Stimulating Critical Thinking in the Undergrad Classroom: The Spanking Debate

By Walker, Susan K.; Benson, Lisa J. | Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences, Fall 2010 | Go to article overview

Stimulating Critical Thinking in the Undergrad Classroom: The Spanking Debate


Walker, Susan K., Benson, Lisa J., Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences


To encourage critical thinking and expression of viewpoints by undergraduate students, an in-class debate on the issue of spanking as a disciplinary practice and its impact on children's development is presented as a class activity. Specific details on how the debate is conducted are provided. Evaluation results suggest that the activity is popular with students and that it may help them understand diverse child rearing viewpoints and clarify their own attitudes about spanking.

College instructors value teaching activities that engage students, assist in the development of practical skills, and help students acquire a wider understanding of human behavior. In this article, we describe the use of an in-class, prepared debate in an undergraduate course that addresses these three objectives. In contrast to a traditional lecture format, classroom debate actively promotes the development of logic and reasoning skills (Jerome & Algarra, 2005). Argumentation of a specific issue allows students to move beyond summary and exposition of positivistic facts and to engage in critical thinking, evaluation, and argument construction (Driver, Newton, & Osborne, 2000; Jerome & Algarra, 2005). The development of argumentation skills and an appreciation for divergent viewpoints are theoretically important to students' becoming critical citizens and active participants in a democratic society (Mason & Scirica, 2006; Patronis, Potari, & Spiliotopolou, 1999). Mounting evidence indicates the ability to identify, defend, and evaluate emotional positions are central to educational practice in a variety of disciplines (Duschl & Osborne, 2002; Mason & Scirica, 2006; Sandoval & Millwood, 2005).

CORPORAL PUNISHMENT AS THE TOPIC OF DEBATE

An engaging topic is an important prerequisite to active student involvement in debate. As a disciplinary practice, spanking children by parents remains a hot button issue in U.S. society and is an ideal topic to attract student interest. Media reports of extreme parenting practices, proposed legislation to ban corporal punishment by parents (Zapler, 2007), active bans in public schools, and broad diversity of opinion about the effectiveness of spanking as a discipline strategy keep this topic both current and controversial. The substantial body of research on the effectiveness of spanking as a discipline strategy, its short- and long-term impact on the parentchild relationship and on child development, and its role in family cultural practice has divided the views within the academic community into two sides, which lend value to it as a debate topic (DelCampo & DelCampo, 2009). Summary and original research by authors such as Larzelere and Kuhn (2005) on one side and Straus and Paschall (2009) on the other, are available to prepare relevant debate arguments. The topic of spanking has relevance to a wide variety of issues and disciplines and is applicable to students' future professional and personal practices. Students who plan to work in social services, parenting education, or criminal justice, for example, find the topic particularly applicable to their intended practice. Students who plan to work in family and consumer sciences (FCS) education may find both the topic and the learning activity relevant for future classroom use. As young adults, many college students are beginning to consider parenthood or are actively parenting, thus making the issue personally meaningful.

CONDUCTING THE DEBATE

The first author created a debate activity to use in an undergraduate survey course on child development, inspired by the treatment of the issue by DelCampo and DelCampo in the Taking Sides series (2009). This participatory learning activity is part of the topical section of the course that covers social and emotional development in early childhood. As much of this topical section discusses young children's behavior and discipline, and because early childhood is often when parents' use of spanking as a form of punishment and guidance is most prevalent (Regalado, Sareen, Inkelas, Halfen, & Wissow, 2004; Walsh, 2002), the spanking debate is a natural fit for a discussion about the use of corporal punishment. …

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