Ending Corporal Punishment Act
An Important Step Since ‘Brown v. Board of Education’

By Stacey Patton, July 2, 2010

This past Wednesday, New York Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy stood at the U.S. Capitol holding up a long wooden paddle as she introduced the “Ending Corporal Punishment in Schools Act” – a bill that would ban corporal punishment in all public and private schools that receive federal assistance. The legislation would work by denying federal money to schools that continue hitting students.

“I am introducing this legislation to address the damaging use of corporal punishment against our nation’s school children,” said McCarthy. She argues that this bill will not only eliminate the use of corporal punishment in schools, it will also assist in creating a safer learning environment for children and ensure that schools are places that “foster students’ growth and dignity.”

Despite corporal punishment’s decline since the 1980s, a 2008 joint report by Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union reported that over 200,000 schoolchildren were spanked or paddled in schools. A report from the Office of Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education, has shown that corporal punishment is employed most frequently in the south in Missouri, Kentucky, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee and Florida.

People who live above the Mason-Dixon Line are often shocked when I tell them that corporal punishment is still legal in 20 states. Most school districts in those “paddling states” require parental consent before it is used. In doing so, parents are essentially allowed to waive a child’s right to “due process” as well as their Eighth Amendment right to be free from infliction of “cruel and unusual punishment.”

Opponents have long argued that corporal punishment has a negative effect on students, that it is discriminatorily applied, teaches children that violence is an effective way to resolve problems, and there is no evidence that it helps decrease disciplinary problems in schools.

Virginia Congressman Bobby Scott (D-VA), a co-sponsor of the bill, said at the press conference that corporal punishment is a civil rights issue.

“The fact that schools are applying school discipline policies in a discriminatory manner based on race, color, national origin, disability or gender constitutes a civil rights violation and is wrong,” said Scott.

Data from the federal Department of Education and several scholarly longitudinal studies have also demonstrated that black elementary and secondary students endure physical punishment along with school suspensions and expulsions at dramatically disproportionate rates. During the 2006-07 school year, for instance, black students made up 17 percent of the nationwide student population but nearly 36 percent of those paddled in schools.

If this bill passes, it will become one of the most important steps in protecting the civil rights of schoolchildren since the 1954 Supreme Court Brown v. Board of Education decision ruled that “separate-but-equal” facilities for black and white students was unconstitutional.

Yes we all know that the saga of Brown’s implementation was disappointing. In the wake of the ruling, subsequent court decisions and recalcitrant school boards stalled the Court’s “with all deliberate speed” mandate and impeded the process of ensuring equality in schools. Over 50 years later, the demographics of this country have changed and patterns of housing and immigration have given way to extremely segregated neighborhoods. And in those areas, schools remain segregated and the quality of education is far from equal.

Despite its obvious pitfalls, the hope of Brown was that black children would be afforded an equal opportunity to experience thriving intellectual achievement. Allowing corporal punishment in schools today undermines that hope that schools would instill children, especially black children, with positive self-esteem and provide a quality educational experience that stimulate their intellectual growth.

The Brown decision held that school segregation violated the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause, just as corporal punishment violates children’s Eighth Amendment rights today. Racial segregation, it was demonstrated before the Supreme Court, made black children feel inferior and stifled their “educational and mental development” just as recent data has shown that hitting children harms their cognitive ability and leads to harmful behaviors during childhood and later in life.

So what’s the difference between the psychological impact of segregating black children in schools then and the disproportionate use of violence used again black students in classrooms today?

In my opinion there is no difference.

When black children are more than twice as likely to be hit as white students, it reinforces a long-held view that they are inferior to other children and it imbues them with anger, self-hatred, and oppression while thwarting overall educational progress in this country.

To read more by Stacey Patton on this subject, click here.

When African-American slaves conceptualized freedom as “abolition of punishment by the lash,” I’m certain this meant that once Emancipation was achieved, their children and their descendants would not continue to writhe under the state-sanctioned use of paddles swung by white or black hands.

This week, black media and political pundits, civil rights organizations and their stalwarts, and the broader African-American community have been largely mute about Congresswoman McCarthy’s campaign to put an end to harmful tactics that so deeply affect children, especially our children. As I try to decipher the conspicuous silence on this very important civil rights issue, I am hopeful that African-Americans will yet recognize the need to rally around Congresswoman McCarthy.

Stacey Patton is the Senior Editor of The Defenders Online and a writer for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. She is also author of a memoir, That Mean Old Yesterday, which discusses child abuse.

SOURCE: The Defenders Online
A Civil Rights Blog of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund web site.


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