In 31 states and more than 100 foreign countries, spanking in schools has gone the way of cassette tapes, pay phones and Kodachrome. But, as USA TODAY reported recently, 19 states across the USA, mainly in the South, still permit corporal punishment — typically swats on the backside of a student with a wooden paddle.
That's not just unnecessary. It's a bad idea.
When children are struck by school personnel, they learn a couple of lessons, neither of them good: One is that it's OK for non-parental authority figures to hit them. Another is that violence is an acceptable response to bad behavior.
However well intentioned, school spanking invites trouble. It can be applied inconsistently, and it can become overzealous. Last year, Trey Clayton, a 14-year-old Mississippi student, fainted after a paddling by an assistant principal. He fell face first onto the floor, splitting his chin, fracturing his jaw and shattering five teeth.
In Center Point, Ala., meanwhile, Carlos Chaverst, an 18-year-old high school senior, says he and other boys in his seventh-grade class were paddled, without parental notification, after the teacher couldn't determine who acted out in the middle of a lesson.
Racial bias is also a problem. The U.S. Education Department found that African-American students are twice as likely to be spanked as their peers of other races. In North Carolina, Native Americans represent 2% of the student population yet make up 35% of those paddled.
Supporters of corporal punishment laud the old "spare the rod and spoil the child" proverb, but science says otherwise. The American Academy of Pediatrics concluded years ago that spanking harms learning and self-image.
In that light, the reluctance of so many states to end physical discipline is hard to fathom, especially when attention is being focused on abuses committed against kids by coaches, clergy and other authority figures.
Federal legislation to end corporal punishment in schools everywhere, sponsored by Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., has stalled, as have similar measures in multiple statehouses. At least the trend is in the right direction: The number of states that allow corporal punishment is down from 45 in the mid-1980s. Even in the 19 states that still permit paddling, many large urban school districts have banned the practice, and parents who object can usually refuse to give school officials permission to hit their children.
If parents want to use corporal punishment within the confines of their homes, that's their choice, so long as it doesn't cross a line into abuse. That option, however, should not be outsourced to educators.
School spanking — These 19 states allow corporal punishment:
Source: The Center for Effective Discipline