Issue of Corporal Punishment: Re-Examined

By Andero, Abraham A.; Stewart, Allen | Journal of Instructional Psychology, June 2002 | Go to article overview

Issue of Corporal Punishment: Re-Examined


Andero, Abraham A., Stewart, Allen, Journal of Instructional Psychology


The use of corporal punishment is one of the most controversial parenting practices and it will continue to be controversial. Although the effects of corporal punishment on children is still undergoing rigorous scientific debate, less attention has been devoted to why parents spank their children. The primary concern of this review of issue of corporal punishment was to identify the major reason(s) why parent spank their child. The belief of the reviewer is that there can be no progress until more attention is devoted to why parents spank their children. This is the side of the issue that the critics failed to address. In this article, I describe and compare the prons and cons of issue of corporal punishment. Many educators support the old notion of spare the rod and spoil the child. As a result, they advocate paddling as a method of disciplining children in school. This reinforces the importance of early training in forming a person's lifelong character.

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Corporal punishment is a discipline method in which a supervising adult deliberately inflicts pain upon a child in response to a child's unacceptable behavior and/or inappropriate language. The immediate aims of such punishment are usually to halt the offence, prevent its recurrence and set an example for others. The purported long-term goal is to change the child's behavior and to make it more consistent with the adult's expectations. In corporal punishment, the adult usually hits various parts of the child's body with a hand, or with canes, paddles, yardsticks, belts, or other objects expected to cause pain and fear (Dayton 1994).

Under the common law, teachers and other school personnel have the right to administer reasonable corporal punishment, which is the infliction of physical pain on a student for misconduct. State Statutes deal with corporal punishment in different ways. Some States authorize it; others forbid it. Still others are silent on the matter but by implication. New York permits corporal punishment unless local boards of education prohibit it. Kentucky allows a teacher to use physical force to maintain reasonable discipline in a school, class, or other group.

In the landmark Supreme Court decision Ingraham v. Wright, the court held that corporal punishment of students does not violate the Eighth Amendment nor the due process guarantees of the Fourteenth Amendmend. The Court said that the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment applies to criminals only and is not applicable to the disciplining of students in public schools. The Court noted that at common law a single principle has governed the use of corporal punishment since before the American Revolution: Teachers may impose reasonable but not excessive force to discipline a child. The crucial area of concern for this review, then, has been the breadth and scope of progress involvement in the issues of corporal punishment in schools and at home.

There are some isolated tribal hunting and gathering societies in which parents almost never hit children, but these nonviolent societies are the exceptions. They are important, however, because they are also societies where relationships between adults tend to be non-violent. Adults members of most non-literate tribal societies, like people in almost all literate societies, hit children and are also prone to violent among themselves. Societies in which children are hit have cultural norms and beliefs that label corporal punishment as different from violence between adults. But in reality, the basic elements are almost identical. In fact, the only important way they are different is that the culture defines one as legitimate and the other criminal (Straus, 1994).

Corporal punishment of students has been defined by the American Medical Association as the "intentional infliction of pain or discomfort and/or use of physical force upon a student as punishment for an offense or behavior. …

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