Should Corporal Punishment Be Used in K-12 Schools?

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Nineteen states legally permit corporal punishment in public schools, while 31 states ban the practice. [28][29] Corporal punishment is defined as a “physical punishment” and a “punishment that involves hitting someone.” In K-12 schools, corporal punishment is often spanking, with either a hand or paddle, or striking a student across his/her hand with a ruler or leather strap. More extreme instances, including the use of a chemical spray and Taser, have also been recorded by US schools. [2][7]

In 2014, 94% of parents with children three to four years old reported that they had spanked their child within the past year, and 76% of men and 65% of women agreed with the statement, “a child sometimes needs a good spanking.” [9] The debate over corporal punishment, especially in schools, remains vigorous.

Source: Tim Walker, “Why Are 19 States Still Allowing Corporal Punishment in Schools?,” neatoday.org, Oct. 17, 2016

 

Should Corporal Punishment Be Used in K-12 Schools?

Pro 1

Corporal punishment is the appropriate discipline for certain children when used in moderation.

The negative effects of corporal punishment cited by critics are attached to prolonged and excessive use of the punishment. [25] Occasional use for serious behavioral issues is appropriate because time-out or taking away a toy may not work to correct behavior in a particularly willful or rambunctious child. [24] [25] LaShaun Williams, founder of childcare group Sitter Circle, stated, “there are some children who like to push their limits. Those are the children who may require a pop. Knowing your child is the key to nailing down the most effective forms of discipline… [T]oday’s disrespectful youth have shown what happens when necessary spanking is forgone.” [24]

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Pro 2

Corporal punishment sets clear boundaries and motivates children to behave in school.

Children are better able to make decisions about their behavior, exercise self-control, and be accountable for their actions when they understand the penalty they face for misbehaving is comparable to their actions. [24] Harold Bennet, PhD, President and Dean of the Charles H. Mason Theological Seminary, stated, “children need to understand boundaries and I think that children need to understand that there should be punishments… in direct proportion to the improper behavior that they might demonstrate.” [16] Some experts state that corporal punishment prevents children from persisting in their bad behavior and growing up to be criminals. [27]

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Pro 3

Corporal punishment is often chosen by students over suspension or detention.

When given the choice, students frequently choose corporal punishment because it is a quick punishment that doesn’t cause older children to miss class or other activities, or younger children to miss their valued time on the playground. [26] The child’s education is not interrupted and make-up work is not required for missed class instruction. Allison Collins, a high school senior at Robbinsville High School in North Carolina, stated she chose corporal punishment over in-school suspension when her phone rang in class. [26] Her principal, David Matheson, stated, “Most kids will tell you that they choose the paddling so they don’t miss class.” [26]

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Con 1

Corporal punishment can inflict long-lasting physical and mental harm on students.

A Dec. 2016 study found that children who were physically punished were more likely to have problems with aggression and attention. [15] [17] [18] Studies have shown that frequent use of corporal punishment leads to a higher risk for anxiety, depression, substance abuse, stress, and other mental health concerns. [17] [18] Children who experience corporal punishment are more likely to relate forms of violence with power, and are, therefore, more likely to be a bully or abuse a partner. [17] [18]

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Con 2

Corporal punishment creates an unsafe and violent school environment.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says corporal punishment “may contribute to disruptive and violent student behavior.” [11] Children who experience corporal punishment are more likely to hit or use other violence against people in order to get their way, putting other children at risk for increased bullying and physical abuse and teachers in potentially violent classrooms. [17][18] The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry states, “[c]orporal punishment signals to the child that a way to settle interpersonal conflicts is to use physical force and inflict pain. Such children may in turn resort to such behavior themselves.” [10]

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Con 3

Corporal punishment is an inappropriate punishment that harms the education of children.

Corporal punishment has been banned in US prisons and military training, and animals are protected from the same sort of punishment in every state. [14] Students who experience corporal punishment in kindergarten are more likely to have lower vocabulary scores in fourth grade and lower fifth grade math scores. [17] According to the National Women’s Law Center, “Harsh physical punishments do not improve students’ in-school behavior or academic performance. In fact… schools in states where corporal punishment is used perform worse on national academic assessments than schools in states that prohibit corporal punishment.” [14]

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Nineteen states permit corporal punishment in schools via law: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Wyoming [28]

Thirty-one states and DC ban corporal punishment in schools: Alaska, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Washington DC, West Virginia, Wisconsin [29]

Three states with a ban on corporal punishment allow teachers to use “a reasonable degree of force” on a child who is creating a disturbance: Maine, New Hampshire, and South Dakota. [19][20][21]

70% of corporal punishment happens in five states—Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, and Texas—with the latter two making up 35% of all cases. [8] As of Mar. 1, 2017, a bill was under consideration to completely ban corporal punishment in Maine. [3] A bill in Colorado to ban corporal punishment was proposed but died in the Senate on Mar. 13, 2017. [22] [23]

There is no federal ban or law regulating corporal punishment, but the practice is prohibited in the federal Head Start program. [4] In 1977, the US Supreme Court decision in Ingraham v. Wright found that corporal punishment was not cruel and unusual punishment and is, thus, allowed in schools. [4] No more recent federal court ruling has been made.

Data show that more than 109,000 students (down from 163,333 in the 2011-2012 school year) were physically punished in more than 4,000 schools in 21 states during the 2013-2014 school year, including some students in states where the practice is banned. [4][12] Rural, low-income, black, male students were more likely to have experienced corporal punishment. [9] Children with disabilities also experience corporal punishment at higher rates than other students. [9]

Some school districts have very specific rules for the punishment. Central Parish in Louisiana states that three swats with a paddle “approximately 20 inches long, 4 inches wide, and not exceeding ¼ inch in thickness” is the appropriate punishment. [4] However, other districts do not offer guidance. Daryl Scoggin, the superintendent of the Tate County, Mississippi, school district stated: “It’s kind of like, I had it done to me, and so I knew what I needed to do. I guess it’s more that you learn by watching… We don’t practice on dummies or anything like that.” [4]

Internationally, 54 countries ban corporal punishment in all instances, including at home. [6] Most countries ban corporal punishment in some instances. [6] Only nine countries do not ban corporal punishment in any instances: Botswana, Guyana, Malaysia, Mauritania, Nigeria, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, and United Republic of Tanzania. [6]

 

Footnotes:

  1. Education Week, “Is Corporal Punishment an Option in Your State?,” edweek.org, Aug. 23, 2016
  2. Merriam-Webster, “Corporal Punishment,” merriam-webster.com (accessed Apr. 10, 2017)
  3. Russell Wilson, “Bill Would Finally, Fully Ban Corporal Punishment in Maine Schools,” mainebeacon.com, Mar. 1, 2017
  4. Sarah D. Sparks and Alex Harwin, “Corporal Punishment Use Found in Schools in 21 States,” edweek.org, Aug. 23, 2016
  5. Tim Walker, “Why Are 19 States Still Allowing Corporal Punishment in Schools?,” neatoday.org, Oct. 17, 2016
  6. Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children, Interactive Map, endcorporalpunishment.org (accessed Apr. 10, 2017)
  7. PBS NewsHour, “Assessing Whether Corporal Punishment Helps Students, or Hurts Them,” pbs.org, Aug. 23, 2016
  8. Melinda D. Anderson, “Where Teachers Are Still Allowed to Spank Students,” theatlantic.com, Dec. 15, 2015
  9. Child Trends, “Attitudes toward Spanking,” childtrends.org, Nov. 2015
  10. American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, “Corporal Punishment in Schools,” aacap.org, Sep. 2014
  11. American Academy of Pediatrics, “Corporal Punishment in Schools,” Pediatrics, Aug. 2000
  12. Donna St. George, “Parents Allege Corporal Punishment at Blue Ribbon School in Maryland,” washingtonpost.com, Dec. 6, 2015
  13. John B. King, Jr., Letter to States Calling for an End to Corporal Punishment in Schools, ed.gov, Nov. 22, 2016
  14. National Women’s Law Center, “An Open Letter to End Corporal Punishment in Schools,” nwlc.org, Nov. 21, 2016
  15. Romeo Vitelli, “Spare the Rod and Spoil the Child?,” psychologytoday.com, Jan. 18, 2017
  16. NPR, “Does Sparing the Rod Spoil the Child?,” npr.org, June 19, 2012
  17. Emily Cuddy and Richard V. Reeves, “Hitting Kids: American Parenting and Physical Punishment,” brookings.edu, Nov. 6, 2014
  18. Catherine A. Taylor, Jennifer A. Manganello, Shawna J. Lee, and Janet C. Rice, “Mothers’ Spanking of 3-Year-Old Children and Subsequent Risk of Children’s Aggressive Behavior,” Pediatrics, May 2010
  19. FindLaw, “South Dakota Corporal Punishment in Public Schools Law,” findlaw.com (accessed Apr. 11, 2017)
  20. FindLaw, “New Hampshire Corporal Punishment in Public Schools Law,” findlaw.com (accessed Apr. 11, 2017)
  21. Russell Wilson, “Bill Would Finally, Fully Ban Corporal Punishment in Maine Schools,” mainebeacon.com, Mar. 1, 2017
  22. Brian Eason, “Bill Would Ban Corporal Punishment in Colorado Public Schools,” denverpost.com, Jan. 23, 2017
  23. Nicholas Garcia, “Corporal Punishment Bill Goes Down in Colorado Senate Committee,” denverpost.com, Mar. 13, 2017
  24. L. Nicole Williams, “8 Reasons to Spank Your Kids,” madamenoire.com, Feb. 8, 2011
  25. Okey Chigbo, “Disciplinary Spanking Is Not Child Abuse,” Child Abuse, 2004
  26. Jess Clark, “Where Corporal Punishment Is Still Used in Schools, It’s Roots Run Deep,” npr.org, Apr. 12, 2017
  27. Walter E. Williams, “Making a Case for Corporal Punishment,” questia.com, Sep. 13, 1999
  28. Christina Caron, “In 19 States, It’s Still Legal to Spank Children in Public Schools,” nytimes.com, Dec. 13, 2018
  29. Elizabeth T. Gershoff and Sarah A. Font, “Corporal Punishment in U.S. Public Schools: Prevalence, Disparities in Use, and Status in State and Federal Policy,” Social Policy Report, 2016