Corporal Punishment in the Schools:
The Civil Liberties Objections
Those who proclaim the civil liberties creed have a very clear idea of why corporal punishment in schools is a civil liberties issue and why such punishment should be eliminated from our educational system. Their opposition focuses on two fundamental violations of constitutional rights which are imbedded in the practice of corporal punishment. These are the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment and the Fifth Amendment's protection of both substantive and procedural due process.
Acceptance of this civil liberties position hinges on acceptance of changes in the status of children in our society. The point has long passed where children are subject only to the control of their parents, a relic of a smaller, less complex society in which government played a less influential role. Children are now controlled by various institutions of the state, for example, schools, social agencies, and courts; and we have begun to think of applying to children the same rights which adults possess when they become involved with agencies of the state.
This move to define the rights of children, to assert that children are no longer a special class requiring special protection and different treatment from adults, was boosted by the turbulent and radical social changes of the 1960s. Highlighted by movements to secure individual rights for members of many disadvantaged groups, the decade left its mark on the courts' attitude toward the rights of children. When for the first time in the Gault case ( 1967) the Supreme Court said young people have the right of counsel and notice in juvenile proceedings; when the Court ruled in Tinker ( 1969; a
This essay first appeared in J. Wise (ed.), Proceedings: Conference on Corporal Punishment in the Schools: A National Debate?. Washington, D.C.: National Institute of Education, 1977 (NIE-P-77-0079).