Corporal punishment is the intentional infliction of physical pain with the goal of changing problem behavior. In 1974, the American Psychological Association (APA) passed a formal resolution to ban the practice in schools. The National Coalition to Abolish Corporal Punishment in Schools, which includes the National Center on Child Abuse Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, the American Bar Association, the National Education Association, and other high-profile groups, was formed in 1987 with the goal of banning physical punishment of children and youth in school. In 1975, in the Ingraham v. Wright case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that this practice is not a violation of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.
Twenty-one states have laws permitting corporal punishment of students, although in some of these states individual districts prohibit the practice. A 2008 report by Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union found that, in the 2006-2007 school year, more than 200,000 students in U.S. schools had been spanked in the previous school year. In total, 223,190 students were physically punished in schools. Thirteen states use corporal punishment frequently. Mississippi schools used corporal punishment on the greatest percentage of students (7.5%), followed by Arkansas (4.7%) and Alabama (4.5%). Some students are more likely to endure corporal punishment. Although African Americans constituted 17% of the entire student population in 2006-2007, they accounted for 36% of the students who were physically punished–more than twice the rate for white students.
Critics assert that corporal punishment is cruel, and that it is disproportionately meted out against minorities, boys, and special needs students. For instance, the 2008 report found that students with disabilities were paddled more than twice as often as general education students. Students with autism are especially at risk of being punished in this way. Corporal punishment also disrupts learning, as students who are being physically punished are often held up as a spectacle for others to ridicule. Further, it teaches that physical violence is an appropriate way to solve problems. In fact, critics maintain that rather than deterring problem behavior, corporal punishment actually provokes it. The 2008 report cited a correlation with poverty and lack of resources as well, noting that districts and individual teachers lacking other options and stressed by the need to handle overcrowded schools and classes may resort to physical means to keep students in line.
Supporters argue that corporal punishment is quick and cost-effective. They often cite a religious basis for this practice, following the biblical adage “Spare the rod, spoil the child.” In its May 4, 2009, issue, Newsweek told the story of Principal David Nixon of John C. Calhoun Elementary in Calhoun Hills, South Carolina. Nixon has implemented a discipline program that involves corporal punishment and claims that it is a major reason why the school has dramatically increased its academic performance in recent years. He and other supporters maintain that this policy is better than removing students from classes.
More than just embarrassing, corporal punishment can lead to serious, long-term consequences. The Society for Adolescent Medicine has documented severe muscle injury, extensive blood-clotting, whiplash, and hemorrhaging in students who were subjected to this punishment.
- Adelson, E. (2009, May 4). The principal and the paddle. Newsweek. Retrieved from http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2009/04/24/the-principal-and-the-paddle.html
- Discipline at school. (n.d.). Center for Effective Discipline. Retrieved from http://www.stophitting.com/index.php?page=statesbanning
- Greydanus, D., Pratt, H., Spates, C., Blake-Dreher, A., Greydanus-Gearhart, M., & Patel, D. (2003, May). Corporal punishment in schools. Journal of Adolescent Health, 32, 385-293.
- Hyman, I., & Snook, P. (1999). Dangerous schools. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
- More than 200,000 kids spanked at school. (2008, August 20). CNN. Retrieved from http://edition.cnn.com/2008/US/08/20/corporal.punishment/
- Stephey, M. (2009, August 12). Corporal punishment in U.S. schools. Time. Retrieved from http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1915820,00.html
- World Corporal Punishment Research: http://www.corpun.com/websch.htm