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Time, New York, 12 June 1972
The Beaten Generation
Because he came back after school for a drink of water and ignored a teacher who tried to stop him, Roderick Oliver, 16, was struck so hard that he claims that he was knocked unconscious at Sarah Zumwalt Junior High in Dallas. Another black student, Douglas Ware, 17, was whacked more than a dozen times by his coach at Sunset High for being late to gym class, failing to bring his sneakers and other misdemeanors. Oliver and Ware were only two of 5,358 cases of corporal punishment reported by Dallas school officials in 1971. This year they estimate that there may be 20,000, partly because of troubles stemming from the schools' newly achieved integration.
Stung by the amount and extreme violence of such punishment, Dallas Attorney Fred Time recently brought suit against the school district on behalf of the parents of Oliver, Ware and others. Time did not seek to abolish corporal punishment altogether, but to limit it to cases where parents gave their approval. He lost his suit when the Fifth Circuit Court agreed with a lower court that they had no jurisdiction, but he plans an appeal. Said Time last week: "We are going to try to go all the way to the Supreme Court."
Meanwhile the American Civil Liberties Union has similar cases pending in other federal courts. As a consequence of the concern over the abuses of corporal punishment, Massachusetts last week became the third state (after New Jersey and Maryland) to ban it.
The school board of Boston, like those of New York City, Washington and Chicago, had earlier forbidden it. Pittsburgh, too, is phasing it out, but only after a particularly fierce battle. Paddling a student, said Albert Fondy, president of the Pittsburgh Teachers Federation, is "a quick way to show disapproval, like the city giving me a parking ticket when I park illegally."
Legalizing. Many state laws not only permit the use of corporal punishment in the schools, but appear to prohibit local school boards from banning it, and eight states, including Michigan and Virginia, have enacted statutes since 1958 explicitly legalizing the practice. Both parents and teachers seem to approve: a 1970 Gallup poll reported that 62% of parents queried believed in modest use of physical punishment, and a 1969 National Education Association poll found that 65% of elementary teachers favored the "judicious use" of physical punishment in the classroom.
Nevertheless, a task force of the NEA, while recognizing the enormous disciplinary problems that teachers face, is expected in a forthcoming report to recommend that corporal punishment be forbidden. Says black Educator Arthur E. Thomas, of Dayton, Ohio, who counsels students and parents on their rights: "Paddling our children has served little useful purpose, except perhaps to teach them that it is all right for adults to beat up on people smaller than themselves."
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