A response to "Schools Average in Paddling"
By Debra Stang
October 26, 2010

On September 10, 2010, an article appeared on the Desoto Times Tribune Web site, www.Desototimestribune.com entitled "Schools Average in Paddling".

Let's consider a few of its more disturbing aspects.

First of all, the sheer number of students being paddled in DeSoto County Public Schools is staggering – 10.5 percent of the student body has been legally battered by someone entrusted to mentor and educate them. The article is quick to point out that this number is not out of line with the average number of students paddled in Mississippi public schools—10 percent, the highest percentage in the nation.

In case you're wondering how students perform academically when faced with the daily threat of corporal punishment, the answer is not very well. In a 2007 report card on American Education produced by the American Legislative Exchange Council, Mississippi ranked last out of all the states in academic achievement. (Minnesota—a non-paddling state—ranked first.)

Let's return to that 10.5 percent of students in DeSoto County, Mississippi, who were paddled and break that figure down into actual numbers. The article tells us that a total of 3140 students were paddled in 4993 separate incidents of corporal punishment. This averages out to about 1.59 beatings per punished child. In other words, several children were beaten more than once.

Another statistic worth looking at involves race—53 percent of the students paddled in DeSoto schools last year were Black; whereas only 28 percent of children attending DeSoto schools last year were Black. Given that some historians hypothesize that the paddle was first used by slave owners as a way to inflict pain and humiliation without causing permanent injury, these numbers are especially disquieting.

Sex is also a factor in paddling in Mississippi: 75 percent of the students paddled are male. Do boys misbehave that much more frequently than girls? Or is there another reason why educators are reluctant to paddle girls? If corporal punishment is somehow "wrong" for one gender, why shouldn't it also be wrong for the other?

Illusion of Control

Suppose you are out shopping when you are confronted by a man with a weapon. Brandishing his gun in your face, he snarls, "Give me your wallet!" Of course, you obey instantly. When this man is brought to trial, he presents an interesting defense. He says you handed over the money voluntarily. After all, he gave you a choice. You could have chosen to take the bullet. The decision was yours.

This is the type of "choice" being offered to students and parents in DeSoto County. First, DeSoto County offers to allow parents to "choose an alternative form of punishment" for their children if they don't want them to be paddled. This puts the parent in an awkward position—taking advantage of this choice means rocking the boat, standing up to the school administration, and opening themselves and their children to ridicule. Many parents who don't believe in corporal punishment are simply too intimidated to make their wishes known. And even if they do make their wishes known, those wishes are not always respected. The school system's policy manual clearly states that parental consent is not required in order to administer corporal punishment.

The next line of defense is the child him- or herself. According to the article on Desototimestribune.com, students who are in seventh grade or above may "decline" corporal punishment. Again, when you read the policy itself, this statement is not exactly accurate. The actual policy states that, "This punishment may be administered to students of all ages, but it is suggested [emphasis mine] that students in grades 6-12 be given a choice of other punishment…"

This "other punishment" consists of a tedious in-school suspension of undetermined length. Students in suspension are kept in a special classroom away from their regular studies. They do not get a chance to make up any work or tests they may miss, so a student who is counting on academic scholarship money may have no choice but to take a beating to save his or her grades.
      Even kids who don't care about their grades or about missing school work may feel pressure from educators and friends to "stand up" and take the paddling.

Principal's Choice

The school code defines corporal punishment as "no more than three licks per incident on the buttocks [does not specify bare or clothed] with an appropriate instrument approved by the principal [emphasis mine]."

First, there is no such thing as an "appropriate" instrument for assaulting a child, any more than there is an "appropriate" instrument for committing a mugging or a rape.

Second, exactly what expertise does the principal have in choosing the "right" instrument with which to batter a child's buttocks? Did he or she take a class in school that focused on paddle selection? When being interviewed for the job of principal, was he or she asked about expertise in the area of paddles? Can the principal designate a two-by-four, a horsewhip, or a cat-o-nine tails as an "appropriate" instrument?

Questionable Educators

Two of the educators in the article took a definite stand against paddling students: Dr. Sarah Blackwell of the School of Education at the University of Mississippi, who stated that the university does not allow student teachers to participate in corporal punishment; and Kay Bishop, who said that her Mississippi school district, Tupelo Schools, had done away with corporal punishment because it was "what was best for our students."

Other educators were less enlightened. For instance, Mike Smith, the director of pupil services for DeSoto schools, said that the goal was to "avoid corporal punishment?" If you think that sounds pretty good, let's try it in the context of my profession, medical social work: "It's always my goal to avoid striking the Alzheimer's patients I work with, no matter how annoying their behavior may be." Taken in that context, the words seem less than reassuring.

Another quote that sounds good until you think about it comes from Matthew Evans, an assistant superintendent in Rankin County Schools where paddling has been reduced but not eliminated. His reasoning? "It just doesn't fit with our community anymore. We should reflect our community. If the parents aren't behind it, it won't work." If a method of discipline is ineffective and harmful, it is ineffective and harmful whether the parents are behind it or not. And as for merely reflecting the values of a community, shouldn't schools take the responsibility for guiding a community towards more positive, nurturing, child-positive values?

A final quote to consider comes from Katherine Nelson, who is the director of community relations for DeSoto County Schools. "It [corporal punishment] is a deterrent to discourage or prevent negative behavior. It keeps our schools in order and lets us have an orderly classroom…Our goal is for students to learn, but when they disrupt the classroom, there has to be a consequence."

If an orderly classroom is the ultimate goal, I'm disinclined to believe that paddling students can help attain it. I attended school in Kansas, a state which still allows students to be paddled. The principal administered corporal punishment for offenses ranging from bullying to passing notes. Although the punishments were not carried out in the classroom, we all knew when a classmate was going to get "The Board of Education."

On days when a paddling was to occur, most of the kids were too keyed up to focus on school work. Not only were we filled with sympathy for the targeted pupil, we all knew we could very easily make a mistake and find ourselves on the receiving end of that Board. Meanwhile, the student him- or herself was terrified and humiliated as well as physically hurt—more often than not, paddling left welts and bruises on the body to match the injuries inflicted on the psyche.

School should be a place where children are nurtured and mentored. It should not be a place of fear, nor should it be a place where more than 10 percent of students are legally battered in the name of discipline. DeSoto County, Mississippi, has a long, long way to go.

American Legislative Exchange Council: 2007 Report Card on American Education, a State by State Analysis. www.alec.org/am/pdf/2007_alec_education_report_card.pdf. 9/23/10.

DeSoto County Board of Education: Corporal Punishment.
www.desotocountyschools.org/site/files/jdacorporalpunishment.pdf. Policy Adopted July 2008.

The Tribune: "DeSoto Schools Ponder Paddling," February 9, 2006. Published on NoSpank.Net at www.nospank.net/n-p62r.htm.

The copyright to this article is held by Debra Stang. You may reprint it as long as you give credit to the author and provide a link back to www.nospank.net.

To read more of Debra's work, visit her website at www.debrastang.net

Return to:
Child Abuse In-box*
Violence toward children in the classroom
The Newsroom
The Newsroom Index
Front Page
* To read the most-recently added items on this Web site,
including news clips, editorials, articles, reports, comments, excerpts, letters, etc.,
proceed to: