Editorial: Expel the paddles from public schools
Commercial Appeal, June 27, 2004

WHIPPING STUDENTS in the public schools of Memphis and Shelby County serves no purpose, and more likely makes difficult situations worse. It's time for city and county school districts to put an end to this antiquated practice, before the new school year begins.

Let the message be delivered clearly to administrators, teachers and students: No longer will habitually disruptive students be given a few swats on the behind and then returned to the classroom to earn a few more.

The educational mission is best served by a civil atmosphere, respect for teachers and respect for what they do. Violence against students breeds contempt and models the kind of behavior that can lead to further disruption.

Memphis has hung onto this outdated disciplinary practice for too long. Appallingly, the city school district administers corporal punishment to African-American students at a disproportionately higher rate than white students, reinforcing a notion of second-class citizenship for minorities that school districts ought to be in the business of eradicating.

With some encouragement by thoughtful school patrons, members of each board of education surely can find the courage to ban all forms of corporal punishment in the schools.

Corporal punishment supporters can produce anecdotal evidence of its successes, and all those stories are probably true. It has worked in some cases. Many of the city's most successful individuals grew up in homes and attended schools where whipping was routine. So did many of the inmates of the Shelby County Jail.

More compelling than anecdote is the objective research on corporal punishment that reveals its weakness as a strategy for behavioral management that lasts beyond the immediate situation.

As Viewpoint guest columnist Robin Phaneuf, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Memphis, reported March 21 in a special report on corporal punishment: "Research has shown that when this type of punitive action is used with students who have histories of antisocial behavior, the intensity and frequency of the disruptive acts increase."

So why do a few school districts, Memphis and Shelby County included, still use corporal punishment? Probably because of its simplicity and ease of administration. It's a fallback position for when the imagination lags. The school district needs educators who come to school prepared to handle all of the job's challenges, including discipline, in ways that enhance learning.

How has corporal punishment served public schools in Memphis and Shelby County? That's impossible to say.

What we do know is that there are 22 schools in the city system on the state's "corrective action" list, the very lowest classification of low-performing schools, according to various measures of academic achievement, including standardized test scores. That's far more - and disproportionately more - than any other district in the state.

What we also know is that 40 percent of students in the city school district drop out between the 9th and 12th grades or leave school after their senior year without completing graduation requirements. Corporal punishment apparently has done nothing to stem that flow.

If humiliating students with corporal punishment is as successful as its advocates claim, how has that been demonstrated?

As Memphis City Schools move to improve the district's standing with state and federal overseers - which can keep state and federal dollars flowing - the district must examine with a critical eye all of its policies and procedures, including discipline.

It must create and nourish school environments that encourage learning and reward constructive behavior. It must teach children how to solve campus conflicts in a nonviolent manner, with school teachers and administrators leading the way by example.

Memphis City Schools Supt. Carol Johnson, a corporal punishment critic, has launched a "fresh start" initiative aimed at raising the performance of the city's most troubled schools. Public schools as a whole could start fresh in August with an approach toward discipline that takes paddling out of the picture.

Source: http://www.commercialappeal.com/mca/todays_editorial/article/0,1426,MCA_537_2991059,00.html

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