EDITORIAL: Spare the rod, please
By Walter Rubel, wrubel@lcsun-news.com
Sun-News, April 3, 2011

A while back, this newspaper published an editorial opposed to HB 172, the bill that would ban corporal punishment in New Mexico schools. After looking into the issue a little more thoroughly, I now think our position on this one was off base.

Our stand was for local control, more than it was for school paddling. I'm still a big believer that local school boards should make the call of most issues. But when it comes to the protection of students, the state has both a right and an obligation to get involved.

Sen. Cynthia Nava, who is also the superintendent of the Gadsden school district, carried the no-paddling bill in the Senate. It passed by narrow margins in both the House and Senate, but has yet to be acted upon by Gov. Susana Martinez. The bill would not impact the local school districts. Both Las Cruces and Gadsden have already banned the use of corporal punishment. But, 36 of the state's 89 school districts still permit it.

As Nava points out, corporal punishment is already banned in both the military and foster care. Schools should be held to the same standard.

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry is among the professional associations who have taken a stance against corporal punishment in schools.

"Corporal punishment signals to the child that a way to settle interpersonal conflicts is to use physical force and inflict pain," they argue in a 1988 report. "Such children may in turn resort to such behavior themselves. They may also fail to develop trusting, secure relationships with adults and fail to evolve the necessary skills to settle disputes or wield authority in less violent ways."

The American Medical Association, the National Congress of Parents and Teachers, the National Education Association, the American Bar Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics all agree.

This is one of those issues that tends to break along generational lines. Comedians like Bernie Mac and George Wallace have done entire routines lamenting the fact that parents don't beat their kids anymore.

I grew up in an era when spanking was a routine part of child rearing. My sister, who earned her degree in elementary education, never spanked her two sons. Discipline in her house involved time-outs and the loss of privileges. Go ahead and snicker, but I'm happy to report that both grew up to be respectful, hard-working, caring young men.

Men my age love to wax nostalgic about the beatings we got and the lessons we learned from them. Certainly, my sister's way was much more difficult and required much more patience and discipline on the part of her and her husband. But the lessons of right and wrong that her sons learned were far more permanent than those learned through the temporary infliction of physical pain.

Looking back on my own childhood, I was much more concerned with pleasing my parents and earning their respect than I was an occasional spanking.

Of course, what works for one kid may not be as effective with another. I appreciate the difficult job schools have in imposing discipline on such a wide range of children. But physical violence should never be the answer.

Gov. Martinez should sign the bill.

Walter Rubel has been a newsman for more than 25 years and is managing editor of the Sun-News.

See index for "Anti-Corporal Punishment Editorials — 1871–2011" at www.nospank.net/edits.htm

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