In Theory: Corporal punishment in schools

Burbank Leader

It's the 21st century. Gone are the days of teachers wielding rulers and wooden paddles in order to discipline misbehaving students. Or are they? A man in Dallas is pushing the local school district to bring back corporal punishment. A former tutor in the Dallas Independent School District, Gilbert Leal argues that the threat of corporal punishment — along with better classroom management and training teachers how to defuse situations — have "helped decrease disciplinary problems," according to a story published by Dallas' WFAA-TV. What do you think? Is corporal punishment on its way in again? And does it really work? Or are we taking a step backward in the discipline of our children? In what situations is corporal punishment appropriate, if at all?

The practice of spanking or paddling disruptive students in the classrooms was discontinued because educators found that "discipline by humiliation and pain" was not a productive method of dealing with these children. Let's not go backward with Gilbert Leal's argument of the "threat of corporal punishment."

What is the solution? Are there methods that lead to a better way of handling this situation? Yes, the teachers need order in their classrooms, in which the present student-teacher ratio is overwhelming.

From all that I have been told by colleagues who are educators and from what the media has reported, creative steps such as smaller classrooms with teaching assistants available in the classroom to assist the main instructor have helped. Also, isolating the "troublesome" students who exhibit disruptive behavior has helped. By "isolating," I mean that they receive one-on-one attention. There is an effort to get at the root of their emotional outbursts.

It seems to me that this is a team, parental and a community effort. The team model is within the school system; the parental effort is to become involved with the child and help take responsibility for their behavior in school; community effort involves volunteers who will help with tutoring and offer to be part of the support system in spending time with the student (maybe in a sport or social activity).

The spiritual support is to affirm that everyone will hold an open mind and a "listening mind" in being receptive to divine wisdom, love, justice and peace. To quote one of my favorite authors, Wayne Dyer: "There is always a spiritual solution to every problem."


Unity Church of the Valley in Montrose

On the night before he died, Jesus said: "Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you." The peace of Christ is tranquillity — within and without ourselves. It is tranquillity among nations, peoples, communities and families. It is tranquillity that must be shared, appreciated, experienced and often taught.

Peace is not founded on strength, weaponry or power. It is founded on love, the love Jesus taught us when he said: "Love one another as I have loved you."

Physical discipline is based — and this is not an exaggeration — on strength, power and, to an extent, weaponry. It is an experience that subtly teaches a child that he or she can get what she wants by violence. Physical discipline is, at its roots, violent. It is the antithesis of peace.

Discipline is important, particularly for the young who are being formed as members of society. They need to be aware of the proper way to act and they need to be aware of the difference between right and wrong. However, awareness comes through the intellect. We need to train our children intellectually, and not physically, that certain actions have definite consequences.

And so, how do we discipline our children? We need to do three things: love them, set an example for them, and sit down and discuss with them their actions and the consequences of those actions. Parents have a powerful influence on their children long before they ever reach the age of reason. Even toddlers know when Mommy and Daddy are not happy with them — and don't want it to happen again. As they grow and mature, it's time to sit down and talk things over.

Should there be consequences to wrong choices and bad behavior? Of course, especially in the early years. But the choice of physical discipline should never be one of them.


St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Burbank

Not a good idea, and I'm glad that Gilbert Leal got fired in Texas.

The problem is that we are a very permissive society, and the blame needs to start with the parents, not the schools. I have no children of my own, so perhaps whatever I say here should be disregarded. But what I feel is that our schools are in such poor shape as far as discipline is concerned, because parents haven't been good disciplinarians. So it's easy to blame the American Civil Liberties Union or some other group that lobbies against violence in schools (and that's what it is: When you hit somebody with a paddle, you are engaging in violence).

The attempt to restore paddling and other corporal punishment in our public schools like we had "in the good old days" (which weren't all that good, by the way) is a big step backward, in my view, and misguided. It's also simplistic to believe that a few whacks on the buttocks with a wooden stick will solve everything.

Now if we could only paddle the parents!


La Cañada Congregational Church

A friend once told me that when he spanked his older son, the kid would turn around and hit his little brother, who would then kick the dog. So they found other ways to discipline their children.

School officials in 30 states have come to similar conclusions. Corporal punishment may put an immediate end to the offending behavior, but the ripple effects of anger and resentment poison the classroom and detract from education.

I know that Christians throughout history have been happy to read "spare the rod and spoil the child" (Proverbs 13:24) as divine permission to spank, but many would argue that the shepherd's rod is not for beating, but for guiding — away from danger and forward to food and safety. So while I'm not a child development specialist, from a pastor's perspective, I am interested in the move toward educational approaches that reward good behavior with opportunities, rather than punish bad behavior with pain and humiliation.

Also from a pastor's perspective, I am continually dismayed at distortions of Christianity that justify violence, when the power of Jesus was revealed in his nonviolent resistance to vengeance and anger. But don't get me started.

I was further dismayed to find that when you sanction violent punishment in schools, you also sanction racism and discrimination. An ACLU/Human Rights Watch report found that in the states where corporal punishment is legal, it is disproportionately applied to black students. During the 2006-07 school year, black students made up 17.1% of the nationwide student population, but 35.6% of those paddled at schools. Black girls were paddled at twice the rate of their white counterparts in the 13 states using corporal punishment most frequently. They also found that students with mental or physical disabilities were more likely to receive corporal punishment.


Clearly, it is not safe to assume that paddle-wielders like Leal will have thought through the issues of justice that come with the power to inflict pain. Let's keep moving toward the day when "tough love" is always about love.


St. George's Episcopal Church in La Cañada

In my opinion, corporal punishment is counter-productive and should not be used as a disciplinary tool for children — and in any case, such action should never be part of a classroom setting. The only conceivable scenario where corporal punishment would be acceptable is when the person administering it does so entirely for the benefit of the child — not for any kind of tension relief or self-aggrandizement — and when the child fully understands why he or she is being struck. The problem with this scenario is that it basically does not exist.

I can understand why a frustrated teacher might want to "paddle" a child who is repeatedly misbehaving in class, but this method is very short-sighted.

Such action will not only fail to encourage positive behavior, it will most certainly yield a more tense environment and likely lead to an escalation in negative conduct. Furthermore, I believe that there is simply too much potential for abuse if teachers are granted the authority to strike a child, which is why I don't feel that corporal punishment should be implemented in our schools at all. A teacher hitting a student is never acceptable (unless they are literally acting in self-defense to fend off a physical assault).

We all agree that maintaining proper decorum and discipline in a classroom is essential to creating a positive learning environment. However, there are various techniques that can help foster this kind of educational atmosphere. The most effective is to consistently reinforce positive behavior as a safeguard against negative actions. In the event that it is necessary to punish a child, a non-corporal approach such as detention should be used, with the child being fully cognizant of why he or she is being punished and what kind of behavior is expected in the future.

Regardless of the situation, we must all remember that children thrive when they feel loved. Therefore, even when we are forced to punish, our children should always know that whatever we do is for their benefit and is motivated by the deep love and concern we have for them.


Chabad of Glendale and the Foothills

I'm not opposed to the concept of corporal punishment, but I believe that certain realities of modern life make it impractical for use in schools.

Scripture allows for the use of an instrument of punishment (like a modern "paddle"). Proverbs 13:24, 29:15 says: "He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother." (Proverbs 13:24 , 29:15). God may not use an actual rod on his people, yet "those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives." Of course, this "rod" is for the purpose of correction, primarily done by parents, and is never to be abusive, vindictive or excessive. Which leads to problems of its use in modern schools.

First, we would all agree that too hard is too much. But how would we regulate the severity of the "swat"? Even if I agree with use of the paddle, can I completely trust the restraint of the person wielding it on my child in the school in my absence? And what about children with severe medical or physical weaknesses? Who would judge how much they can or should "take"? Second, many parents strongly disagree with the concept of corporal punishment. Subjecting their children to it would open the schools up to too many lawsuits. These reasons alone are enough to make me believe that corporal punishment will not, and should not, return to public schools.


Valley Baptist Church in Burbank

The goals and challenges of teaching our children are timeless and universal. As much as children have a natural curiosity about the world, they also have limited attention spans and, even within the same age group, can have hugely differing cognitive abilities.

For many teachers, finding creative ways to meaningfully connect with these children, passing on the accumulated wisdom and values of our time, is what teaching is all about. However, that goal has clearly become increasingly challenging.

Some say the challenge has to do with recent generations' expectations of immediate gratification (afforded through television and the Internet), that diminish the capacity for patience when struggling with new concepts or assignments.

Others say the challenge has to do with inconsistency within and among our homes regarding the importance of cultivating "authentic thought in our children, versus the importance of 'obedience.'"

And then there are those who point to the demoralizingly low status (and salary) granted those entrusted with energizing and expanding the minds of our children.

What is clear to me is that learning and teaching are incompatible with the kind of power struggles that manifest, for example, in corporal punishment. When a teacher's frustration and demand for obedience is remedied through violence of any kind (corporal, verbal, etc.), violence becomes "the lesson."

As a Unitarian Universalist, I believe that "respect" is central in all human interaction. Clearly it would be most helpful for all children to arrive in the classroom having had instilled in them, via the modeling of their parents, respect for learning and for those who teach.

Then, once they get to school, their teachers could focus on modeling respect not only for the subject, but for the students' natural curiosity, ability to learn and motivation for doing so (even, or especially if these are "disguised").

I'm not saying that's easy. Along those lines, it seems most appropriate to assure that teachers are afforded the training, support, compensation and status befitting their influence on this country's future leaders.

Unitarian Universalist Church of Verdugo Hills in La Crescenta

Although the practice of corporal punishment in schools still exists in 20 states — approximately 220,000 children are paddled each year — prayerfully, this barbaric practice will be eliminated altogether sooner than later.

A research paper titled "Report on Physical Punishment in the United States," based on 100 years of research, was published by Dr. Elizabeth Gershoff in 2009.

The report is endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics and other leading child welfare organizations and supports these conclusions: First, there is little evidence that physical punishment improves a child's behavior in the long run; second, there is substantial evidence that children who receive corporal punishment are more likely to develop aggressive tendencies in the future; third, there is clear evidence that physical punishment puts children at risk for, but not limited to, increased mental health problems; and lastly, there is consistent evidence that children who are physically punished are at greater risk of serious injury and physical abuse.

I don't believe corporal punishment is on its way in again because there are indications the human race is slowly evolving toward a kinder, more compassionate society. I do believe transgressions deserve consequences that are cumbersome — for example, writing a lengthy essay, thus encouraging students to consciously avoid behaviors that are not life-enhancing.


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