Hands Off in the Schools! Hands Off in the Schools!
Dawn Sturkey, MSW
Letter to the Editor, The Enquirer-Journal, February 11, 2005

When I heard that Dr. Thomas had suspended the use of corporal punishment in UCPS, I was delighted!! This is definitely a step in the right direction. I urge the school board to abolish the practice in our county rather than rewriting the policy so that it is compliant with state mandates.

As a former teacher (BA Secondary Education) and a social worker (Masters in Social Work), I have witnessed first hand the abuse of physical power that can happen when educators are allowed to use corporal punishment as a consequence (it is NOT “discipline”) for unacceptable behavior. I witnessed a 250 pound adult male principal throw a 120 pound teen-age boy into a row of gym lockers. The principal did this in reaction to the student’s inappropriate expression of anger and frustration with a school rule. Instead of using the situation to “teach” the student how to appropriately express anger, the principal chose to model additional inappropriate behavior by resorting to physical violence as a method of managing a verbally out of control student. Furthermore, this student was from an impoverished family that had limited intellectual skills and social supports—no one else could or would teach him how to manage his emotions. This boy, who was legally old enough to drop out of school, walked away from campus that day and never came back. Unfortunately, I did not have the opportunity to finish teaching him how to fill out a job application, balance a checkbook, and exercise his right to vote. However, he did get the lesson that hands-on aggression is acceptable in the work environment—after all, the man who ran his school did it. Once the student stormed off the school grounds, the principal snickered about the incident.

Granted, corporal punishment according to policy should prohibit this type of scenario. I submit that anytime hands-on consequences are allowed, the school system risks inappropriate use of physical consequences and models behavior that students should not transfer to other settings. Corporal punishment gives license to do what we otherwise say is unacceptable. Depending on the relationship of the people involved, we sometimes call this hands-on behavior “assault”, “domestic violence”, or “abuse”. As a parent, I am instilling in my children that any physical contact with another person as a method of expressing displeasure with what that person says or does is WRONG. Society is becoming increasingly violent. Character education on this topic and all others ideally begins at home, but it should not be contradicted in schools. And for students who may never be able to get this type of instruction at home, our schools can not fail them. The solution is “Hands Off in the Schools!”

Dawn Sturkey, MSW & Mother of 3
Waxhaw, North Carolina

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