Dear President Clinton:
Throughout the developed, industrial world, and in many developing nations, the use of corporal punishment against schoolchildren is forbidden. No European country permits the practice.
While the consensus of informed opinion in the United States concurs with informed opinion worldwide on this subject, our practices do not. There is a great gulf between what we know to be correct treatment of schoolchildren and our schools' actual practices. According to the best available statistics, more than one million incidents of corporal punishment occur in our schools annually. No credible argument has been raised that anything other than harm is achieved by these acts.
Pediatrician and Clinical Professor of Pediatric Medicine at Yale University School of Medicine, Dr. Morris Wessel has written: "Beaten and battered children are more likely to become adults who have inadequate control of their aggressive feelings, who therefore strike out mercilessly against children, spouses, friends and sometimes even other members of society. The violence inflicted on children by their closest relatives and caretakers has a long-lasting and horrifying effect. These children grow up with the idea that, when another person's behavior is displeasing to them, violent acts against that person are appropriate ways to deal with feelings of displeasure. In short, members of each adult generation tend to reproduce in their interpersonal relationships the violence which they experienced in their childhood."
The noted anthropologist, Ashley Montagu has written: "Any form of corporal punishment or `spanking' is a violent attack upon another human being's integrity. The effect remains with the victim forever and becomes an unforgiving part of his or her personality - a massive frustration resulting in hostility which will seek expression in later life in violent acts towards others. The sooner we understand that love and gentleness are the only kinds of called-for behavior towards children, the better. The child, especially, learns to become the kind of human being that he or she has experienced. This should be fully understood by all caregivers."
The distinguished Harvard psychologist, B.F. Skinner has written: "Punitive measures whether administered by police, teachers, spouses or parents have well-known standard effects: (1) escape - education has its own name for that: truancy, (2) counterattack - vandalism on schools and attacks on teachers, (3) apathy - a sullen do-nothing withdrawal. The more violent the punishment, the more serious the by-products."
Because of government's symbolic importance in influencing the behavior of private citizens, it should set the highest possible standard for the care of children in its charge. The legal right of educators to beat schoolchildren sends a message to child abusers in the community that their behavior is acceptable. It demonstrates to children that violence is an appropriate way to express disapproval or discharge anger.
Furthermore, corporal punishment in schools degrades the teaching profession. It contributes to an atmosphere of confrontation in schools that demoralizes many of our most capable teachers and forces them to abandon their calling. It infuses many schoolchildren with hostility towards formal learning as evidenced by poor academic performance and dropout.
There is no restriction on government power more important in distinguishing our constitutional democracy from tyranny than that which forbids the agents of civil authority to inflict battery as a routine administrative procedure. This protection has been gained by agricultural workers, factory workers, military recruits, apprentices, domestic servants, psychiatric patients, convicts, suspects under interrogation, women, the developmentally handicapped, persons of color, the elderly, homosexuals - by every group except one.
Schoolchildren should be granted the same legal protection against battery that is enjoyed by every other class of citizen. Without this, all other educational reforms are hollow. For surely we will fail to foster in future citizens a respect for the rights of others if, in their formative years, we permit their rights to be trampled.
Mr. President, you have committed yourself to genuine educational reform. We, the undersigned, urge you to fulfill that commitment by taking a leadership role in assuring the right of every child to be safe from corporal punishment at school. We urge you to instruct the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education to take expeditious and forceful action to deny federal assistance to any school, school district or other educational entity that authorizes the use of corporal punishment.
National Committee for Prevention of Child Abuse
American Academy of Pediatrics
Children's National Medical Center
American Association of Retired Persons
National Congress of Parents and Teachers Association
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
National Mental Health Association
American Psychological Association
The Menninger Foundation
The National Exchange Club Foundation for the Prevention of Child Abuse
Parents Anonymous, Inc.
Association for Childhood Education International
National Council on Crime and Delinquency
National Association of Counsel for Children
National Parent Aide Association, Inc.
American Association of Physicians for Human Rights
Parent Effectiveness Training
EPOCH - USA (End Physical Punishment of Children)
National Association of School Psychologists
National Council of Teachers of English
American School Counselor Association
National Committee for Rights of the Child
Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, Inc.
Jefferson County (Alabama) Child Development Council, Inc.
California Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance
California Professional Society on the Abuse of Children
Greater Chicago Council for Prevention of Child Abuse
Coordinating Council for Children in Crisis, Inc. (A Connecticut organization)
Coalition for Children (A Connecticut organization)
Agenda for Children (An advocacy organization in Louisiana)
Massachusetts Committee for Children and Youth
Voices for Children in Nebraska
The Child Assault Prevention Project of Washoe County ( A Nevada organization)
Child Abuse Prevention Committee of Greater Philadelphia
West Virginia Child Care Association
Northen Tier Youth Services of West Virginia
National Committee for Prevention of Child Abuse chapters in: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, Wyoming
Mental Health Association chapters in: Illinois, Florida, Kentucky,
Louisiana, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Texas, West Virginia
Parents Anonymous chapters in: Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Montana, Nevada, Vermont, Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming
Sponsored by Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education, Alamo, California