Connections Between School Corporal Punishment and Child Abuse Ignored
The New York Times, July 25, 1987

To The Editor:

Your front-page article on the tradition of paddling in schools (July 9) makes it timely to draw a firm connection between corporal punishment in schools and child abuse.

All too often social policies proceed in mutually exclusive tracks, and obvious connections are ignored. It is paradoxical that on one hand our country invests millions of dollars annually to prevent and cope with the other, policy makers at every level of government turn a blind eye to the deliberate injuring of children by school personnel in the name of discipline.

At the 1981 National Conference on Child Abuse and Neglect sponsored by the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, Rosalyn Bandman, director of the social service department of Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, reported on a study of injuries defined as parental physical abuse.

The physicians involved in treating these children were "bewildered" that identical injuries were not, under law, treated in the same fashion. In the case of injuries inflicted by parents in the home, a report to child-protective services would begin a process designed to protect the child from further assault, yet no such legal framework protects children who are injured by teachers or other school officials.

This anomaly becomes even more dramatic when we consider that there is a high incidence of excessive discipline for many "special needs" children, for whom the Education of the Handicapped Act mandates a free appropriate public education to meet those needs.

Educators who defend the use of corporal punishment frequently do so out of ignorance of effective alternative systems of discipline. A variety of other approaches exists, including in-school suspension, assertive discipline, behavior management, "time out" and many others. The National Association of Social Workers can provide interested teachers, school administrators and policy makers with information about these alternatives to corporal punishment, as well as strategies for changing school policies through its publication "Spare the Rod?!": A Resource Guide: Alternatives to Corporal Punishment."

A second wave of educational reform is currently gathering strength in this country concerning the needs of "children at risk" and America's need to provide proper educational supports so that they can compete with other children and, eventually, help fill the burgeoning demand for labor in the coming years. Children who are physically injured, whether at home or at school, are part of that group vulnerable to school failure. We must work toward consistency in our social educational policies by abolishing corporal punishment in schools.

Suzanne Dworak-Peck - Silver Spring, Md., July 10, 1987
The writer is president of the National Association of Social Workers.

The New York Times, New York, N.Y. 7/25/87

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