In 1853, the Indiana Supreme Court expressed a state of consternation that is just as topical now:
The public seems to cling to the despotism in the government of schools which has been discarded everywhere else . . . The husband can no longer moderately chastise his wife; nor . . . the master his servant or his apprentice. Even the degrading cruelties of the naval service have been arrested. Why the person of the schoolboy . . . should be less sacred in the eyes of the law than that of the apprentice or the sailor, is not easily explained.
The fact that schoolchildren remain the last Americans who may legally be beaten is still not easily explained.
First, in 1971, as an investigator for the American Civil Liberties Union on the state of students' rights in the schools; and then, in the years since, as a reporter on education, I have interviewed many beaten children and their parents. They are as bewildered as the 1853 Indiana Supreme Court.
In the spring of 1978, for instance, I spoke to a woman in North Little Rock, Arkansas, whose eighth-grade son had been hospitalized for two days after a lusty beating by his principal. The boy's offense: he had been talking in class when he hadn't been asked to.
The mother had come to this place from Appalachia years before, but the proud, lonesome sound and cadences of West Virginia were still in her. "The man who hit my boy," she told me, "should be abandoned from children. Why, he took another boy and slammed him into the locker. I cannot understand how they let people like this teach children. It's like letting people from a crazy institution take over a school, throw children against the wall, beat them with boat paddles, and they say they're teaching them."
After some silence, the mother said, "My child has been abused. And not only him. Good lord, not only him. But you cannot whip a child and make him learn anything. I may be old-fashioned, but I do believe that if you give a child some love, even a little love, and let him know you care