Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Southern Schools Rethink Sparing the Rod Corporal Punishment's Revival Reflects Nation's Conservative Shift

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Southern Schools Rethink Sparing the Rod Corporal Punishment's Revival Reflects Nation's Conservative Shift

Article excerpt

EARLY this year, a second-grade teacher in Itta Bena, Miss., collared a disruptive student and walloped him 20 times on the backside as his classmates watched.

Although paddling is permitted in elementary school here, it is supposed to be done temperately, and in private. The teacher was convicted of assault.

Such punishment, of the teacher, may be more the exception than the rule these days.

Across the country - and particularly in the South - school officials and lawmakers are reviving old ideals about keeping order in the classroom with corporal punishment. Those who raise Cain are increasingly receiving the cane.

Proponents say it could help teachers control a student body that is rowdier than ever before. Critics argue that paddling promotes violence, takes power away from parents, and affects a disproportionate number of poor and minority students.

If corporal punishment makes a comeback, it will not only change the tenor of public schools but also mark another triumph for the growing number of Americans who believe that when it comes to social problems - from crime to welfare dependency - the best solution is more discipline.

"Americans are on a conservative kick right now," says Irwin Hyman, a professor at Temple University in Philadelphia and opponent of corporal punishment. "This push to the right means that we're going back to a more punitive society ... and that more kids will be subjected to spankings."

Southern spankings

According to statistics compiled by the Department of Education, the South is the nation's most paddle-friendly region. Although 27 states have banned corporal punishment in schools, only one southern state, Virginia, is among them.

In 1992, nearly 12 percent of students in Arkansas received some form of school spanking, a figure four times the national average. Mississippi placed second with 11 percent.

Since then, new paddling laws have been proposed, or old ones upheld, in as many as nine states, including New York, Missouri, and California. Alabama Governor Fob James Jr. (R) has made corporal punishment one of the pillars of his law-and-order message, along with the reinstatement of chain gangs for convicted criminals.

The current push toward paddling, Professor Hyman says, was spurred last year when officials in Singapore whipped American teenager Michael Fay with a rattan cane as punishment for vandalism. While some people expressed outrage at the whipping, others, including lawmakers in Mississippi, proposed similar corporal- punishment laws for street criminals in the United States.

Traditionally, the strongest supporters of corporal punishment have been conservative Christians, who place emphasis on Biblical accounts of discipline.

James Dobson, director of the Colorado-based conservative group, Focus on the Family, is a leading advocate of discipline in the Christian community. In his book "The New Dare To Discipline," Dr. Dobson encourages schools to be moderate, but warns that banning spanking altogether takes away "the tools with which teachers have traditionally backed up their word. …

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