Corporal Punishment: A Shameful Exploitation of Age and Size
A letter from Randy Cox, LCSW to Dr. Kaye Manson Jeter, Legal Counsel, Tennessee Department of Education, April 23, 2002

Dr. Kaye Manson Jeter
Legal Counsel
Tennessee Department of Education
312 8th Avenue North
William Snodgrass Building 26th floor
Nashville, TN37243

Dear Dr. Jeter,

Please refer to your letter of April 16 to Mr. Jordan Riak, Executive Director, Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Schools. In it you anticipated, "As you may very well know there is no law or rule that would allow a child to be physically hurt at school or at home".

In Tennessee, physical aggression toward minor children for the purpose of correction or control by public school personnel and parents (including, under special circumstances, the designees of parents or the parents' surrogates) is permitted by both child welfare and education laws. That this officially sanctioned treatment is intended to hurt is undeniable and too often the result is visibly verifiable tissue damage. The physical, emotional and spiritual risks of this treatment are several and serious and there is no empirical evidence that it is more effective than non-physical alternatives. A simple risk/benefit analysis deems it's prescription, therefore, unethical. It's allowance by your state is condemnable. Passing the buck or attacking your judges does not change that.

By separating corporal punishment of minors from those other physically aggressive acts from which all of your citizens are protected, and by specifically prohibiting its use on adults, regardless of behavior or aptitude for learning, and by specifically permitting its use by teachers and parents, Tennessee's laws and the rules authorized by the Tennessee Department of Education protect the adults and "allow children to be hurt at school and in the home". It is a shameful exploitation of age and size. It is an unjust exploitation of the unequal distribution of political power.

I realize that personal preferences regarding the terms selected to describe physically, painfully contacting a child for the purposes described above may differ due to the very common inclination on the part of many to depend upon mechanisms of psychic defense in order to fashion a better feeling about standing on the less noble side in matters of ethics and morality. Others select their descriptive terms in the honest and fearless, head-on engagement of reality. However, whether we call striking a child physical aggression, assault and/or battery, attack on bodily integrity and self-esteem, corporal punishment, spanking, paddling, whipping, consequences or a just punishment, it "hurts" and is, at least, a risk-taking behavior on the part of the one(s) doing the hitting. For those forced to endure the risks, there is no redeeming feature that makes the worst outcomes acceptable.

Far too many children are seriously, physically and emotionally hurt by adults who claim that they are merely using corporal punishment, a legally protected form of child mistreatment. We know that frank child abuse is often corporal punishment gone awry. The very sanction of parental and teacher aggression toward children that your state and mine have legislated allows children to be physically hurt by their teachers and by their parents. Simply, if children are not allowed to be hit by teachers and parents, children are also not allowed to be physically hurt by this mistreatment. Sadly, both are allowed; one helping to facilitate the other.

Mr. Riak's communication with your client (who earlier stepped in as your governor's second and has since named you his own second) provided evidence that was apparently convincing enough that you decided to pretend, in minimalist fashion, to suspect him of a violation of your state's reporting laws and to threaten his referral for criminal investigation. What I was able to view of your charade, however, was missing what would have made it more believable: some expressed concern for the alleged victims of crimes or any condemnation of their perpetrators. Curiously excluding the rights and welfare of children, your letter presents a definition of service to your state that seems quite narrow though you are retained by your state's ultimate primary and secondary education entity. Essentially an officer of the court... where is your outrage over victimization; your demand for accountability? In contrast, however, you seemed overzealous in your presumption (considering the absence of supporting evidence) that these alleged crimes had not been reported.

Crimes like those depicted in the photos occur in your state and in mine. Those awful images clearly and graphically illustrated for the senior official for public education in your state what risks for school children are allowed under your present laws. I can not guess an explanation for the lack of capacity for identification with the victims and the failure to recognize Tennessee's part in making that victimization possible.

The best I can say for the bully tactics you've employed in your transparent attempt to silence a child advocate is that they are misplaced. There is just no certainty that, when corporal punishment produces bullies, it also instills discretion.

You, Dr. Jeter, have found yourself, willingly or not, on the side claiming a moral right and defending the legal right to deliver pain and humiliation upon the persons of fellow citizens because they are lesser in age and political power and because they are unfortunate enough to be subject to the whim of bullies. Your side has only the legal right, for the time being.

You may share my email with whomever you deem appropriate. This issue is not a personal or private grievance and its discussion belongs in the public.

Randy Cox, LCSW
Little Rock, Arkansas, USA

See Dr. Jeter's letter of April 16, 2002 to Jordan Riak
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