Editorial: Bush wrong on corporal punishment
Chattanooga Times - Free Press, May 22, 2001

There are many things about George W. Bush's legislative agenda worth debating. There certainly are sound reasons to question, for instance, the president's rationale for a tax cut, his energy policies and his stance on the environment. There should be additional debate about the validity of much of the rest of Mr. Bush's blueprint for America's future as well.

But some of the proposals from the president are wrongheaded beyond belief -- and are so nonsensical that they deserve no consideration at all. President Bush's tacit approval of corporal punishment in schools falls into that category. Though the president did not openly advocate taking a paddle to kids, he did include a provision in his education bill to protect principals, other administrators and teachers from lawsuits brought by parents whose children have been paddled. Surely, that indicates his administration's approval of the practice.

Fortunately, common sense prevailed and House and Senate members -- a majority from Mr. Bush's own party -- stripped corporal punishment from what is being called the "teacher protection" bill. Thank goodness the legislators understand what constitutes physical abuse even if the president does not.

Still, there's no shortage of schools where boys and girls can be clouted by adults wielding what amounts to a weapon. Though 27 states have banned the practice, and others have strict controls on its use, corporal punishment remains the disciplinary tactic of choice in many locales, particularly in the South. Texas, Mr. Bush's home state, is the leading practitioner, with more than 80,000 reported paddlings in the last year for which figures are available.

Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas and Tennessee round out the top five. Why school officials and parents here and elsewhere in the region allow the practice of paddling to continue is beyond the ken of most Americans and citizens of other nations where the practice is not allowed. Supporters can offer no evidence corporal punishment works; if it did, wouldn't the number of victims dwindle each year?

Just about every reputable study of discipline in schools indicates corporal punishment teaches violence and aggression rather than self-discipline. Thus, educators and researchers across the political spectrum pretty much agree that corporal punishment is more likely to erode discipline rather than enforce it. Mr. Bush, it seems, is pretty much alone in his quixotic desire to protect and, by implication, support those who prefer the paddle to the real work of teaching the nation's children.


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