Is the Hickory Stick out of Tune?
Irwin A. Hyman
Last April, the United States Supreme Court, in the case of Ingraham v. Wright, decided in a five-to-four decision that schoolchildren are not entitled to constitutional protection from cruel and unusual forms of corporal punishment. The meaning of the decision requires extended discussion. Immediately, a groundswell of renewed debate arose concerning the need for and effectiveness of corporal punishment as a method of school discipline.
At the same time, many educators are concerned about the results of recent Gallup polls which indicate that school discipline is the number-one educational concern of citizens. In a developing struggle which relates to many concerns besides discipline, two camps of parents and educators are emerging.
On one side are parents and educators who have greeted the Supreme Court ruling as further reinforcement for the "back to basics" movement. They view the decision as a sign that the Court is stepping back from the kinds of constitutional positions it took in the Goss v. Lopez case, which entitled children to due process before suspension. They insist that courts should not meddle in the everyday affairs of local educators. This group tends to harbor an almost religious faith in the proverbial warning "Spare the rod and spoil the child." They believe that love and physically painful punishment are compatible and effective adjuncts to the development of good moral character and the desire to learn.
At the other end of the educational-political continuum are parents and teachers who view the Supreme Court decision as a step backward in the establishment of children as citizens legally entitled to full constitutional protection. They cite the massive psychological and educational literature which demonstrates that punishment, especially physically painful punishment, only serves temporarily to suppress behaviors and that reward and internalized incentives are vastly superior in encouraging learning. They emphasize the research on modeling which demonstrates that children
This essay first appeared in Today's Education, April-May 1978.