Clayton, who grew up in Mississippi, was used to being paddled. By his own admission, he disobeyed teachers and didn’t do his homework. He chose paddling over suspension.

But one day he talked back to the school librarian and was sent to the principal’s office. Here’s how he tells what happened next:

“So, I get three licks. They started to escort me to class. We walk out of his office. I went to walk around him and just woke up on the floor. I felt something in my mouth. And I start holding my hand out just to see what it is. And I start spitting out teeth, like shards of my teeth.

“I done bit through both sides of my tongue. I have got one tooth already missing, and my jaw’s broke. And my mouth stays wired shut for six weeks.”

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Corporal Punishment Found In 21 States

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While the use of corporal punishment in public schools has declined rapidly across the US in the past 20 years, it is still legal in 19 states.

Yet a new report by the Education Week Research Center found physical punishment is actually being used in 21 states across the country. More than 109,000 students endured beating or other forms of physical punishment during the 2013 to 2014 school year at over 4,000 schools.

Using the most recent civil rights data available from the Education Department, researchers found that policies vary both from state to state and even from school to school, with little guidance and virtually no accountability. They also found such punishment at all grade levels, from kindergarten to high school.

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States Using Corporal Punishment

Corporal punishment at a school involves paddling, spanking, or any kind of physical discipline inflicted on a child.

From Education Week:

“Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee, and Oklahoma physically disciplined the most students in 2013-14—though the practice continues to be the most widespread in Mississippi, where more than half of students attend schools that use paddling and other physical discipline. But students were physically punished even in a few states that prohibit the practice.”

Within those states that use this form of punishment, African-American students made up 22% of overall enrollment in schools, but a whopping 38% of these students received this form of discipline in the 2013 to 2014 school year. Compare this to the fact that white students comprised 60% of total enrollment, but only just half of the students punished in this way.

In addition, the report also found that low income students were more likely to experience corporal punishment in the states where it is permitted.

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Why Corporal Punishment Is Wrong

These discrepancies are not the only reason that corporal punishment is wrong.

After Trey Clayton broke his jaw and had his mouth wired shut for six weeks, he missed taking important exams and was never allowed to make them up. He became less and less interested in doing well at school and eventually dropped out.

Speaking on the PBS NewsHour, Sarah Sparks, one of the authors of the Education Week report, discussed the research showing that punishing a child physically can lead to higher aggression rates and more defiance of adults. She also cited a study showing that students paddled several times had “lower brain matter in the part of the brain associated with self control.”

Alarmed by these reports, numerous medical and human rights groups have called for an end to this ineffective and potentially dangerous practice.

“You want to keep kids in the classroom, but to suggest that the only way to keep them in is to beat them with a stick is ludicrous,” said Dennis Parker, director of the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program.

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Better Ways To Discipline

As a teacher, I know that to teach effectively, I have to first establish a well-disciplined classroom in order for my students to learn. My goal is for each student to learn to take responsibility for herself.

Children who suffer beatings do not learn self-discipline. Instead, the more kids are punished for their lack of self-control, the less they have. They rely on being controlled by outside forces, but don’t internalize that control. And they are also likely to pass that method of punishment onto their own children.

Across the country, more and more schools are turning to restorative justice as they realize that not only do traditional disciplinary measures like paddling fail to deter misbehavior, they can also make student failure increasingly likely, as children become more and more disengaged from school.

Instead of employing physical punishment or suspension, restorative justice empowers students to resolve conflicts on their own and in small groups. The practice brings students together in peer-mediated small groups to air their grievances, talk and ask questions. Kids have to face up to what they have done and talk everything through with their peers and teachers. The practice is in growing use in U.S. schools.

It is long past time for all states in the US to ban the use of corporal punishment.

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Judy Molland is an award-winning writer and teacher, and also an avid hiker, backpacker, and nature lover. Her articles on education, the environment and women’s rights, have appeared in numerous publications, and she is also the author of two books, Get Out! 150 Easy Ways for Kids and Grown-Ups to Get Into Nature and Build a Greener Future, and Straight Talk About Schools Today. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she teaches Spanish.

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Listen to Paul Thorn performing “It’s a Great Day to Whoop Somebody’s Ass”

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2 Responses to “corporal punishment”


  1. 1 Willow54
    October 20, 2016 at 5:40 am

    This is an archaic form of punishment that has no place in 21st century society, and yet, many countries still allow corporal punishment, either in schools, or in some cases still, in judicial form, in courts and prisons.

    Notably, the places that do still retain corporal punishment (CP) have links, however tenuous, to their former colonial governmental systems. Malaysia, Singapore, Jamaica, and of course, the US. The laws that support the continuation of “flogging” have all been derived, it has to be said, from ancient British statutes that permitted them in my country’s not so distant past. Judicial CP was banned in Britain in the 1940’s, although one small island in the UK geography (The Isle of Man) retained birching until the 1970’s. Courts there continued to dole out beatings for juveniles up to the age of 21 until the European Court of Human Rights banned it across all European Union areas.

    State schools in the UK continued to use CP until it was banned in the early 1980’s. Private schools, however, continued to use it until they eventually accepted the ban in the 1990’s. Nowadays there is nowhere in Europe that allows the use of CP in schools or in a judicial environment.

    Americans may remember a notorious case from the 1990’s where an 18 year old boy was subjected to a flogging in prison in Singapore for vandalising cars. This case brought attention to the use of CP mainly because it was an American teen involved, and because it was widely seen to be a punishment that didn’t fit the crime. Obviously teens in the US would never have been subject to a court-ordered whipping for doing the same. There was particular concentration on the case because in advance of the teen receiving his flogging, lurid stories and images of the potential results had been published in the US press. Pictures of bleeding, wounded buttocks of other prison inmates shocked many Americans. Although it highlighted the barbarity of the punishment and caused outrage amongst politicians, right up to and including the President, who intervened with the Singaporean leader on the teens’ behalf, the punishment was merely shortened rather than waived, and the boy came home from Singapore with lifelong scars as a consequence. And, of course, it didn’t stop Singapore from flogging delinquents in its’ prisons. They’re still doing it to this day, and indeed, have extended the number and type of crimes that attract this form of punishment.

    Clearly CP is not going away in these countries, and based on the article above, I’m not convinced there is an appetite to get rid of it across America either. Good luck with it though.

  2. 2 BobH
    October 22, 2016 at 9:42 pm

    Don’t imagine that restorative justice is the solution to all ills in school. My school is on year 2 of RJ, and we are gradually coming to accept that RJ is an adjunct to regular discipline and sanctions. There is no need for an RJ “circle” discussion with a counselor or RJ leader and the “person who has been harmed” if what the kid has done has been running in the hall or talking too much in class. A short detention is entirely suitable, with after school community service for more serious or repeated behaviors. We try to work by “every day is a new day” but that wears thin if a kid has substantially the same misbehaviors every day and unsettles the class.
    I have been advocating that RJ should be used when a kid has been mean or thoughtless, and that regular sanctions should apply for minor misbehavior. Last year our school had very poor behavior in almost every classroom and situation – except athletics. In athletics, bad behavior resulted in temporary or permanent exclusion from play. In the classroom, there were initially no sanctions at all except sending out to “reflect” on the unacceptable behavior. I got tired of kids coming in to my classroom to do a reflection and seeing that they wrote “IDK” (I don’t know) entries for the four questions that were supposed to make them reflect. Later in the year that changed to “IDC” (I don’t care). But it was a small minority of kids in all classes who were disruptive. The other kids were quietly fed up with them for spoiling the depth of their education. I ran my own lunch time detentions. Gradually towards the end of the year, routine traditional punishments were used – hundreds of lunch time detentions imposed by admin gradually turned the tide. We continued to use RJ where there were moral questions (meanness or thoughtlessness). The high school to which our 8th graders went are struggling with the behavior of a small minority of our former 8th graders. This is not equipping our youngsters for the world of work.


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