Letter to the Members of the Memphis School Board and Reply to Member Patrice Robinson
By Jordan Riak
February 25, 2004

Dear Memphis School Board Members:

U.S. Justice Brandeis (1856-1941) said something about the role of government which I believe is directly applicable to your current deliberations over corporal punishment. He said: "Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill it teaches the whole people by example."

If Brandeis were right, then it follows that when a school board, acting as an agent of the government, fails to protect schoolchildren from acts of violence, it becomes a partner in the activity. It becomes an accomplice before and after the fact.

Not many years ago, when spousal battery was legal, husbands who battered their wives rationalized their behavior exactly as paddlers rationalize their behavior today. One could fill pages with their unctuous, self-righteous, self-serving proofs that the social order depends on the continued right of husbands to "reasonably chastise" errant wives "for their own good." That's changed now. Civilized society has put its house in order with regard to violent behavior by adults toward other adults. For reasons that no one can satisfactorily explain, however, schoolchildren don't qualify for that protection.

Until educators and education policymakers accept the moral responsibility for protecting schoolchildren from violence, they will remain aiders and abettors of violence--hardly a respectable role for, in Brandeis' words, "the omnipresent teacher."


Jordan Riak, Executive Director
Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education (PTAVE),

Reply to Memphis School Board Member Patrice Robinson

February 27, 2004

Dear Patrice Robinson:

You wrote: "Please send me alternative methods of behavior modification that has statistical verification stating that it works for all children."

First of all, no one simple formula for problem solving works with all children all the time, any more than a one-size-fits-all formula works for all marriages or for any other category of human interaction. Anyone who thinks otherwise is misguided and bound for disappointment and failure.

As for spanking, paddling, pops, swats, licks, whopping, whipping, beating or whatever else one wants to call assault and battery of children, it's wrong today and it has always been wrong. Spankers' glib claim that "it works" is belied by the results.

For many decades, social scientists have observed that societies that are the most punitive, coercive and authoritarian toward their young are also the most violence ridden. Those societies also tend to be the most impoverished because so much vital energy is squandered in endless rounds of applications of force and counterforce, control and rebellion, violence and revenge, crime and punishment. Their educations systems tend to be ineffectual because children don't thrive in a war zone, virtual or real.

Since you say you are interested in research, I invite you to visit the section, Index by Author, on my organization's Web site. You'll find among the authors many well-known, highly respected scholars associated with major universities. You'll have many hours of good reading. For the sake of brevity, I've selected only a few authors through F:

David Bakan, Ph.D. York University, Canada
Jim Barber, Dean of the Faculty of Social Work, University of Toronto
Elliott Barker, M.D., D. Psych, F.R.C.P. (C), is the Director of the Canadian Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and the Editor of the journal Empathic Parenting.
Susan Bitensky, Professor of law at Detroit College of Law at Michigan State University
Albert Bandura, Professor of Psychology at Stanford University and the president of the American Psychological Association.
Alan DeWitt Button, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology, California State University, Fresno
Joan E. Durrant, Ph.D., Associate Professor and Head of the Department of Family Studies at the University of Manitoba.
Albert Einstein, Princeton
Herbert Arnold Falk, Ph.D., Columbia University

Finally, I want to respond to your challenge. You seem to be saying that the burden of proof is on me to show you that teaching methods that don't use corporal punishment work better. Well, if ease is you sole criterion for good educational practice, then I concede. You win. Hitting a child is easy if it's anything. It doesn't require thinking or training or intelligence, just superior size. However, if success is your criterion, than you might want to examine other education systems that have a much higher success rate than yours, and where corporal punishment isn't allowed. (See John Guthrow's "Correlation between high rates of corporal punishment in schools and social pathologies." It's listed in Index by Author.) You might want to ask yourself why the entire developed world, and much of the developing world, has abandoned corporal punishment in schools, and why there isn't any call (not even a whisper) for its reinstatement. Is there something that other education policymakers know that you don't know? Are the children in their schools a different species? You might want to ask yourself why there isn't one teachers' college in Tennessee that instructs undergraduates how to hit pupils. You might wonder why the number of non-paddling states -- now 28 -- continues to grow. With all due respect, I think that the burden of proof is on you to justify why your district clings to a practice that so many others have abandoned.

Project NoSpank's Index by Author is at www.nospank.net/authors.htm


Jordan Riak, Executive Director
Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education

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