Editorial: Another chance to ban paddles Editorial: Another chance to ban paddles
The Commercial Appeal (Tennessee), October 10, 2004

If school board members take their jobs seriously, they will not make a policy decision without listening to what their constituents have to say.

But they will also consider the opinion of the superintendent they entrusted with the job of improving the district's performance, consider what sound, scientific research has revealed about the topic and do some thinking on their own.

A recent survey that shows 70 percent of Memphis parents in support of corporal punishment cannot be ignored.

But being a leader doesn't always mean a knee-jerk response to popular opinion.

It also means taking an objective look at what the present policy has or has not accomplished. Critics of the Memphis City Schools often point to a lack of discipline as one of the factors that hamper the school district's performance.

And yet some of these same critics would have the district continue along the same path that it has followed for decades: allowing disruptive students to take a few swats and return to the classroom.

City school board member Lora Jobe's effort to abolish school paddling faces an uphill battle against the impulse to do things the way they've always been done. Inertia is always a problem with as large an institution as the 118,000-student city school system.

Jobe rightly compares opposition to her case against corporal punishment to the reliance on an outdated and ineffective medical cure. These things don't die easily. Late-night radio ads still tout the modern equivalents of snake oil.

Corporal punishment is the snake oil of school discipline, the lose-weight-while-you-sleep cure that promises much but if it delivers anything at all it's only for the short term.

Its alternatives require imagination and a lot more effort than corporal punishment does. They're the long, slow routes to a better atmosphere in the classroom and in the school that nourishes intellectual curiosity and provides meaningful sanctions for not following the rules.

Jobe plans to renew her push for a paddling ban before the school board Oct. 18.

The idea has been shot down before, but it will be useful to talk about it again. Opponents of school paddling should be given every opportunity to make the case for closely monitoring student behavior and reinforcing behavior that stays within the bounds of strict disciplinary rules.

Parents who favor corporal punishment have a right to carry it out in the home. Research has shown that it can change an individual's behavior in the presence of the punisher.

Beyond that, its effects are limited, and in some cases corporal punishment can even encourage antisocial behavior, including vandalism and assault.

For whatever reason, corporal punishment in the Memphis City Schools has been aimed disproportionately toward African-American males. It has been used to punish basketball players who missed shots. It has continued to breathe life into one of the most humiliating remnants of plantation society.

Corporal punishment in the schools and in any other public institution serves no useful purpose.

Doing things the way they've always been done can mean perpetuating a practice that we never should have employed in the first place.

See related: Anti-corporal punishment editorials

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