A surprising number of states still allow corporal punishment, but is it an effective method of cultivating respect in students?

The issue of corporal punishment in United States public schools is one that many people think doesn’t exist. Seemingly a discipline tactic of a bygone era, corporal punishment is not an issue often discussed.

In 2016, corporal punishment remains an extremely real form of punishment in a surprising 19 states, according to a report by the Society for Research in Child Development. Written by the University of Texas at Austin’s Elizabeth T. Gershoff and Pennsylvania State University’s Sarah A. Font, “Corporal Punishment in U.S. Public Schools: Prevalence, Disparities in Use, and Status in State and Federal Policy” reveals how more than 160,000 children who attend public schools in the United States are disciplined using this practice.

Who, What, and Where?

corporal punishmentWithin the 19 states that allow corporal punishment in public schools — Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wyoming — the rules are not clear and most allow each institution to decide upon the type of discipline that is enforced.

Despite bans on corporal punishment for public institutions within this country’s other states, only Iowa and New Jersey also forbid this type of discipline in private schools. Of the states that allow corporal punishment, many outline the acceptable size of disciplinary tool, which is most often a wooden paddle, and severity of force, yet these guidelines are vague.

Why or Why Not?

Those educators who heed the warning of “spare the rod, spoil the child” that lead to these methods of discipline in school feel that the benefits of corporal punishment include promoting respect among students and teachers. Though the perceived benefits have not been proven, certain states continue to allow corporal punishment and, according to Gershoff and Font, courts tend to side with schools when students and their families pursue legal action to contest this discipline style.

corporal punishmentThe proven damage of corporal punishment in schools far outweighs the perceived benefits. In their report, Gershoff and Font reveal “Although a majority of American adults (65 percent of women, 77 percent of men) still believe that children sometimes ‘need a good, hard spanking’ from their parents (Child Trends, 2013), they do not agree that schools should be allowed to use corporal punishment.” In addition to the mental harm that students could suffer following corporal punishment, some children suffer temporary loss of use of limbs, bruising, and bleeding.

As alternatives to corporal punishment, states could promote lessons in mindfulness, host teacher workshops to reach troubled students through nonviolent means, and hold in-class activities that promote self-discipline — such as yoga instruction. According to an Upworthy article, after implementing yoga and meditation programs, no suspensions have been reported in the past year at Baltimore’s Robert W. Coleman Elementary, while its neighbor Patterson Park High School has experienced an increase in student attendance and a decrease in suspensions.

When adults realize that no benefits have been proven for schools that incorporate corporal punishment, administrators and school district leaders can begin to explore more constructive forms of reaching troubled students. By engaging in meaningful conversation with students, utilizing the services of counselors, exploring alternative teaching methods, and attempting to understand the reasons for a child’s unruly behavior, educators can make great strides in cultivating the empathy and responsibility necessary for kids to transition into successful adults.

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