States too slow to spare the child, part with the rod EDITORIAL
USA Today,August 22, 2002

OUR VIEW Many school districts wisely ban denounced corporal punishment.

As students in Pennsylvania start returning to school next week, they may no longer have to fear being on the receiving end of one unpleasant form of discipline: spanking. Last month, the state board of education voted to abolish corporal punishment.

The school board's vote, which must be ratified by state legislators and the attorney general, seems like a belated response to an old-fashioned method for enforcing obedience. But Pennsylvania is hardly a laggard.

Today, 22 other states still allow spanking in public schools, despite extensive research showing that the practice psychologically harms children. The reticence of so many states to end physical discipline is hard to understand at a time when attention is being focused on the abuses committed against kids by other authority figures, including parents, guardians and the clergy.

Local school districts increasingly recognize the problems posed by spanking and are turning away from it without waiting for their states to act. That has been the trend in Pennsylvania. As a result, spanking incidents in public schools have declined from more than 500,000 a decade ago to 360,000 in the 1997-98 school year, according to the latest U.S. Department of Education survey.

Yet efforts to formally outlaw spanking have encountered stiff opposition from critics who argue that the method works. In Mississippi and Arkansas, where corporal punishment has been most prevalent, roughly one of every 10 students were physically punished at school in 1997-98, according to Education Department statistics.

In some cases, children are forced to grab their ankles and then are struck three or more times on their backsides with a half-inch-thick board 21/2 feet long, according to a USA TODAY review of local spanking rules. Most spanking is done by teachers in classrooms, though some schools require administrators to do the paddling.

Spanking usually occurs in elementary and middle schools, but it is legal through high school in some states. However, parents who object usually can withhold permission from schools to spank their children.

What supporters of corporal punishment fail to recognize is that spanking creates more problems than it solves and sends kids the wrong message that physical abuse is acceptable under certain circumstances.

Among the concerns:

Department of Education statistics show African-American students are twice as likely to be spanked as kids of other races. Poor children also are struck more often. A Columbia University analysis of 88 studies on spanking found that corporal punishment imposed inconsistently, in anger or in ways that humiliate is linked to aggression and later mental-health problems. Teachers poorly trained in corporal punishment can easily cross a line between appropriate discipline and violent mistreatment. This month, a Cape Coral, Fla., teacher resigned after striking a fifth-grader 50 times for talking, whistling and eating candy in class. Last school year, teachers in Ohio and Tennessee also resigned because of complaints of overzealous spanking. The American Academy of Pediatrics concluded years ago that spanking harms learning and self-image. The National Association of Elementary School Principals and the American Medical Association agree.

So do a growing number of school districts. The time to ban spanking from all public classrooms is long overdue.


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