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Ask Dr. Lynch: Ending Corporal Punishment in Schools

EducationWorld Q&A columnist Dr. Matthew Lynch is an associate professor of education at Langston University. Dr. Lynch provides expert advice on everything from classroom management to differentiated instruction. Read all of his columns here, and be sure to submit your own question.

Dr. Matthew Lynch

This week, reader Marcia E. asks:

I recently moved from New Jersey to a small town in Louisiana. To my amazement and horror, my children’s elementary school still uses corporal punishment. It is an opt-in system, but if parents do not consent to its use, their children are automatically suspended, whether it is in school or at home. What does research say about the effects of corporal punishment? What can we do to end this deplorable practice?

ANSWER:

First of all, thank you for your question. It’s difficult to believe in this day and age that we still have schools around the nation using corporal punishment as a form of discipline. At this point, there are only 19 states that still allow corporal punishment, which means allowing the school to use physical punishment on a child.

Such punishment usually includes a spanking of some kind, typically done with a wooden paddle. Although not allowed in the majority of states, it is reported that over 200,000 children around the country are victims of corporal punishment each year. It’s difficult to imagine that so many children are going home with welts and bruises as punishment for something they did in school.

Corporal punishment is a controversial topic at best. Ample research indicates that spanking as a form of punishment can be problematic at any age, and we as educators need to be aware of this research.

Here are some of the most troubling aspects of corporal punishment:

Research indicates that children who are disciplined with spanking go on to suffer more mental health problems as adults. Spanking has been linked to greater risk of depression and substance abuse.

Spanking children is also believed to increase their risk of becoming adults who are aggressive, antisocial, and who abuse their own spouse and children.

As a nation, we are concerned with high-school dropout rates. Perhaps if students were not being paddled, they might hang in there a while longer and take to their studies a little better. After all, how many adults would want to continue showing up at their jobs if they knew they might be paddled for performance issues?

Corporal punishment may be under attack, but until we outlaw it in every state in the country, we will continue to experience the problems associated with the practice. And those problems can be far-reaching and long-lasting, impacting society long after the child has completed his or her schooling.

While the Supreme Court allows corporal punishment in states and school districts that have the practice on the books, this is a matter of ethics. We need to do what is right by the next generation. By the looks of it, if corporal punishment continues in the 19 states where it’s currently allowed, we will be raising a lot of children who may go on to have mental illnesses, be more aggressive, abuse their spouses, and have addiction problems.

Once they are adults, society can point the finger at them and say that they created problems in their life through the choices they made. But if we agree that the potential long-term impact is there, we may need to start pointing a few fingers at schools, especially when they use a form of punishment that experts agree may do more harm than good.

Now is the time for parents around the nation, especially those who live in states where corporal punishment is still allowed, to take a stand. It’s time that we focus on more peaceful and less harmful ways to teach children right from wrong. Getting rid of paddles in schools is a great place to start.

 

About Dr. Lynch

Dr. Matthew Lynch is a Chair and Associate Professor of Education at Langston University and a blogger for the Huffington Post. Dr. Lynch also is the author of the newly released book It’s Time for a Change: School Reform for the Next Decade and A Guide to Effective School Leadership Theories. Please visit his Web site for more information.

If you have a question for “Ask Dr. Lynch,” submit it here. Topics can be anything education-related, from classroom management to differentiated instruction.


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