Town vote takes aim at spanking -- Brookline policy frowns on practice
By David Abel, Globe Staff
Boston Globe, May 27, 2005

Spanking will no longer be tolerated in Brookline.

That was the message sent last night by town residents, who, after two previous failed votes, passed a nonbinding resolution that makes it local policy to discourage parents and child-care workers from using corporal punishment.

Supporters of the resolution said Brookline is the nation's first municipality to take such a position.

The Town Meeting vote, 89-80, was a victory for resident Ronald Goldman, who first brought the measure before the town last year and has since waged a one-man crusade to get residents to endorse the notion that spanking children can leave long-term emotional bruises. He has urged parents to consider alternative disciplinary methods that do not cause pain to a child and that promote respect and understanding between parents and children.

''I'm surprised, but really happy and relieved; we did it," said Goldman after the meeting, adding that he had been prepared to drop his campaign if it failed this time around. ''I hope what we did tonight starts something that will add to a worldwide movement that recognizes corporal punishment isn't effective and has all kinds of side effects."

The measure, which the town's Board of Selectmen supported last spring, was defeated last fall 75-73 at Town Meeting, a legislative body that consists of 240 elected residents, members of the Board of Selectmen, and any state representative or senator who resides in Brookline. Last June, members voted 105-78 to indefinitely postpone a vote on the resolution.

Critics of the measure described it as a waste of the legislative body's time.

''It's the stupidest article ever to come before Town Meeting," said Fred Lebow, who has served in the body for 14 years.

The main reason the measure passed, he said, was because so many people left the meeting because they didn't care to hear the debate again. ''It doesn't mean anything," Lebow said. ''It doesn't have any significance. Most people don't even understand it."

Massachusetts is one of 27 states that prohibits corporal punishment in public schools. Aside from discipline that rises to a criminal level of abuse, the state has no law regulating spanking or other corporal punishment by parents.

Goldman said his resolution has been endorsed by the Massachusetts Society For The Prevention of Cruelty to Children, Massachusetts Citizens for Children, and the Massachusetts Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers.

He has also cited studies that show corporal punishment tends to contribute to negative behavior in children, such as aggression toward other siblings, bullying and disobedience at school, and an erosion of trust between parents and children.

Goldman's argument last night persuaded three of five selectmen.

Selectman Michael Sher said that he had planned to vote against the resolution. ''I thought three times was too many times, but during the debate, I was moved back to my original position" supporting it, he said. ''I think it's very important to get across the message that hitting kids is not the way to discipline them and it can have a lot of adverse consequences."

Other members said last night they were just happy that the measure wouldn't come up for another vote and take more time from other issues.

David Abel can be reached at

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