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Schools have no business spanking students

A group has formed in North Carolina to lobby for the prohibition of corporal punishment in public schools. They asked me to sign a petition to that effect, which put me in somewhat of a bind. I was concerned that my endorsement would create the impression that I am anti-spanking, when I am not. Nor, however, am I pro-spanking. I feel there are exceptional times when a spanking is warranted and is arguably the best of all possible disciplinary responses. (However, I think most spankings delivered by most parents are delivered stupidly and accomplish nothing.) I simply believe that the government should not be the arbiter of parent discipline, and that existing child abuse law is sufficient to deal with parent behavior that goes over the line (albeit I often think the line is drawn arbitrarily and am concerned that the definition of child abuse is being slowly "dumbed down").

I do, however, believe that if individual school districts will not prohibit the use of corporal punishment—which is often the case in North Carolina and a number of other states, mostly Southern—then it's high time state government stepped in, gave these districts a good legal spanking, and put the ban in place for them. School officials have no business spanking students, period.

In the first place, there is absolutely no evidence that students in school districts that allow corporal punishment are any better behaved than students in schools districts that disallow it. Spanking is not the tipping point of good discipline at home or at school. (There is good and reliable evidence, however, that the children of parents who occasionally spank are generally happier than children of parents who do not believe in spanking, but this is correlation, not cause-and-effect.) Teachers in Texas, for example, administer nearly one of every four school spankings in the USA. In Mississippi, one out of every ten students is eventually paddled. Neither of those states can claim the prize for "Most Well-Behaved Students."

Second, it is obvious to students that a school-administered spanking is a last-ditch, desperate measure. Effective discipline is never administered in desperation. Another way of saying the same thing: Desperation and discipline are incompatible. In that context, a person who is administering a spanking is admitting defeat.

Third, statistics concerning school spankings suggest an underlying racism. Consider that black students comprise 17 percent of the public-school population yet receive 39 percent of school-based spankings. It could be that black parents are more likely than white parents to give schools permission to spank, but that is no excuse for abiding an outcome that can be used to claim racism.

Last, but by no means least, in order for a spanking to be effective, an intimate, trusting relationship must pre-exist between the spanker and the spankee. In the absence of such a relationship, a spanking is likely to produce not better behavior, but resentment and even more rebellion. Needless to say, principals and teachers don't qualify. Neither do some parents, but they'd be the last to realize that about themselves. Some grandparents qualify, but grandparent is as far as I'd extend the privilege under any circumstances.

Unfortunately, the National Coalition to Abolish Corporal Punishment in Schools (NCACP) is allied with End Physical Punishment of Children (EPOCH-USA) and The Center for Effective Discipline, groups that want the federal government to disallow parental spanking—law that would inevitably lead to the government assuming an increasingly totalitarian role in matters of child discipline. On their website (www.stophitting.com), NCACP makes the usual unverified, histrionic claims about spanking, such as "it teaches children to hit someone smaller and weaker when angry."

Thus, my dilemma.

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