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School CP - July 1987

San Francisco Chronicle, 21 July 1987

A Teacher Ever Punish You Physically?

(Asked at Civic Center)

Glen Noll, 34, hotel desk clerk, SoMa:

Sure did. It was back in fourth grade and I got paddled a lot. I was the character in the school with the bad attitude and they'd take me outside and paddle me. It sank in after a while and made me behave.

Tom Yeh, 41, salesman, Ingleside dist.:

In Taiwan in junior high we'd get slapped on the palm with a stick. Five, ten or two times depending. I think it's good because it makes you remember and you stop doing wrong stuff.

Graham West, 37, middle school teacher, Penticton, B.C.:

No, but you could get strapped. It should be brought back. Back then, you knew the punishment. Now it's left to the teacher to give extra assignments or have the kids sit in a corner.

David Standridge, 38, carpenter, the Tenderloin:

In elementary school I got paddled. Not bad. A couple of whacks. When I went to private school, they had a two-inch leather strap with holes in it and made you reach for your ankles. I got 21 hits one time.

Corpun file 06663

Times Educational Supplement, London, UK, 31 July 1987

United States

Paddlers heading for rough waters

Teachers using corporal punishment are increasingly being taken to court. Report by Bill Norris

Corporal punishment, though still legal in 42 states, is coming under increasing opposition from parents, legislators, and some teachers. The number of court cases alleging criminal assault is mounting, and before long the issue may reach the US Supreme Court.

The practice is prevalent, particularly in the southern "Bible belt" where there remains a strong attachment to the notion that if you spare the rod, you will spoil the child. The traditional weapon used across the country, however, is not a rod or cane, but rather a wooden paddle, administered to the buttocks.

It is estimated by the National Centre for the Study of Corporal Punishment at Temple University, Pennsylvania, that three million beatings take place each year, with 5 per cent producing a degree of bleeding or severe bruising which would constitute criminal child abuse if administered by a parent.

Most "paddling" is carried out on boys at primary level, and some scholars and educators are increasingly concerned that poor blacks, Hispanics and emotionally-troubled youngsters are more likely to be the subjects of corporal punishment than middle-class white pupils.

According to Joan McCarty First, director of the National Coalition of Advocates for Students: "Corporal punishment is used most frequently on poor minority students more specifically on poor blacks and, most specifically, on poor black males." Only 16 per cent of pupils in America's state schools are black, but they represent 28 per cent of those beaten.

The latest case to reach the federal courts began in Toombs County, Georgia, where 12-year-old Brian Miller was paddled for misbehaving in gym class. His bruises were so severe that doctors at the hospital casualty unit notified county officials of a possible case of child abuse. Brian's father, who was told that he could have been jailed for treating his son so brutally, is now suing the board of education for excessive, brutal and severe punishment.

The charge is being contested. "We've been using paddling here since schools began, and to be honest with you, I don't know what we'd do without it," says John Sikes, the school superintendent of the county. "The only alternative is to send unruly kids home, and they won't learn anything there."

This view is prevalent among schools in Georgia, where parents have protested at the use of spankings on children who failed to do their homework. In one notable case, the policy backfired tragically: last year a 13-year-old pupil in Winder, Georgia, who had been paddled, returned to school two days later and stabbed the principal to death.

In Moody, Alabama, a mother has been charged with assault after she struck a teacher over the head with the paddle he had used to spank her seven-year-old son.

Only nine states, seven in the North-East, plus Hawaii and California, have explicitly barred the use of corporal punishment in their schools, though a number of large urban districts in other states have done so. Legislation is currently pending in Ohio, Wisconsin, Alaska and Michigan where an average of 10 beatings take place every hour of the school day.

"This is the ugly secret of our state schools," said state senator Lana Pollock, introducing the Michigan legislation. "It is a practice that is sick and destructive, and counter-productive in terms of education."

Elsewhere, the practice is frequently enshrined in state law, and Georgia even stipulates that teachers are immune from civil or criminal action if punishment is given "in good faith" and is not "unduly severe".

The leading teachers' union, the National Education Association, is ambivalent on the subject. Its recent annual convention passed a resolution opposing corporal punishment, but stopped short of demanding legislation to ban it. However, a growing number of national groups, including the National Congress of Teachers and Parents, the American Medical Association, and the National Association of School Psychologists, have urged abolition.

The last Supreme Court decision on the issue, taken in 1977, upheld the right of school districts to mete out corporal punishment if school officials believe it is necessary to maintain order.

The justices are likely to have another chance to look at the question soon, when a case from New Mexico comes before them. The Federal Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit has ruled in favour of the parents of a nine-year-old girl, who argued that her constitutional rights were violated by a severe paddling.

However, given the current conservative constitution of the court, few opponents of corporal punishment are hopeful that radical reform is in the offing.

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Colin Farrell
Page updated: March 2001