It's time to hang up the paddle in all of North Carolina's public schools. The practice of disciplining schoolchildren with physical force, already banned in some school districts here and forbidden in the majority of states, is unnecessary. There are better ways to create discipline at school, and better lessons for young scholars than a smack on the rump -- however well-intentioned and rooted in tradition.
The question of corporal punishment in public schools showed up last week at the General Assembly in the form of a bill from Rep. Martha Alexander, a Charlotte Democrat. "The children should not be subject to violence in the schools from anyone," Alexander said. State Superintendent June Atkinson, and Eddie Davis, head of the teachers association, support the bill.
For many Triangle-area readers, the fact that about two-third of the state's school districts still allow corporal punishment may be news.
Under North Carolina's local-option system, the Wake, Durham and Orange county systems prohibit paddling, as does Chapel Hill-Carrboro. But, in our area, Chatham, Franklin, Harnett and Johnston counties do permit it. And in broad swaths of the state, "spare the rod and spoil the child" still rules at school, although administrators in some of those districts say they seldom exercise the right -- or their right arms.
Nonetheless, spotty statistics suggest that thousands of student spankings do take place in the Tar Heel state, although at a rate far below those of paddling powerhouses Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, Texas and Mississippi.
As that list suggests, school spanking is these days largely a Southern phenomenon (Virginia, which banned paddling in 1989, is a notable exception in the region). It's safe to say that corporal punishment is centered in the old Confederacy and walks a narrowing path.
Many readers will regret that trend. Schools need all the discipline and respect for authority they can muster, and taking away a traditional tool can seem like unilateral disarmament. If the social order appears to be spiraling downward, a prohibition on paddling looks like another twist in the wrong direction from the liberal side of the aisle. And corporal punishment at school seems a logical extension of parental authority at home; folks fear what the loss might mean.
Take heart, North Carolina. Beneath the surface, the schools of bygone days were hardly perfect, and today those in states without spanking are no more ill-disciplined than those with it. The spanking states, in fact, have higher violent crime rates. A ban on physical punishments still permits force if it's needed to quell disturbance. Respect is better gained through strategies that focus on students' brains, not their backsides. Public schools can safely spare the rod.
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