Does Eric Sevareid's Kid Get Hit at School?
By Nat Hentoff
Excerpt from Does Anybody Give a Damn? (1977), pp. 13-51
In 1973, Russell Carl Baker, a sixth-grader in the small textile town of Gibsonville, North Carolina, was playing ball in school. At the time, he was not supposed to be playing ball; and to instruct him memorably in this rule of school law, Russell Baker’s teacher took a wooden drawer divider (about two inches wide, thirteen inch long, and three-eighths of an inch thick) and whacked the boy thrice in front of the class. It happened to be a social studies class.
In Gibsonville, as in most schools throughout the country, corporal punishment is a venerable learning device. Russell Baker’s mother, however, had explicitly informed school authorities, long before her son’s criminal act of ball playing, that she did not want her son hit--ever--because of his frailty and because such punishment, she was convinced, violated her right to familial privacy.
Accordingly, Virginia Baker brought suit, claiming that the North Carolina law permitting corporal punishment was unconstitutional. In addition to the familial privacy argument, she maintained that her son had been whacked without due process and that the punishment had been arbitrary and applied with excessive force. The case moved through the courts, eventually reaching a three-judge federal panel which held that a state can allow teachers and other school personnel to hit a child even when a parent objects.
The three-judge court did set up three qualifying safety guards, all of which can easily be subverted by school officials: (1) corporal punishment should not be the first line of punishment, and children should be told in advance what kinds of misbehavior will lead to their getting belted; (2) a second teacher should witness the punishment; and (3) those parents requesting a written explanation of the punishment can get it, presumably suitable for framing.
Virginia Baker appealed that ruling, and on October 20, 1975, the United States Supreme Court, without issuing an opinion of its own, upheld the decision of the lower court. The high court thereby affirmed the constitutionality of corporal punishment in the particular case of the unfortunate Russell Baker; but since the Supreme Court refrained from giving its reasoning, it is still possible that another case, with a different set of circumstances, might cause the justices to take a contrary view of corporal punishment. Another possibility of relief, of course is that a differently composed Supreme Court, years hence, might decide otherwise.
Nonetheless, the high court’s support, in 1975, of the assaulting a sixth-grade boy with a heavy piece of wood was, as The New York Times observed editorially, an "extraordinarily regressive ruling". As for those "safeguards" devised by the lower court to assure the "fairness" of corporal punishment, the Times observed: "Too vague to prevent serious abuses, these restrictions tell more about judicial confusion than about the future course of school discipline".
Not only the judiciary is confused, however, on the matter of legally beating schoolchildren. Shortly after the Supreme Court’s action, Eric Sevareid, CBS-TV’s resident moral philosopher, spoke for a substantial majority of the citizenry--judging by Gallup and other polls of public attitudes toward corporal punishment--when he jocularly began one of his commentaries by saying, "How kid-whacking got to be a constitutional question, we haven’t the faintest idea". To be sure, Sevareid added, there are those who claim that hitting schoolchildren is dehumanizing. But certainly adults with a sense or proportion know that kid-whacking, Sevareid emphasized, "is civilizing."
Watching Sevareid, I thought of the kids I have talked to in various parts of the country who have been intensively "civilized" by violent adults in the public schools. Some of the kid-whacking as Sevareid calls it, has been more psychically than physically wounding. Some--as court case below will indicate--has been just plain brutal. And some has been of a quite special order of cruelty. A few years ago, for example, I spoke to the parents of a ten-year-old boy in a small Texas town who was dying of a blood disease. The school knew he was dying, but the kid was whacked anyway, and whacked hard, for talking in class. It happened more than once.
"I have given up trying to understand how people could do that," the father said to me once, "people who say they’re educators. They have a sickness that is beyond me. But what still makes me furious is that there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it. They told me they had the right to beat my boy. And there it was, right in the law." His parents, after the boy died, gave me a picture of him, which I kept for some months until I could no longer bear keeping it.
Soon after I had talked with that father, I spent a Saturday afternoon with a group of youngsters in North Dallas. Mostly white, they ranged from seven-year-olds to kids attending junior high school. We all sat around a table in the library of a Unitarian church, and as they spoke of the routinely pervasive use of force against them in the Dallas schools, I was at first startled, and then dismayed, by the lack of indignation--except in a few of the older kids--as they told me of what had been done to them. A rebel teacher said to me later, "By now, they think getting hit, no matter how slight the infraction, is normal. They have been successfully beaten down."
At the library table, the youngsters were politely trying to instruct me in the ecology of violence in their schools.
"When I was in the fourth grade," one youngster said matter-of-factly, "you’d get an extra lick if you moved or if you cried out while you were getting hit. Well, it was kind of hard not to move when you were being hit with a two-by-four. The paddle had holes in it besides. That makes it hurt more."
"What did you get hit for?" I asked the boy.
"Being late. For every minute you were late to class, you’d get a lick."
The other children nodded. They had had similar experiences.
"I was chewing gum," a girl with long blond hair told me, "and they used three paddles on me. The first two broke. Some of those teachers are really hitting freaks. Where my little brother goes--he’s in the fifth grade--by the end of the first week of school last month, the teacher had given licks to everybody in that class."
"Why?" I asked, already having heard something of that teacher from a Dallas parent.
"Oh, they were kind of noisy, you know."
"Have you heard about 'double-stamp day'?" A thin, dark haired boy spoke up. I told him I had seen the term in a story in the Dallas Morning News about a junior high school.
"Yeah," he said. "That’s Stockard. I go there. Last year, one of the teachers had a 'double-stamp day'’ on Wednesdays. You’d get double the number of licks for everything you did wrong that day. Like having your shirttails out or forgetting to say 'Sir.' He's a mean one."
"How about the principal in North Dallas?" a teen-ager said. "The one with the paddle that has his name on it: ‘Elmer the Terrible.’ My little cousin goes there. The principal’s got that paddle with him all the time--walking around the halls, going into classrooms asking the teacher if everything’s under control. Last week the bastard even showed up in the playground with it. Christ, you’re supposed to be able to make some noise on the playground! My cousin, he’s scared to go to school. He ain’t been hit yet, but he figures that, sooner of later, Elmer the Terrible’s going to get him."
Appropriately, in this city of Elmer the Terrible, the National Committee to Abolish Corporal Punishment in the Schools was founded, in October 1972, as an outgrowth of a national conference on corporal punishment held in May 1972 in New York under the auspices of the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Orthopsychiatric Association. The follow-up group, of which I was and am a member, consists of teachers, lawyers, parents, students, psychologists, and writers from various parts of the country. We chose Dallas as the natal place of our committee because at the time it was clearly the corporal punishment capital of the nation. (From November 1971 to May 1972, according to official Dallas school statistics, there had been reported applications of physical punishment to 24,305 children. Total enrollment in the Dallas Independent School District during that period was 166,353.)
The beat still goes on in the Dallas schools, but it is no longer possible to be at all precise concerning the incidence of corporal punishment in that city since school officials now guard these statistics closely. In any case, whether or not Dallas remains the kid-whacking center of the nation, the attitudes of its school officials and teachers continue to parallel those of their counterparts in the majority of school districts around the country. They fervently believe, as Dallas school superintendent Dr. Nolan Estes puts it, that "until there is a Utopian society," paddling and other violence against children is essential in classrooms as a "last resort." Dr. Estes, moreover, is sternly on record as pledging that he would not serve as head of any school system in which corporal punishment is prohibited.
Elsewhere in the country, corporal punishment in public schools is barred by law in only two states (New Jersey and Massachusetts) and in all but a number of rural counties in a third (Maryland). It has also been abolished in some city school systems, among them New York, Baltimore, Chicago, and Grosse Pointe, Michigan. [Since Does Anybody Give a Damn? was published in 1977, the number of non-paddling states has increased to 27. For a list of paddling states, see "Danger Zones" at www.nospank.net/eddpts.htm". Ed.]
In many school systems, however, an observation made in 1853 by the Indiana Supreme Court (Cooper v. McJunkin) still holds:
The public seems to cling to the despotism in the government of schools which has been discarded everywhere else. The husband can no longer moderately chastise his wife; nor... the master his servant or his apprentice. Even the degrading cruelties of the naval service have been arrested. Why the person of the schoolboy... should be less sacred in the eyes of the law than that of the apprentice or the sailor, is not easily explained.
"Sacred!" a former high school teacher in Wheelersburg, Ohio, hooted when shown that 1853 opinion. "Where I taught, any teacher may still paddle any student for any reason. And there are several male teachers, proudly and threateningly bearing their foot-long wooden paddles, who often stand in the halls during the changing of classes as an inspiration, I suppose to the students."
A minister in Illinois has told me of his daughter, "a bright and socially at ease six-year-old" who "looked forward to attending kindergarten with great joy, and even anticipated attending first grade this year with considerable enthusiasm. In each instance, however, her enthusiasm has been quickly dampened by the repeated warnings of physical punishment--specifically, the application of a paddle, which her teachers keep for ‘disciplinary’ reasons. Although she herself has never been punished (despite an occasional threat to do so if she didn’t stop crying about the threat to do so), its use on others makes the threat convincing and has caused irreparable damage to her attitude toward school, teachers, and education generally."
"Irreparable" is a premature judgment, I hope, but it is not difficult to understand why this child’s enthusiasm for school had decidedly diminished.
A social studies teacher in San Pedro, California, has reported the case of a seventeen-year-old senior who had missed a meeting of the football team. An assistant coach gave the student the choice of turning in his football uniform or getting what is referred to in that school as a "swat." The young man took the latter option because he wanted to finish the football season. After the assistant coach had administered the swat, he declared, with professional pride, "I lifted him off the floor".
Alan Button, author of The Authentic Child and a member of the Department of Psychology at Fresno State College, California, has collected a number of corporal punishment case histories in the public schools of Fresno. This is one of them:
Don, nine. IQ: 133. Repeating third grade, having received solid F’s first time around. His teacher, whom I consider an anxiety hysteric, ineffectual, and prone to weeping in class, would send him almost daily to the principal’s office for "smart talk" and questioning her authority. (The boy corrected her mispronunciation of the river Thames in class one day--" That’s pronounced, ‘Temz,’ Miss X"-- and was sent to the principal for spanking for insubordination.) Developed school phobias, nightmares, and night terrors in third grade, began torturing family cat. Seemed to me to be a direct function of consistent spanking at school, together with lack of support from his own family, who took the position that the teachers and principals were right and that they, his family, shouldn’t interfere. Is flunking the third grade this year, too.
A customary explanation by those who insist on the continued need for corporal punishment is that of Dr. Nolan Estes: "We often have to use negative reinforcement to help the child learn self-discipline. Or as Albert Fondy, president of the Pittsburgh Teachers Federation, has put it, "Until somebody comes up with an alternative, we’ll support it [corporal punishment]. It’s a quick way to show disapproval--like the city giving me a ticket when I park illegally."
A youngster in the Pittsburgh schools questions Mr. Fondy’s analogy. "When he parks illegally," the boy said to me, "Fondy doesn’t get hit by the cop."
Mr. Fondy and the forces he heads in that city exemplify the tenacity of true believers in corporal punishment. Since 1970, an anti-corporal punishment coalition of Pittsburgh citizens has persuaded the school board to phase out the official hitting of kids, but on five separate occasions, the Pittsburgh Teachers Federation has insisted that a clause be put into a new contract mandating that the school board reconsider the abolition of corporal punishment. One particularly bitter eight-week strike, in the winter of 1975-76, finally approached settlement on money terms but was almost prolonged by teachers insisting they be given, by contract, the undisputed right to whack kids. They finally settled when it was agreed that the school board would once again vote on the restoration of corporal punishment.
I interviewed teachers' union president Albert Fondy during an earlier round of contract negotiations and suggested he look into studies on the harmful effects of corporal punishment by such researchers as Dr. David Gil, a professor of social policy at Brandeis University. (In his book Violence Against Children , as in his testimony in various courts in support of suits seeking to abolish corporal punishment, Dr. Gil relates physical abuse of schoolchildren to culturally sanctioned individual acts of violence against children within the family. Dr. Gil is working for legislation to end corporal punishment in schools and in all other institutions dealing with children--both to protect young people and also because "such legislation is . . . likely to affect child-rearing attitudes and practices in American homes, for it would symbolize society’s growing rejections of violence against children." In addition, Dr. Gil points out that wherever it takes place, "Rarely, if ever, is corporal punishment administered for the benefit of the attacked child. Usually it serves the immediate needs of the attacking adult who is seeking relief from his uncontrollable anger and stress.")
The president of the Pittsburgh Teachers Federation did not appear likely to accept my suggestion that he examine the research on violence against children. "Look," he told me. "It’s simple. The members of my union want to keep corporal punishment as an option in case they need it for discipline. So long as the teachers want it, I’m not going to oppose it. Besides, I was hit as a kid in school, and it didn’t do me any harm. "
Pittsburgh’s teachers are not at all unique in their ardent desire to hold on to violence as an option for dealing with children. A 1969 poll by the National Education Association Research Division indicated that 65.7 percent of teachers favored the infliction of physical pain when necessary--a decline from the 71.6 percent who shared that view in 1960, but nonetheless a solid majority. The decline, however, is somewhat encouraging, perhaps indicating that younger members of the profession are more resourceful in their ways of dealing with actual and potential disciplinary problems.
Nonetheless, in Cleveland, where corporal punishment is both legal and often used, the city’s teachers made their prohitting convictions clear a few years ago when a mother filed suit charging that her son had been paddled against her wishes. James O’Meara, president of the Cleveland Teachers Union, said that his members were really hot on the issue and intended to fight to keep their authority to paddle.
Most teachers in Dallas remain decidedly of the same view. A Washington official of the National Education Association, with which the majority of Dallas’s organized teachers are affiliated, says, with some pain about her colleagues in that city, "They’re not even embarrassed about their stand." (An N.E.A. task force report on corporal punishment, published in 1972, opposes its use; but many of the N.E.A.’s more than 1,700,000 members throughout the country have yet to agree with the task force’s recommendation that physical punishment be eliminated as a means of maintaining discipline in the schools. "We published the report, all right," an N.E.A. official told me in 1976, "but I don’t think it’s had much effect.")
Nor are many of the country’s principals and other school administrators disturbed by the fact that in America, the degrading cruelties of the naval service remain only in the schools. By contrast, corporal punishment in schools has been banned in the Netherlands (1850), France (1887), Finland (1890), Sweden (1958), and Denmark (1968). In 1783, Poland influenced by John Locke’s "Some Thoughts on Education," abolished corporal punishment, which is also prohibited now in the Soviet Union and all other communist bloc countries. Yet in May 1971, Nation’s Schools surveyed 13,000 school administrators in the fifty states. Of the 62 percent responding, 74 percent said that corporal punishment is applied in their districts, and 64 percent answered affirmatively the question: "Do you feel that corporal punishment has proved itself to be an effective instrument in assuring discipline?"
Said one superintendent, with what must have seemed to him unassailable reasonableness, "A student has the choice of cooperation and the teacher the choice of punishment."
In a more recent survey of school administrators, published in the June 1974 issue of Phi Delta Kappa , a monthly journal of education, seventy of the country’s largest school districts were asked whether corporal punishment was practiced in their schools. Of the fifty replying, 80 percent acknowledged, with no discernible discomfort, that they practice kid-whacking.
In the minority is Kenton E. Stephens, superintendent of schools in Oak Park, Illinois. In September 1970, he instructed all teachers and supervisors to stop hitting students; and in August 1972, in one of his regular bulletins to all employees in the district, Superintendent Stephens reminded them not "to take refuge in a technique which demeans both student and teacher".
>From what I have discovered, visiting many other schools in the country, Kenton Stephens’s position is regarded as eccentric, let alone foolish, by most of his colleagues.
My interest in Kid-whacking began in 1971 when, on invitation from the American Civil Liberties Union, I researched and wrote a report on the state of students' rights in the nation's schools. In 1969, the Supreme Court had declared (Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District) that students are "persons" under the Constitution and thereby have fundamental rights and liberties which school authorities are required to respect. Two years before, the Court had held (in re Gault) that "neither the Fourteenth Amendment nor the Bill of Rights is for adults alone." And back in 1943, the Supreme Court had emphasized (West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette) that "educating the young for citizenship is reason for scrupulous protection of Constitutional freedoms of the individual, if we are not to strangle the free mind at its source and teach youth to discount important principles of our government as mere platitudes."
In my travels around the country, then and since, I found that these Supreme Court decisions had not markedly affected the attitudes and actions of many teachers and supervisors. Students, for example, still have to fight for their First Amendment right to publish in districts in which principals routinely exercise prior restraint over the school newspaper. In some schools, although there is no censorship, sanctions are exercised against certain students who have used their First Amendment rights. A high school principal in South Carolina, for example, removed a student's name from the ballot for school election because the boy had criticized the school administration in the school paper.
"But that's unconstitutional!" the stubbornly libertarian student said.
"The constitution of this school," his principal instructed him, "takes precedence over the United States Constitution."
I also found many instances of students being summarily tossed out of school (suspended or expelled) as part of their learning process. (In 1975, the Supreme Court, in Goss v. Lopez and Wood v. Strickland, finally set minimal due process safeguards for such cases, including the possibility of money damages against school officials who violate those safeguards. The decisions are useful precedents, but the protections are slight, and abuses continue.) In addition, as I visited schools in various states, I came across a sizable number of cases in which supposedly private records of students--including comments about them by teachers, guidance counselors, and school psychologists--were being released, without the students or their families knowing it, to all kinds of unauthorized inquirers, from police to prospective employers. (This release of school records without parental approval is now prohibited by federal law, but there is no monitoring system to assure that school administrators obey this law. Its implementation depends entirely on the vigilance of parents. And so abuses in this area also continue.)
What most astonished me, however, in researching that A.C.L.U. report, was the extent to which corporal punishment flourishes in the public schools.
I had not given the phenomenon much thought since my own elementary school years in Boston. At the William Lloyd Garrison Elementary School, to be sure, one of us, on occasion, would leave the classroom to be led to judgment. In the principal's office, the offending child would extend a hand, palm up, and be administered, depending on his crime, a certain number of whacks with a rattan switch. At the time, the rattan was a fact of childhood life, like the weather. We did not reflect much on the possibility of changing either.
By the time I started writing about education, in the 1960's, I assumed at first that the rattan, and other such atavistic teaching "tools," had disappeared not only at the William Lloyd Garrison School but also at nearly all others. Oh, in some rural fastnesses somewhere in the country there might still be a hitting teacher; but surely, everywhere else teachers would no more hit kids than teach them the world is flat. This must be so, I thought, because in all the books on education proliferating in the '60s-- including those heralding radical transformations of the schools--there was hardly a mention of corporal punishment. It had to be obsolete. For that matter, in the books on schools of the 1970s, the physical punishment of children is also hardly ever mentioned.
It took me a while, therefore, to become convinced that the battering of schoolchildren is as commonplace as the evidence I gathered continued to show. But that evidence kept on piling up.
Like a guidance (sic) counselor in eastern rural New York State who stoutly informed Richard Gummere, Jr., a Columbia University official, that he regularly knocks youngsters to the floor of his office "to improve the school's morale."
Or this contributing to learning theory by a Los Angeles math teacher, as recalled by one of his sixth-grade students: "It was ten minutes to three. I was doing math drills in front of the class, and I kept getting mixed up, so the teacher made me put my right hand on the desk. Every time I said the wrong number, he whacked my hand with the side of his ruler. At three-fifteen I still couldn't get the answers right and my hand was swollen and purple."
A few years ago, I learned of a school board meeting in Walterboro, South Carolina, at which some parents heatedly complained that their children were coming home with bruises on their bodies as a result off being slapped, rapped over the knuckles and hands, and paddled with unnecessary roughness. Mothers charged that their kids had been physically punished for having made mistakes in their homework. One of them reported that her child, who has an asthmatic condition, had been beaten on the hands and had suffered an attack the next day. Although she had previously explained the child's condition to the school principal, the teacher wielding the paddle had nonetheless hit the girl's hands so hard "that they nearly cracked."
A school official at the meeting assured the mother of the asthmatic child that it won't happen again, but his superior hastened to remind the assembly that paddling within reason is legal in South Carolina. Accordingly, children in that county still have to depend on how any given teacher or principal defines reasonableness.
Toward the end of that school board meeting in South Carolina, an elementary school principal rose and said feelingly that he cared very much for children, and always had during his twenty years as a teacher and principal. However, he added, love for children must also encompass discipline and, the way the world is, among the kids he loves most are those who most need discipline. And that’s why it is necessary, out of love for the children, to retain corporal punishment.
Around the time I heard of this South Carolina educator’s palpable love for children, I saw the testimony of a representative of the American Civil Liberties Union before the Los Angeles Board of Education. Citing many complaints by parents about corporal punishment in the city’s schools, she told of one father who charged that his son had been hit with a stick because he had put his foot on a desk while tying a shoe. Another time the boy had been whammed on the head with a book. Yet another loving way of implanting learning.
>From a former teacher in Kansas City, Missouri: "I have witnessed the use of physical punishment with paddles and switches in the Kansas City metropolitan area schools. Principals have even punched, kicked, and smacked youngsters. I have seen an assistant principal use his belt on a boy, and a teacher throw a set of keys into a child’s face. When a youngster tries to protect himself, he’s sent to court and then, on occasion, to reform school. I finally had to stop teaching. I couldn’t take watching that go on and on and on."
A teacher from Kettering, Ohio, reports that "in fifteen years at the eighth grade level, I had paddled three times, and I am deeply ashamed of those times. But during these years, I have seen so much violence against children by other teachers and administrators. There was one boy whose head was knocked against the wall hard when an assistant principal happened to walk by and overhear the boy’s teacher saying to someone that the boy’s attitude had deteriorated and she couldn’t explain why. That’s all the assistant principal had to hear. He simply walked into the room, pulled the boy out, and knocked his head against the wall."
So much for children as persons under the Constitution, the Supreme Court notwithstanding.
In Mesquite, Texas, a mother, having enrolled her children in elementary school, tells the principal that while she is against corporal punishment for all kids, she is expressly concerned that one of her children never be hit under any circumstances because the girl has a pin in her arm from a horse accident. The mother has been warned by doctors that if the arm should be reinjured, the child could lose it. Soon after, during one day in school, three of the woman’s children--including the one with a pin in her arm--are beaten.
The mother immediately contacts Citizens Against Physical Punishment (a Dallas group that has long been trying to abolish corporal punishment), and she is advised to take the children to the hospital for examination. There they are treated for severe bruises. One has a knot in his side where the principal struck him with a twenty-two inch board. The next stop is the child-abuse section of the local child welfare facility. The mother is told there that although pictures will be taken of the children as proof of the harshness of the beatings they have received, child welfare personnel are not empowered to "interfere with the public schools. They can intervene directly only in parental child beatings. The mother is told to take the pictures and call the Mesquite Police Department so that she can file a complaint. When the police arrive at her home, they begin, with guns drawn, to search the premises as one officer keeps asking the mother, "Are you still going to file charges against our schools?"
In New York City, where corporal punishment is forbidden by the Board of Education, kids nonetheless keep getting hit. One of many reports I have received from teachers and former teachers in the New York City school system is this one from a woman who taught in largely black and Hispanic schools:
For two years I worked in a school where I witnessed physical force being used on male students by at least three or four male principals. By physical force I mean arm-twisting, headlocks, other wrestling holds, and chopping at the neck with the side of the hand. At another school, where I did per diem work, a teacher took out a ruler, which she said she often used, and struck a boy twice, hard. He was a first-grader. What I saw in both schools is fairly typical in so-called rough schools. In many cases, a white teacher will perpetrate this on a non-white student. In the case of the first-grader, it was a black teacher hitting a Hispanic student. In some schools, it is often black on black, which, in some way, appears to be more acceptable. But what way is that?
Of all the reports of corporal punishment I have seen and verified, one of the most affecting concerns a high school senior in Dallas in the early 1970’s. The boy had a good academic record, an A in conduct all the way through school, and the kind of self-discipline that enabled him to hold down a job while going to school so that he could pay for his own car.
Arriving at school one morning, he parked his car in the wrong place. His punishment was to be three blows. When he refused to take physical (and concomitant psychic) abuse, he was suspended for three days. He was further told that he would not be readmitted to the school unless he took those three blows. Here is a letter to an administrator of the school from the young man’s mother:
I have no quarrel... regarding your right to punish my son for violating a rule of parking in the school parking lot. It was a careless act, and he is aware that I am very displeased that he should cause all of us trouble by violating such a simple rule. A three-day suspension seems to me to be adequate punishment for this first violation, but we would accept whatever additional suspension or other punishment you deem proper--short of corporal punishment--and we assure you that this violation will not occur again.
I am morally opposed to corporal punishment. I consider it archaic, barbaric, and counterproductive to all the values I believe parents and teachers should try to promote in their young. It could only serve to degrade and humiliate my son without teaching a lesson of any humane value. In my opinion it would equally degrade the person administering the blows. It is a lesson in might makes right, which I have taught against as long as my son can remember. It may be a small matter to you, but it is basic to my deepest beliefs and those I have taught him.
I know that you have called him into the office a number of times in regard to his hair and, as I have written you previously, I do not think his hair is attractive, but I do not think it disruptive to the school and I think it should be a matter of personal choice. However, I have told him previously that I would not do battle over his hair. Indeed nothing is more difficult for me than to do battle at all, and I will not do it for what I judge to be minor causes. Except for his hair, my son has given no one any trouble. He is a gentle person, intelligent, hard-working, and mature for his age. Do you sincerely believe that the best way to deal with young men is by humiliating them?
Perhaps you do not consider him a young man and I will not belabor the point that the Draft Board disagrees. If you consider him a child, then perhaps you would agree with the laws recently enacted in some states that parents are responsible for the acts of their children. I do not mean to be facetious when I say that, as the one totally responsible for my son’s beliefs--that is, that he has a right to retain some dignity and refuse to be whipped like a slave or animal--I am the proper person to whom you should deliver your blows. I am willing and would receive them without taking the matter any further.
It is, of course, most important to my son, his father, and me that he be able to complete the few short months before graduation. We fully understand that you have it in your power to deny him this important event. I ask that you please consider alternative punishment if the three-day suspension is not sufficient. Surely you do not dislike him this much and if so, may I try to understand why? In any case, I could never give my consent to anything as distasteful and repulsive to me as having you humiliate him by striking him. I find it almost impossible to believe that anyone could seriously believe that such methods of punishment are constructive and helpful in any way.
I ask you to please reconsider.
The school authorities refused to reconsider.
The boy, after days of anguish, broke down for the first time and told his father, "Dad, I want to finish school." The father and his son went to the school and the father watched as the boy took the three blows. The boy went on to class and did get his high school diploma, with an extra learning dividend.
Two court cases provide additionally harsh illumination on the theory and practice of corporal punishment in the public schools. In Ingraham v. Wright, tried before a United States district court in Miami in the fall of 1972, James Ingraham testified that from elementary school on, he had often been paddled by teachers and administrators "to help me learn." In October 1970, while a student at Charles R. Drew Junior High School, Ingraham, forced onto a table by two assistant principals, who held his legs and arms, was hit more than twenty times with a paddle by the school’s principal. When the boy came home, his mother took him to Jackson Memorial Hospital, where a doctor gave him pills to relieve his pain, advised his mother to apply cold compresses to the boy’s blistered buttocks, and told him to stay in bed for a week. Ingraham did remain at home for a week, in bed, face down. His offense had been insufficient alacrity in getting off the stage of the school’s auditorium.
During the trial, three witnesses testified that an assistant principal wore brass knuckles; and one of those witnesses, the mother of a student at the school, said she had seen that school official use his brass knuckles while administering discipline. Another witness, a fourteen-year-old boy, testified that a school administrator, in the course of punishing him for not taking a seat in the auditorium quickly enough--the student was trying to wipe grease off the chair--struck him with a paddle across his head. "I was begging for mercy," the boy said, "but he wouldn’t listen. Then he took off his belt and hit me with the buckle." The witness then showed the federal district judge an inch-long scar alongside his left eye, the result, he said, of doctors at Jackson Memorial Hospital having had to open and drain a swelling on his head caused by the beating. When the youngster returned to school, his mother told school personnel that he suffered from asthma. Nonetheless, the boy was again beaten with a paddle, had an asthma attack, spat up blood, and was taken to a local health center. In reporting on the trial, Ellis Berger, an education writer for the Miami News, noted:
Student witnesses say they have been paddled by teachers who did not first consult with the principal (such consultation is required by Dade County school policy). They testified to being paddled and seeing others paddled before the entire class and said entire classes were paddled when one unknown offender had stolen money or some personal item.
Girls as well as boys have been paddled by teachers and administrators with the rest of the class looking on. Two students testified to being paddled at Shenandoah Junior High by another student at the direction of an assistant principal.
They have testified about being paddled for being late, for skipping school, for chewing gum, for leaning back in their seat, for having their shirttails outs, for talking, for standing up in class, for fighting, for being noisy in the shower, for not having the proper T-shirt or shorts or gym shoes in physical education class. The list of reasons for paddling covers about every possible "offense" by a student, according to sworn testimony.
The suit, brought by Legal Services of Greater Miami, included a count making it a class action filed on behalf of all students in the Dade County public schools. This count asserted that any form of corporal punishment in that county’s school system is unconstitutional because it deprives the physically punished student of due process, equal protection of the law, and is, moreover, "cruel and unusual punishment" as prohibited by the Eighth Amendment.
On February 23, 1973, United States District Judge Joe Eaton held that while the plaintiffs had demonstrated instances of "punishment which could be characterized as severe, accepting the students’ testimony as credible," and that "while the Court believes that corporal punishment may be administered in such a way that the resultant psychological harm to some students will be substantial and lasting," nevertheless "the use of corporal punishment by school authorities does not abridge any privileges or immunities guaranteed to students by the Constitution of the United States."
Accordingly, all counts in the plaintiff’s complaint were dismissed.
The argument went on higher, and in 1974, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that in this case from Florida’s Dade County school system--the sixth largest in the nation--there had been a violation of the beaten students’ constitutional rights: specifically, their right under the Eighth Amendment to be protected against cruel and unusual punishment.
The decision did not outlaw all corporal punishment in the Dade County schools, but did specify that
whether punishment is cruel and unusual depends upon the circumstances surrounding the particular punishment. In this case children aged through 15 were punished for alleged misconduct that did not involve physical harm to any other individual or damage property. The system of punishment utilized resulted in a number of relatively serious injuries and thus clearly involved a significant risk of physical damage to the child. Taking into consideration the age of the children, the nature of the misconduct, the risk of damage, this court must conclude that the system of punishment at the junior high school was excessive in a constitutional sense.
The severity of the paddlings, and the system of paddling at Drew, generally, violated the Eighth Amendment’s requirement that punishment not be greatly disproportionate to the offense charged. Our review of the evidence has further convinced us that the punishment administered at Drew was degrading to the children at that institution.
The court also held that there had been a lack of procedural safeguards--e.g., the students had not been given a chance to explain the circumstances that led to their punishment--and so the students’ rights to due process of law had also been violated.
In a way, even though the court had not declared corporal punishment per se unconstitutional, this would have been somewhat of a breakthrough decision in view of the reluctance so far of nearly all other courts to find any constitutional violations in the use of corporal punishment of schoolchildren. However, the same case, Ingraham v. Wright, was submitted once again to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, en banc, in February 1975; and alas, in a decision handed down in January 1976, the moderate breakthrough was rescinded, as the majority of the court decided that the Eighth Amendment cannot apply to corporal punishment pounded out on schoolchildren. Nor was the Fourteenth Amendment (due process) applicable either.
Judge Rives, in a forceful dissenting opinion, in which he was joined by two other judges, provided a level of constitutional reasoning in cases such as this, which ought to be studied by the Supreme Court.
I cannot escape the conclusion that these school children have a constitutional right to freedom from cruel and unusual punishment when applied under color of state law, and that it is our duty as federal judges to enforce that right….The administration of cruel and severe corporal punishment can never be justified. The circumstances and severity of the beatings disclosed by the presently undisputed evidence amounted to arbitrary and capricious conduct unrelated to the achievement of any legitimate educational purpose.
As for the denial of the students’ Fourteenth Amendment rights, Judge Rives emphasized that the undisputed evidence
shows deprivations of liberty, probability of severe psychological and physical injury, punishment of persons who were protesting their innocence, punishment for no offense whatever, punishment far more severe than warranted by the gravity of the offense, and all without the slightest notice of opportunity for any kind of hearing. The brutal facts of this case should not be swept under the rug. Clearly…the plaintiffs have been subjected to cruel and unusual punishment. Under color of state law, they have been arbitrarily deprived of both property and liberty. Even more clearly, they have been denied procedural due process. [Emphasis added.]
The precedent to be set by the en banc majority is that school children have no federal constitutional rights which protect them from cruel and severe beatings administered under color of state law, without any kind of hearing, for the slightest offense or for no offense whatsoever. I strongly disagree and respectfully dissent.
(Conceivably, Judge Rives may yet prevail. The Supreme Court in May 1976 decided to consider whether the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights of the youngsters involved in Ingraham v. Wright had indeed been violated.)
Even Judge Rives's rather advanced judicial reasoning, however, does not go so far as to abolish corporal punishment. This judge, like a few others, is indeed willing to consider taking some action against "excessive" physical force while maintaining the view that "reasonable" corporal punishment, under proper procedural safeguards, is permissible. The result of this kind of balancing is what Alan Reitman, associate executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, calls a "floating" standard. That is, instead of abolishing corporal punishment entirely as a violation of a student's basic rights as a person under the Constitution, the question of the "proper" degree of force that can be inflicted on a child is left to the criteria of individual judges. Accordingly, as Reitman says, there is no "single defined standard that could be applied nationally." What is brutality to one judge can be well within an educator's disciplinary privileges to another.
The federal courts, including the Supreme Court, have continually muddied this issue in diverse other ways. In 1975, the Community Advocate Unit of the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office asked: "If corporal punishment is to be prohibited as cruel and unusual punishment in prisons and juvenile institutions [as it has been in two U.S. Court of Appeals decision], how is it constitutionally permissible in public schools?...A common sense approach to the question must be: if you cannot beat prisoners or delinquent children, how can you beat children in public schools?"
Furthermore, as Pennsylvania's Community Advocate Unit points out, the Supreme Court's Tinker and Gault decisions have made clear that children are "people" under the Constitution. Therefore, "as people [under the Constitution] school children should be immune from an unconstitutional intrusion into that 'sacred' zone, the student's body." And by the same reasoning, schoolchildren should also be immune from cruel and unusual punishment and deprivation of due process.
To see how far the courts still are from these logical interconnections, there is the lamentably instructive case of Ware V. Estes, the Estes in question being the Dallas, Texas, superintendent of schools. In the plaintiff's original petition, the Statement of Facts noted:
A. On numerous occasions during the school year, 1969-70, Douglas Ware, a student at Sunset High School, was struck for allegedly disciplinary reasons [by vice-principal and a teacher at the school]. And
B. On or about May 5, 1970, Roderick Oliver, a student at Sara Zumwalt Junior High School, was knocked unconscious at 4:30 p.m. [by a teacher at that school] for alleged disciplinary reasons.
Placing the court action in the context of constitutional law, the attorney for the students charged that the defendants--Dr. Estes, two principals, two vice-principals, and two teachers--had failed to give the students "any opportunity for a hearing, however informal, to present their side of the alleged misconduct before an impartial referee." Furthermore, the students had not been allowed to present witnesses or other evidence in their defense; could not question or cross-examine any witnesses against them; did not have the opportunity to be represented in any hearing (if there had been a hearing) by an attorney; and were not informed that they had the right to a notice of charges, a hearing, and representation.
In addition, the petition continued, "the infliction of corporal punishment by public school officials on public school students on its face abridges the 'privileges and immunities' of all such students...including their rights to physical integrity, dignity of personality, and freedom from arbitrary authority in violation of the Fourth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States." The student plaintiffs also claimed that corporal punishments "deprives public school students of...'liberty without due process of law' in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution since it is arbitrary, capricious, and unrelated to achieving any legitimate educational purpose. On the contrary, the use of corporal punishment in the schools results in a hostile reaction to authority, breeds further violence and interferes with the educational process and academic inquiry." Moreover, corporal punishment "constitutes 'cruel and unusual punishment'...since it was grossly disproportionate to any misconduct Plaintiff-Students may have engaged in [and is therefore] in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution."
On paper at least, the constitutional issues with regard to the legality of corporal punishment in public schools appeared to have been clearly joined in Ware v. Estes.
Before the case was tried, Marshall Ware, father of plaintiff Douglas Ware, wrote to Dr. Karl Menninger, whose book The Crime of Punishment had been published in 1968:
It is because two of our [three] sons have been subjected to physical punishment in Dallas Schools that we plead for your personal support to end the Crime of Punishment.
These sons are very different. Our third boy...has a minimal brain dysfunction symptomized by visual-motor problems, short attention span, clumsiness, and spelling/writing difficulties. Labeling this as "not paying attention" and "laziness" has resulted in spankings from the first grade--plus ridicule and the destruction of his dignity by teachers. Last September--fearing he would eventually be a dropout or emotional wreck--we placed him...in the Angie Nall School Hospital for Educational Retraining in Beaumont, Texas...We hope to have this boy back home this fall but fear the problems which will arise with the public schools' policy of physical punishment. Our second son Douglas (age 16, and excellent IQ, physically perfect and a champion swimmer, sensitive to personalities and hypocrisy) has the problem of being outspoken and can be profiled by the typical undesirable teenage characteristics as outlined by Gesell, Ilg, and Ames. The school, trying to train him with regular paddling, caused him to become a behavior problem, and his grades to drop (from B's to D's and F's) in all classes. He is now having regular psychiatric sessions...
My wife and I feel that the causes for our boys being physically punished are just about as valid as spanking for pimples. We feel the root of this spanking problem can best be reached only by attacking the whole attitude and system of the schools in their dealing with and teaching students....Our fight to eliminate corporal punishment is the most essential king-pin. It can force our schools to communicate, cooperate, and teach--rather than coerce....If we are successful, it may be a milestone toward forcing an understanding of and solutions to the problems of revolt, dropouts, drugs, turned-off kids--even poor teaching. It can begin with the school setting a good example which will nurture an appreciation of our Constitutional rights and the dignity of man and boys....We hope you can give us some support.
Dr. Menninger responded by registering his appalled disapproval of what had happened to Mr. Ware's sons in the Dallas schools, but he was unable to testify at the trial. Professor David Gil of Brandeis University did appear for the students; and in an interview with the Dallas Morning News, Dr. Gil emphasized that "It's much worse for public schools to beat children than for parents to do so because the public schools set an example." He noted, for instance, that according to a nationwide study of child abuse he had directed in 1969 for the federal Health, Education and Welfare Department, the rate of child abuse per 100,000 in Texas was more than three times the national average (31.2 as compared with the national average of 9.3). In that state, where corporal punishment in the schools is especially widespread, physical abuse of children at home is also strikingly more prevalent.
During the court proceedings, the plaintiffs claimed--and they were not rebutted on the facts by the defense--that Douglas Ware had been hit more than twelve times (with a paddle, a tennis shoe, and a baton) for such misdeeds as not bringing his tennis shoes to class in the gym, not wearing a shirt in the weight room, talking back to a senior student, being late for workouts, not having his equipment in order, failure to pay towel fees, and failure to submit to a physical examination.
Intriguingly, one of the witnesses for the defense was a former principal of Sunset High School, who edified the court with the tale of Rufus Moore's tennis shoe. Mr. Moore, the former principal explained, had been a basketball coach at the school who whipped his players with the fabled shoe in order to motivate them to higher levels of performance and presumably to greater attainment of self-discipline. The shoe grew to mean so much to the boys, the witness added, that it was placed in a niche of honor in the school auditorium, where it remained until the building was remodeled. At that point in Dallas school history, Rufus Moore had become ill, and a number of Sunset High School students took the hardy tennis shoe to his bedside at Methodist Hospital in Dallas to provide a spiritual lift to the ailing coach.
The point appeared to be that Douglas Ware, rather than having been abused, had been involved in a noble tradition at Sunset High, and it was a mark of his further deficiency as a student not to have been aware of that educational blessing.
As for the other plaintiff in the case, Roderick Oliver, the court records show that a teacher at Sara Zumwalt Junior High School admitted he had indeed struck the sixteen-year-old boy and knocked him unconscious--but with his open hand, not with a paddle. Furthermore, he had done so not as a teacher, but as an individual in a fit of anger when the boy, according to the teacher, directed an obscenity at him. (The incident had resulted from the teacher's objection to the boy's desire to reenter the building after school for a drink of water.) In any case, following the attack, Oliver had been hospitalized for two days.
Upon deliberation, Federal District Judge William M. Taylor, Jr., found no substantial constitutional issues in the plaintiffs' charges. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit agreed with the lower court; and on November 20, 1972, the United States Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of the rulings that permit personnel in the Dallas public schools to inflict corporal punishment on children.
Is there any likelihood that the Supreme Court might change its mind on this issue in the foreseeable future? It would hardly seem so, judging by the Supreme Court's affirmation in October 1975 of the constitutionality of Russell Carl Baker's having been hit with a wooden drawer divider by his social studies teacher. It is possible, however, that the high court, on the basis of its decisions requiring due process for student suspensions (Goss v. Lopez and Wood v. Strickland), will mandate some form of due process procedure for corporal punishment (as another form of school discipline). But these safeguards are almost certain to be minimal and will mean, for example, that the child will have to be given some kind of pro forma "hearing" before he is hit. But he will still be hit.
Therefore, while cases will continue to be brought through the federal courts (with the long-distance hope that a differently constituted Supreme Court may someday give schoolchildren the same right not to be beaten that convicts have), the emphasis in the years ahead by corporal punishment abolitionists will be on lobbying municipal and state legislators (who can still prohibit the hitting of schoolchildren). And a corollary drive will be toward the mass education of parents on the diverse injuries, psychological as well as physical, that are caused by corporal punishment in the schools.
Until fairly recently, there has been no central clearing house of information and support for those trying to end what Eric Sevareid joshingly calls kid-whacking in the schools. Now, largely through the determined efforts of Carolyn Schumacher (a resourceful, indomitable Pittsburgh mother of two schoolchildren and a doctoral candidate and teaching fellow in American history at the University of Pittsburgh), a start has been made toward establishing a national organization to abolish corporal punishment in the schools.
In the late 1960s, while teaching in an elementary school on Pittsburgh's North Side, Mrs. Schumacher was asked by a colleague to be a witness while the colleague punished a boy in her class. "To my amazement," Carolyn Schumacher recalls, "the boy, just an ordinary, unassuming ten-year-old, braced himself against a desk while the teacher swung at him five times with a stick the length of a baseball bat, striking him across the buttocks, or thereabout, with all her might."
Upon further exploration, Mrs. Schumacher discovered that in many schools in Pittsburgh, "children were being slapped, pushed, and poked by teachers, and constantly threatened with a paddle that in some schools was either carried by the principal as he patrolled the halls or kept on public display in the office. Some teachers kept a paddle handy at their desks and carried it during bathroom recess as they trooped the children in silence to be 'watered.'"
In April 1967, Mrs. Schumacher helped form the Committee for Abolition of Corporal Punishment in the Schools. Its members recruited parents, social workers, and school volunteers to collect and verify incidents of corporal punishment in the Pittsburgh schools. In one sixth-grade classroom, for instance, as Mrs. Schumacher later reported, a boy had been caught making a paper airplane. Summoned in front of the class, he was told he had the choice of eating the airplane or being paddled. He ate the airplane, and was taken to the principal's office, where he was paddled anyway.
"I should add," Mrs. Schumacher notes, "that the boy in this case had a withered hand, did not have complete command of our language, and his father, a visiting scientist, had recently been in an automobile accident."
After amassing a considerable amount of evidence, the committee, despite resistance from the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, school supervisors, and various members of the board of education, finally persuaded the board to phase out corporal punishment in all grades of the public school. But Pittsburgh's teachers, as I have noted, have never given up trying to get the board to change its mind.
"It is not only that corporal punishment abridges the rights of any kid who is hit," Carolyn Schumacher told me at an early stage of her battle in Pittsburgh, "but allowing it in a school also abridges the rights of all kids there, even those who are never hit. So long as it goes on in the school as a whole or in a particular classroom, kids who have not yet been hit live in constant fear of arbitrary and unexpected reprisal for real or imaginary offenses."
"Furthermore," she added, "many kids become accustomed to being used as the goat to frighten the rest of the children into submission and conformity." Sometimes, moreover, the child who is hit begins to see that as his role in class and makes a point of trying to get the teacher angry enough to paddle him. Whether for "attention" or other reasons, he continually makes a contract for misbehavior. Obviously, a child with that kind of syndrome needs help, not more hitting.
There can also be, Carolyn Schumacher believes, an addictive quality in the frequent use of corporal punishment. "In my experience," she says, "the teachers who use corporal punishment, or send children to the principal to be hit, tend to rely on corporal punishment more and more as time goes on."
I asked her reaction to teachers who say that parents have told them they want their children hit if hitting is necessary to maintain discipline. After all, some of these parents say, that's what happens to the child at home, too, when he gets out of line.
"It's instructive," Carolyn Schumacher answered, "that hitting kids is one of the few practices that teachers do defend by invoking the wishes of parents. On the other hand, when parents inject their own beliefs concerning education, the normative teacher response, promoted in the training programs, is to invoke 'professionalism.' ('We don't do that because it is my professional opinion that it is better to do this.') But when it comes to corporal punishment, many teachers fall back on the claim: 'What else can I do? The parents want me to hit their children.'
"It seems to me," Carolyn Schumacher continued, "that the schools must serve a teaching function in this regard. They do not have to, and should not, reflect the worst aspects of the home. Especially with regard to physical violence against children. The student who lives with the notion that violence is sanctioned by society and watches other kids taken off to be beaten, or witnesses actual beatings, in the name of discipline, is getting the kind of training that you might expect in the schools of an authoritarian state. Think about it. What kind of citizen do we want to come out of our schools? If there is anywhere kids can learn to grow up to stand by passively and watch people being beaten, raped, and murdered in the street, it is in a school where children are brutalized by the people in authority."
The doughty Carolyn Schumacher, while working to end corporal punishment in the Pittsburgh schools, began to extend her proselytizing against the hitting of children. A member of the board of directors of the Western Pennsylvania chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, she convinced that body to take a stand against kid-whacking; and she became one of the prime movers behind the decision of the national A.C.L.U. to hold a three-day National Conference on Corporal Punishment in the Schools in May 1972.
Commenting on that conference, The New York Times observed, in an editorial, "Spare the Rod":
One need not agree with the A.C.L.U.'s argument that the obnoxious practice violates the Constitutional provision that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law. It would seem more consistent with common sense and humane considerations to prohibit corporal punishment simply because it is an atrocious violation of educational principle. It is ironic, as the A.C.L.U. points out, that corporal punishment may now be visited upon schoolchildren for the "crime" of talking without permission but not upon felons convicted of major crimes.
But even more appalling than such a legal affront to the status of children should be the thought that youngsters are being taught the efficacy of rule by bully. It is hardly surprising that such children subsequently apply that rule in their own dealings with others, weaker than themselves.
When, as a result of the May A.C.L.U. conference, the National Committee to Abolish Corporal Punishment in the Schools was formed in Dallas in October 1972, Carolyn Schumacher and Julian Hudson (a Charlottesville, Virginia, classroom teacher who had headed the National Education Association Task Force on Corporal Punishment) were elected to chair the committee.
Four years later, after continual failure to obtain foundation or any other support that would have enabled it to grow into more than a symbolic organization, the committee finally became part of a new national center for the study of corporal punishment in the College of Education at Temple University in Philadelphia. (Had the committee not been in existence, however marginally, there would be no center.)
Finally, for the first time in the history of American schooling, a research effort has begun to determine, with as much precision as possible, the full extent of corporal punishment in the schools with corollary analysis of the findings by educators, child psychologists, civil liberties attorneys, and other experts in related areas. There will also be extensive research on alternatives to corporal punishment, with particular emphasis on those being used in schools around the country--and on how to enable teachers to adapt to education without assault.
As will be shown in this book, there surely are alternatives, even with the most volcanic children in the "toughest" schools. First of all, there are teachers who, as George Dennison would put it, have so earned their authority in dealing with children that they don't have to use force to keep reasonable order. They know the kids believe them to be fair, and just as crucially, believe in their willingness to really listen to and cope with grievances.
Admittedly, there is not an abundance of such teachers. What of all the others? For them, alternatives to corporal punishment are myriad but require principals or teachers' unions that will arrange for a certain amount of breathing room for teachers.
For instance, Dr. Ruth Newman, an associate professor at The American University in Washington, D.C., and a resourceful researcher on group interrelationships in schools, has suggested that time be provided during the school week so that small groups of teachers who feel particularly beset in their classrooms can meet regularly to:
Lessen isolation and loneliness--two aspects of teaching which are usually uncared for by school officials and can eventually make for loss of control;
Look at one's own threshold of explosion--what particular kinds of behavior and language tend to make each particular teacher blow up;
Look at what is going on in each "difficult" child's life that makes him so impossible, unmanageable and provocative;
Explore ways in which the school staff can be deployed to take pressures off beleaguered teachers who feel likely to lose control.
Dr. Newman has other entirely logical, lucid suggestions; and since this is a book concerned with emphasizing common sense in schooling, here are a number of them, as presented by her at the A.C.L.U.'s National Conference on Corporal Punishment in the Schools:
Have crisis teachers trained in interviewing youngsters before [when the signs are evident], during and after blowups. Also have trained consultants to analyze specific teachers' blowups before, during and after their occurrence. That way, the teacher can learn to defuse himself before blowing up.
Develop, through school seminars, ways in which there can be greater desensitization to the usual provocative four-letter words.
Provide relief time, rest time and rooms, pleasantly set up, for teachers who, for the moment, have had it. Also have quiet rooms for children where they can cool off when pressures mount. Have present, if a teacher is scared of his or her class, a backup person--an aid, volunteer, or extra teacher.
Schedule and reschedule curriculum to allow for active periods of play or gym after long periods of sitting or concentration, in both high schools and elementary schools, to allow outlets for everyone's body tension.
Discuss in class what means of control the children think work best for them, and why.
There are many other alternatives to kid-whacking, including, as the National Education Association advises, having "social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists working on a one-to-one basis with disruptive students or distraught teachers." To be sure, even if these support forces were available only part-time in the schools, their presence would add to the budget. But consider the question of cost priorities in this context. What is the cost of freeing a "disruptive" child now from his fears and frustrations so that he can learn; and what will be the cost, over the years, if he fails school and school fails him? (The question of how much, in dollars, we really do value schooling--and not only for the "disruptive"--will be explored in a later chapter.)
As for corporal punishment, the most effective way, of course, to motivate schools to find alternatives to hitting kids is to make corporal punishment flatly illegal. And that is the basic goal of the center for the study of corporal punishment at Temple University. Accordingly, one of its functions is to serve as a clearing house of legal briefs filed in corporal punishment cases throughout the country. It will also correlate and distribute information about ongoing attempts in cities and states to get laws passed prohibiting the beating of kids in school. In addition, the center provides both lawyers and lobbyists with access to a reference library and roster of expert witnesses.
Unless there is a definitive Supreme Court ruling soon against corporal punishment in the schools--a most unlikely possibility, as I've indicated--it is going to take years of educating the citizenry at large before children are no longer the only Americans who can legally be beaten.
In North Carolina, near Gibsonville--where Russell Carl Baker was whacked with a wooden drawer divider by his social studies teacher for playing ball--Margaret Keesee of Greensboro tried some years ago, when she was a state representative, to convince the North Carolina Legislature to abolish corporal punishment. Not only did her bill fail to get out of committee, but when her seat in the legislature was next up, she also failed to win her party's renomination. Her revolutionary proposal had proved to be, as she put it, "political suicide."
Meanwhile the widely approved beating of schoolchildren continues, with some modifications. In October 1972, for instance, the school board of Aztec, New Mexico, abolished the use of rubber hoses for disciplining grade school pupils. Instead, it mandated a leather strap as the proper instrument of discipline in that town's schools.
And then there is the case of an elementary school teacher in Ottawa, Illinois, who was dismissed in 1973 because he used a battery-operated cattle prod on those of his sixth-grade students he thought required educational jolting. In May 1975, a state judge ordered the teacher reinstated on the basis, the jurist explained, that the administration of a cattle prod to a child's body is not "cruel" within the dictionary definition of the term.
Instructive in this matter is the fact that the board of education which had originally dismissed the teacher had not ever received a single protest against the use of cattle prod from the parents whose children had been taught with this device.
Accordingly, for all the attention directed toward reforming the schools in recent years, it would appear that many parents and many school systems in the United States have yet to advance to the position taken by George J. Luckey, who in 1868, in his first report as Superintendent of the Common Schools of Pittsburgh, wrote:
We have found that teachers who govern themselves best could most easily govern a school. Those who prove to their scholars, by their moral deportment, their superiority, had the greatest respect shown to them. We have found that corporal punishment degrades a child in his own estimation. He loses his self-respect, and...he loses his respect for his teacher... Physical force is resorted to only by those who have aroused the bad passions of a scholar, and in turn, are under the control of bad passions themselves... Not only is the old method of corporal punishment barbarous, but it also infuses an insubordinate spirit into the whole school, consumes a great amount of valuable time, unbalances the teacher's equilibrium and unfits him for teaching, turns the current of thought away from study to a hundred unpleasant reflections, and associates with school life most disagreeable scenes and incidents...
A man who tried hard to lift teachers, administrators, and parents to at least the level of understanding of children manifested by George Luckey in 1868 was the late Edward Ladd, a professor of education at Emory University. Together with Carolyn Schumacher, Carole Duncan (a long-time Dallas opponent of corporal punishment), and Alan Reitman of the American Civil Liberties Union, Ladd was central in the formation of the National Committee to Abolish Corporal Punishment in the Schools. In one of his last papers, Dr. Ladd urged his colleagues in schools of education to recognize that almost none of the current method books and other works on educational practices "so much as mention the practice of hitting kids." Ladd went on:
If we professors of education wait for bans to be imposed by school boards, most of us will have to wait a long, long time. Political bodies will not move significantly ahead of public opinion, and public opinion is not yet generally enlightened on this score. Courts in turn will rarely move ahead of the articulated opinion of members of the profession which, as has been pointed out, is still largely in the same unenlightened state. So it is we professors and students of education who should be taking the lead.
In the next few years, therefore, let us give "Discipline" and "Corporal Punishment" a larger place in our courses and in our conferences with students doing field work. Let us--some of us at least--give these matters a place in our research and writing. Let's get them on the programs too of the meetings of PTA's and lay groups. Finally, if and when court cases dealing with any aspect of discipline come up on our areas, let's offer to help lawyers prepare their briefs and offer to act as expert witnesses.
As yet there has been no significant response from professors of education.
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