Magazine article New York Times Upfront

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

Magazine article New York Times Upfront

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

Article excerpt

One day in the spring of 2016, Kemyriah Patie, a first-grader at Fair Elementary School in Louisville, Mississippi, was accused of saying something inappropriate to another student.

Three teachers administered the punishment. Two held Kemyriah down while she squirmed and screamed, and a third used a wooden paddle to strike her repeatedly on the backside and legs. Her mother, Shawanda Patie, found out about it that day after school.

"I was in an outrage," Patie says. When she saw black-and-blue bruises all over the backs of her daughter's legs, she took her to the emergency room.

"My baby couldn't walk right for a week and a half," she says. "My child was a straight-A student, and they made her fear school."

Corporal punishment in schools remains legal in 22 states (see map). While its use is declining, it happens more than many people realize: According to the Department of Education, about 110,000 students were physically punished--usually paddled--in school during the 2013-14 school year, the latest for which data is available.

But the practice is still hotly debated, and critics have sought to end it.

Declining Use

In 1977, the Supreme Court upheld corporal punishment in schools, ruling in Ingraham v. Wright that it did not constitute "cruel and unusual punishment" under the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution. Despite that ruling, the following two decades saw a sharp decline in the use of corporal punishment: Between 1974 and 1994, 25 states banned its use in schools. In 2015, then-Secretary of Education John King wrote to all state governors and school system chiefs, advising them to end corporal punishment. In the states that still permit paddling as a form of school discipline, which are mostly in the South, many individual school districts have banned its use.

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

In 2016, six states--Arkansas, Colorado, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, and Texas--considered laws banning corporal punishment in schools, but none of those bills passed. Last year, Oklahoma and Louisiana banned corporal punishment for disabled students, and Tennessee is considering doing the same. Lawmakers in Arizona are now considering a bill that would ban all corporal punishment in schools.

Many parents and school officials in the South continue to support the practice. Kimberly Zacher, of Dexter, Georgia, wasn't bothered a bit when her 13-year-old daughter, Kaley, was paddled a few years ago in school for repeatedly failing to do her homework.

"We want her to know that if she does wrong, there's a consequence for those actions," Zacher says. "If you take corporal punishment out of the schools, what are you left with? There's not a lot a teacher or a principal can do to a child to make them understand that when you do things wrong, there are consequences. …

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