Today we’re going to play the Did You Know? game. I’ll start.
DID YOU KNOW that school corporal punishment -- in other words, the physical assault of public school students by administrators -- is legal in 19 American states?
I had no idea. I found out because I was listening to NPR yesterday morning and heard a story about a school in Texas amending its corporal punishment policy to specify that students may be paddled -- YES, PADDLED -- by administrators of the "opposite" gender.
If you’re like me, you’re reading this and going WAIT, THERE ARE PARTS OF THIS COUNTRY WHERE STUDENTS CAN BE HIT IN SCHOOL? Apparently, yes. To Wikipedia!
In the above map, the blue states are the states where corporal punishment is prohibited in schools. The red states -- red like a disobedient child’s principal-paddled bottom -- represent no such prohibition. The specifics of the punishment itself are usually regulated “by governments or local education authorities, defining such things as the implement to be used, the number of strokes that may be administered, which members of staff may carry it out, and whether parents must be informed or consulted.”
You can imagine my astonishment to learn that the state in which I spent my own public-school sojourn is amongst those with legal corporal punishment, and upon further reflection I do recall the whispered rumors about my middle school principal having a fabled Paddle, even one with holes cut into it so it would hurt more, although I never knew anyone who experienced a connection with it.
In this particular Texas school, the rules previously stated that a parent must state in writing that they do not wish their child to be eligible for paddling; otherwise all kids are fair game. The new change in policy was a result of parental complaints that two recently paddled girls had suffered “bruising,” (UM, THEY WERE SPANKED. What did they think would happen?) and further distress that they were paddled by two male administrators, without a female chaperone present.
Cathi Watt, whose daughter was one of the two girls recently paddled, said Tuesday that she's OK with paddlings in schools "because they need it once in a while, and I got them when I was a kid." But she said the male administrator used too much force, so she does not support the new policy.
Ms. Watt said her 16-year-old daughter, Jada, deserved to be spanked after she spoke sarcastically to a teacher and an assistant principal, "but she did not deserve to be bruised."
"And what kind of message does it send these boys?" Watt said. "Is it telling them that it's OK to hit a girl?"
Arguably, anytime a person of any gender uses physical force to punish a person of any other gender, it is a tacit acknowledgement that hitting people is a perfectly acceptable response to bad behavior. This is a lesson the kids in this school are learning, and that their parents are reinforcing. So ANY corporal punishment is going to send the message that it’s fine and reasonable to “hit a girl” or anyone else who mouths off to you. And we wonder why violence is such a problem in the US.
Also, did you catch that bit in the second paragraph, everyone? The part where it mentions that the paddled child in question is SIXTEEN YEARS OLD?
I am generally opposed to hitting children because there are better ways to impart lessons on how to behave properly around adults, even in the very young. When adults hit, they are essentially teaching kids that it is fair and just for an individual to use their strength against someone smaller and weaker in order to secure the respect of the person they hurt, and to reinforce their own authority.
This is troubling enough in smaller kids, but to continue to use violence as punishment even against teenagers is horrifying.
The school district has responded to the parents’ complaints by scrapping their previous policy specifying no cross-gender spanking, and explicitly stating that girls may be spanked by men, effectively doubling down on their commitment to hitting students.
The new policy also changes the rule that parents must opt-out of corporal punishment, and instead now states that parents who wish their kids to be eligible must authorize the abuse.
Apparently, parents who otherwise like the idea of school administrators hitting their children are upset by the changes because they really preferred the prior policy that their kids only be spanked by a person of the same gender. Because a sixteen-year-old girl getting paddled by a female staff member is fine, but a sixteen-year-old girl getting paddled by a male stuff member is just weird and creepy.
Frankly, this whole story has left me feeling like I am going insane. Violence is never a solution to a behavior problem, no matter the age of the individual, and even with careful regulations the risk of real injury (physical or mental) exists. More than that though, do we really benefit by perpetuating a culture in which violence against children is formally legitimized?
I don’t know. What do you guys think? My brain hurts.
Have you followed me on Twitter yet? Don't worry, I promise not to hit you if you don't wanna: @52stations