Magazine article New York Times Upfront

Battle over the Paddle: Is Corporal Punishment an Effective Disciplinary Tool in School or a Form of Child Abuse?

Magazine article New York Times Upfront

Battle over the Paddle: Is Corporal Punishment an Effective Disciplinary Tool in School or a Form of Child Abuse?

Article excerpt

When Tyler Anastopoulos got in trouble for skipping detention at City View Junior/Senior High School in Wichita Falls, Texas, last year, he received the same punishment that students in rural parts of the state have been getting for generations.

Tyler, now a senior, was sent to the assistant principal, who gave him three swift swats to the backside with a paddle. The blows were so severe, his mother says, that they caused deep bruises, and Tyler wound up in the hospital.

Corporal punishment is still permitted in 19 states, according to the Center for Effective Discipline (C.E.D.) in Ohio, which tracks its use in schools around the country and encourages its end. Most of those states are in the South, where paddling remains a part of the social fabric of some communities.

Each year, a number of state legislatures debate whether corporal punishment in school is an archaic form of child abuse or an effective means of discipline. In March, New Mexico banned the practice in schools. Texas and North Carolina passed laws in June allowing parents to opt their kids out of corporal punishment.

The new opt-out comes as a relief to Angie Herring, Tyler's mother, who was appalled by the authority Texas schools seemed to have in disciplining students.

"If I did that to my son," Herring says, "Td go to jail."

Tyler told his story to Texas lawmakers last spring as they considered a ban.

Threat of Lawsuits

Steve Harris, the superintendent of the City View school system in Wichita Falls, says his investigation found no wrongdoing on the school's part in Tyler's case. Corporal punishment, Harris says, has long been "one of the tools in the toolbox we use for discipline."

Up until 25 years ago, corporal punishment in public schools could be found in all but a handful of states, says Nadine Block, founder of the C.E.D. Prompted by the threat of lawsuits and by research that questioned its effectiveness, states gradually started banning the practice. And even in states that permit it, many school districts have banned it locally.

More than 100 countries prohibit corporal punishment in school, including Canada and almost all of Europe.

"For being one of the most progressive, advanced countries, we're very behind on how we treat our children," says Deb Sendek of the C.E.D.

In the U.S., more than 223,000 children were subjected to corporal punishment during the 2005-06 school year (the most recent for which data is available), according to the Department of Education in Washington, D.C. That number is nearly a 20 percent drop from a few years earlier, Block says.

In Texas, about 27 of 1,000 school districts still use corporal punishment, says Jimmy Dunne, the president of People Opposed to Paddling Students, another group against the practice.

"Hitting children in our schools with boards is child abuse, and it promotes child abuse at home," says Dunne, a former math teacher in Houston. "Parents see it's legal in schools and think it's OK to do at home."

Defending a Tradition

In New Mexico, opponents of the new ban, like State Senator Vernon Asbill, worry that it will fie teachers' hands and make it harder for them to control students. "With parental supervision and parental approval, I believe it's appropriate," says Asbill, a longtime teacher and school administrator from Carlsbad. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.