How to Settle the School Corporal Punishment Controversy
Overnight, Completely and for All Time

by Jordan Riak
Wherever school corporal punishment is permitted, there are so-called "guidelines" for its use. Whenever the controversy that surrounds this issue receives media attention, a call goes up to revise, improve or tighten the corporal punishment guidelines. In Tennessee, for example, supporters of school paddling, in their bid to preempt abolitionists, have suggested that it is time to revise the guidelines. Matters of age, sex, psychological and physical condition should be carefully taken into account, they say, before a schoolchild is beaten. ("Beaten," of course, is my word, not theirs.)

Their suggestion appears reasonable on the surface, but is really intended to calm adult jitters rather than as a serious safeguard for children. Look closely, and the flaws become apparent. For instance, who would make the assessments of the child's psychological and physical condition? What criteria would apply?

Evaluating a child's psychological state is clearly beyond the training and qualifications of most teachers. Will a school psychologist be brought in for a consultation to determine whether or not a child is emotionally fit and would benefit from being battered in the pelvic area with a wooden board?

As for evaluating the child's physical condition prior to punishment, would this involve a medical examination? Would a physician be employed by the school district for the purpose? Since corporal punishment in the United States traditionally involves applying considerable, potentially dangerous, force to a child's pelvic area, would the medical examiner need parental permission before examining that part of a child's anatomy? Or would the teacher who intends to do the act be entrusted with these matters? Again, we are faced with questions of qualifications and criteria. Add motive.

As for the child's sex, what are teachers to do differently when they hit a boy's buttocks from when they hit a girl's buttocks? No college or university in the United States teaches anything about the subject. Teachers would be left to rely on old habits and prejudices as in the past. Clearly, new standards would have to be established, inevitably inviting controversy over gender discrimination.

Permit me to offer a simpler solution -- one that does not raise any of the above problems, and one that has ample precedent. My suggestion, if implemented, would settle the school corporal punishment controversy overnight, completely and for all time.

Laws should be enacted by the legislatures of every paddling state (23 at the time of writing) requiring every school paddling to be video taped and for the tape to become the exclusive property of the student's parent or legal guardian. There could be no objection on the basis of expense or inconvenience. Every school owns a video camera and parents would be expected to cover the cost of the tape. Since the tape would be theirs, parents could do with it whatever they wish.

What reasonable objection could be raised? Other teaching procedures have been recorded, so why not school punishments? And who is better qualified to have possession of a particular tape than the parent of the child involved?

Some will argue that this act is unlike anything else a teacher does, that recording it would constitute a gross, potentially embarrassing invasion of privacy. Whose privacy? Why be embarrassed? What could a teacher possibly do to a child that a parent shouldn't see?

Of course there is the very legitimate concern that such tapes would fall into the eager hands of pedophiles, pornographers and sadists. This should make reasonable people wonder, if a mere recording of an event is of such interest to unbalanced minds, what good can be said about the act itself?

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