Freethought San Marcos: A column
by LAMAR W. HANKINS
The recent news story about the decision of Temple, Texas, school officials to return to paddling students for misbehavior caused me to take another look at the 150,000 year old practice. I figure that the practice is as old as human beings, who are about that old. What happened in Temple, apparently, is that some parents demanded that their sons and daughters be paddled for misbehavior while in school so that there would be consequences for that misbehavior.
I guess these parents never heard of time out, losing allowances, losing privileges, being closely supervised by an adult, requiring a child to be with an adult during all waking hours, losing special activities, counseling, being assigned to special education environments, giving praise for good behavior and withholding it for bad behavior, etc. The only consequence they thought of was what the psychologists call corporal punishment, and others call spanking, paddling, or beating. According to one study, about 90 percent of parents have used corporal punishment on their children. In Temple, some of those parents want the schools to do the same.
The National Association of School Nurses defines corporal punishment as “the intentional infliction of physical pain as a method of changing behavior. It may include methods such as hitting, slapping, punching, kicking, pinching, shaking, use of various objects (paddles, belts, sticks, or others), or painful body postures.” That last example sounds a lot like descriptions of torture we heard for the last eight years.
The criminal law calls corporal punishment assault. In 1973, the Texas Legislature realized that unless it provided an exemption from the assault statute for teachers, parents, and guardians, these people could be charged with assault any time they corporally punished a child. Corporal punishment causes “bodily injury to another” or causes “physical contact with another when the person knows or should reasonably believe that the other will regard the contact as offensive,” both ways in which assault is defined in the Texas Penal Code. A related assaultive offense is called “injury to a child.” So the Legislature provided exemptions from the assault statutes for “special relationships” between children and their parents, educators, or guardians in sections 9.61, 9.62, and 9.63 of the Texas Penal Code.
Texas is a leading state when it comes to corporal punishment. About 25 percent of all such punishment that occurs in the US happens in Texas. Of course, 30 states have prohibited corporal punishment, so Texas is among the other 20 states that believe children alone should be singled out to experience assault from “authority” figures.
Predominant among the reasons given by Temple-area proponents for corporal punishment is the possibility of instilling fear in the students–the fear of being beaten. Others are concerned about the disrespect shown by students toward adults. That excuse is at least as old as Socrates (according to Plato). And Hesiod, a Greek poet and writer about Greek mythology, economics, farming, astronomy, and time-keeping in the 8th century B.C., is reported to have written “…certainly all youth are reckless beyond words. When I was a boy, we were taught to be discrete and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly wise and impatient of restraint.” And the Bible is often looked to for what a parent should do when a child does not behave well. Proverbs 13:24 (New International Version) provides that “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.”
Of course, the most extreme Biblical response to a stubborn and rebellious son is found in Deuteronomy 21:18-21 (New International Version): “If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town. They shall say to the elders, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a profligate and a drunkard.’ Then all the men of his town shall stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you. All Israel will hear of it and be afraid.” Fear is to be the great motivator. When I was a child, death threats would certainly have made me afraid.
Jimmy Dunne, President of People Opposed to Paddling Students (POPS), a nonprofit group in Houston, Texas, takes this position: “”Adults are role models for children’s behavior. When we hit, slap or spank, children learn to hit.” This view certainly influenced me as a parent, but of greater importance was that I did not want to be the sort of person who resorted to violence when frustrated by a stubborn or rebellious child.
Time Magazine recently reported on the subject, writing that “The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not endorse spanking for any reason, citing its lack of long-term effectiveness as a behavior-changing tactic.” A well-designed study done at Tulane University and just published in the medical journal “Pediatrics” found that out of almost 2500 children studied, those who were physically punished frequently at age three were more likely to be aggressive at age five than those who were not physically punished. One conclusion from the Tulane study is that prior spanking is a strong predictor of later physical aggression by those who were spanked.
The Tulane study concluded, in part: “This study adds to the growing body of literature suggesting that parental use of CP (corporal punishment) may lead to increased child aggression. This evidence base suggests that primary prevention of violence can start with efforts to prevent the use of CP against children. Pediatricians and others concerned with children’s well-being know that CP is not a necessary form of child discipline and that other, more or equally effective, nonphysical forms of discipline exist. Reductions in parents’ use of CP (demonstrated in randomized, clinical trials of parenting interventions designed to treat conduct disorder in children) have been shown to reduce children’s subsequent aggression… .”
In the Time Magazine report, Dr. Jayne Singer, clinical director of the child and parent program at Children’s Hospital Boston, cited the Tulane study findings as evidence against the use of CP: those children who were spanked (as compared to those who were not) were more likely to be defiant, demand immediate satisfaction of their wants and needs, get frustrated easily, have temper tantrums, and lash out physically against others. It appears that CP instills fear in the child rather than helps the child understand the undesirable behavior, and CP models aggressive behavior as a way to handle problems.
One of the authors of the study, Catherine Taylor, a community health researcher at the Tulane University School of Public Health, said “There are ways to discipline children effectively that do not involve hitting them and that can actually lower their risk for being more aggressive. So the good news is, parents don’t have to rely on spanking to get the results that they want. If they avoid spanking but instead use effective, non-physical types of discipline, their child has a better chance of being healthier, and behaving better later.”
Of course, such studies will not likely sway parents and school administrators such as those in Temple, Texas, who want to be able to use corporal punishment against students. Neither will opposition to corporal punishment by The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, The American School Counselor Association, The American Academy of Pediatrics, and The National Association of Secondary School Principals.
One of the great ironies of Supreme Court jurisprudence is that the Court in 1977 concluded that the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment does not apply to children confined to a classroom, but it does apply to prisoners. It used to be acceptable for men to hit wives, slaves, fraternity pledges, and children. Now, only children are left unprotected. And numerous reports on the subject have found that the children most likely to receive corporal punishment are those who are officially handicapped or disabled.
My personal experience with corporal punishment–as the recipient of it–caused me to harbor profound hatred toward the person inflicting the pain. Some victims of the practice have more than emotional trauma–they experience physical damage. A 2009 report by Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union found that “The Society for Adolescent Medicine has documented serious medical consequences resulting from corporal punishment, including severe muscle injury, extensive blood-clotting (hematomas), whiplash damage and hemorrhaging. … Corporal punishment led to deterioration in family life, as parents were forced to withdraw children from school, resort to homeschooling and give up jobs.”
A special-education teacher in Mississippi remarked to researchers for the 2009 HRW-ACLU report: “I see these children who get in fights and then get paddled. So you’re supposed to teach them not to hit by hitting them?” That has always seemed one of the great unanswered ironies in the practice of corporal punishment. If the Texas Legislature recognizes that corporal punishment is assault, as that is defined by our criminal laws, why can’t a majority of the rest of us understand that and conclude that assaulting children is never acceptable, no matter who does it?
© Freethought San Marcos, Lamar W. HankinsEmail | Print