Tom Johnson's Statement to the Memphis City Schools Board of Commissioners
October 21, 2002

My name is Tom Johnson. I'm a member of Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education, who originally created these fliers that have been circulating. I'm also a member of Tennesseans for Nonviolent School Discipline based in Nashville.

I appreciate this chance to address the board. I'd also like to thank Commissioner Jobe for her willingness to raise this important though not very popular concern. I only have time to make a few key points, although I do have information packets for anyone who wants to learn more.

First, about the flier, let me explain that the caption is actually a paraphrase of statements made by Lady Wooten to Parliament back before England banned school corporal punishment. She said, "I find it anomalous that a law which forbids adults to assault one another should give less, rather than more, protection to children...In this country at the present time, the only people who can wield a cane with impunity are teachers and prostitutes."

Now I think everyone agrees teaching is a much nobler profession than prostitution, but with all due respect, this doesn't mean everything educators do is noble, or even appropriate. In fact, it's because they have such an elevated role that their standards of conduct must steer clear of unseemly practices--which brings us to the question of paddling.

Memphis Board of Education policy #5147, section 3, item 10, defines sexual battery as "making contact with sexual private areas" I don't think anyone will dispute that the buttocks qualify as a sexual private area, or that paddling makes intensive contact with that area. Just because it's painful contact against someone who was caught smoking on campus doesn't make it less of a violation.

A number of schools, in fact, have guidelines that specifically identify "spanking" as a form of sexual harassment. Paddling, of course, is a type of severe spanking by a non-relative from which sexually mature teens are not exempt--even if they're legal adults.

A Maryland lawyer got in trouble when it came out he was spanking his 17-year-old secretary for making mistakes, as an alternative to firing or suspending her. But if it's OK for her principal to spank her at school to improve her behavior, then why not her boss at work? Young women don't need these mixed messages if they're going to be confident of their right not to be touched in certain places by men in authority.

School paddling also violates Title IX because girls and boys are impacted differently. Unlike boys, girls who are maturing would have to reveal intimate personal information in order to avoid the chance of this punishment being unfairly compounded by menstrual discomfort. That's assuming the school even makes allowances for that.

Some may recall the TV show "Boston Public" had an episode about a teacher who likes paddling students just a little too much. While it may be only a small percentage of teachers who are like that, just as it's a small percentage of priests who are pedophiles, shouldn't there at least be precautions, some kind of screening process? A teacher in Alabama was part of a child spanking pornography ring busted last March. It was only by luck that he wasn't designated to paddle kids where he taught. We shouldn't depend on luck, though, considering what's at stake.

I'll close with this statement from a 1980 report by the British Psychological Society:

"Advocates of corporal punishment in schools should examine very carefully the weight of evidence now available and, particularly in light of the pornographic component, consider whether they can justify the continuation of a system with such a capacity for exciting unhealthy interest."

Thank you.


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