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School CP - April 1991

Corpun file 19922


Washington Post, 10 April 1991

Let Teachers Spank, Dixon Urges

Mayor Sees Corporal Punishment as a Way of Improving Schools

By Mary Ann French
Washington Post Staff Writer

Mayor Sharon Pratt Dixon ... 'authority to discipline' neededSaying schools would be more orderly and would provide better education if teachers were permitted to spank students, Mayor Sharon Pratt Dixon suggested yesterday that the D.C. school system reinstate corporal punishment. "I think that kind of authority needs to be restored, starting at the earliest possible age," Dixon said.

Corporal punishment, which is opposed by many parents and teachers, was officially ended by the D.C. public school system in March 1918.

Virginia's legislature outlawed such measures in 1989; 12 counties in Maryland allow teachers to physically discipline students, although teachers actually do so in only three.

Dixon made her remarks in an interview with NBC television for a special report on education that is scheduled to air next week.

In an interview later with The Washington Post, the mayor acknowledged that the school board "is not within my direct control." But she said she would pursue the reinstatement of corporal punishment by convening an educational forum to plan a strategy for producing a model school system. "What we really need to do is build a public consensus around some of the reforms we really do want," she said.

In the television interview, Dixon reminisced about her days as a student at Roosevelt High School, saying, "The teacher and the principal had a lot more authority . . . . I mean, you were terrified of violating the rules of the teacher, and my goodness, if you ended up in the principal's office, that was the worst thing possible."

Educators "need to have the authority to instill standards and values and discipline in young people, especially in a society where so many women are working and trying to rear children alone," she said. "There's got to be some kind of authoritative figure in their lives . . . . Young people respond to discipline."

Dixon said schools need "the authority to discipline, including, if need be, spanking young people."

Dixon's recommendation was quickly criticized by William H. Simons, president of the 5,500-member Washington Teachers Union, and by other school activists.

"Violence begets violence, and I consider corporal punishment as a form of violence that doesn't solve anything," Simons said.

"I don't think teachers want that responsibility of administering corporal punishment," he added. "You have to make sure you administer it in such a way you don't cause physical harm to the child . . . . The way society is today with litigation, there would be all sorts of lawsuits. Even if the child were not physically harmed, the teacher would be accused of psychologically damaging the child."

Delabian Rice-Thurston, executive director of Parents United, a school advocacy group, also was critical of the idea.

"The teacher, the principal and the school should have other ways of disciplining a child without having to hit them," she said. "We need schools with a whole lot more counselors and psychologists than we have. We already have a whole lot of children who are used to being hit."

Thurston added that even though corporal punishment is not permitted in the city schools, she has received reports from some parents that their children have been hit by their teachers.

"Unfortunately, it happens often and they do lie about it," Thurston said.

Staff writer Lynda Richardson and staff researcher Bridget Roeber contributed to this report.

Copyright 1991 The Washington Post

Corpun file 19926


Washington Post, 11 April 1991

District's Mayor Taken to Task on Student Spanking

D.C. Youths' Lives Already 'Full of Violence'

By Patrice Gaines-Carter and Kenneth J. Cooper
Washington Post Staff Writers

Educators and child advocates yesterday roundly condemned D.C. Mayor Sharon Pratt Dixon's suggestion that teachers be permitted to spank pupils, while some students said corporal punishment would simply drive their classmates out of school for good. Amid the criticism of her remarks on student discipline, Dixon raised another issue yesterday, saying that "we need to explore" the question of whether condoms should be distributed in schools.

On the day after Dixon said that spanking might restore order in many classrooms, officials of several national organizations said the proposal would undermine efforts to teach students that force is not a solution to problems.

"One thing the children of Washington don't need is more violence. Their lives are full of violence," said Rep. Major R. Owens (D-N.Y.), who has introduced legislation to ban corporal punishment in school districts that get federal funding, as nearly all do. "I don't see how more violence in the schools is going to do them any good."

D.C. school board President R. David Hall (Ward 2) agreed, saying in a statement that "one of the greatest challenges facing the schools in a city so beset by violence is to teach our children that physical violence is not the way to settle disputes."

Former secretary of education William J. Bennett, who said he opposes corporal punishment because he recalls having his fingers rapped with a pointer and his head knocked against the locker several times in school, said, "There's just too damn much child abuse."

"It makes one very wary of giving the green light to something like this," said Bennett, who has two children.

Robert Fathman, a clinical psychologist and chairman of the National Coalition to Abolish Corporal Punishment in the Public Schools, said, "School discipline should be instilled through the mind, not the behind. She's got it backward."

Fathmam added that "corporal punishment is on the way out all over the world."

Child advocates said 12 of the 21 states that prohibit spanking in public schools have taken that step since 1988. Virginia is one of those 12.

Dixon made the suggestion during an interview with NBC television on Tuesday. She said that reinstating corporal punishment, which was banned in the D.C. public schools in 1918, would make the schools more orderly and provide better education.

Dixon, who has no direct control over the school board, said after the interview that she would pursue the issue at an educational forum that she plans to convene as a way of forming new strategies for school reform.

In a statement yesterday, Dixon called spanking "only one means of discipline." She added, "With so many parents eager to obtain better student performance in these crucial educational areas, the methods of how we discipline our kids will be of much less significance."

The mayor's press secretary, Vada Manager, said the new statement was released after people called Dixon's office requesting additional information. He said calls were divided between those in support of and those opposed to corporal punishment.

Support for Dixon came from Gary L. Bauer, a former Reagan administration official and president of the Family Research Council. "I think she ought to be commended for trying to come up with ideas that might make it more likely that inner-city kids would get a decent education in this atmosphere," Bauer said.

In a 1989 Gallup poll of 1,239 adults nationwide, 65 percent said they approved of spanking children, 25 percent disapproved and 10 percent had no opinion. The question was general and did not focus on corporal punishment in schools.

"It's my view that discipline should start at home and the parent should be responsible for disciplining the student," said D.C. school board member Nate Bush (Ward 7).

Lauren Downey, a fifth-grader at Brent Elementary in Northeast Southeast Washington, said, "Parents are the people that had the child and they should discipline the child." Lauren said the last time she was spanked was "for running out in the street in front of a car when I was 4."

Anne Taylor, a seventh-grader at Cardozo High School in Northwest, said corporal punishment "would make you not come to school." Her classmate, Antoinette Battle, added that "some children go to school to get away from abuse. A lot of kids would say, 'I go through that at home. Why go to school?' "

"Maybe it would work on some children, but it wouldn't affect some," said Leroy Nigel Jacobs Barley, a sixth-grader who offered his opinion in the library of Brent Elementary, where he attends school.

His father, also named Leroy Barley, had come to school to pick up Leroy and his sister.

"I think spankings should be left to mothers. We fathers might hit too hard," he said, laughing, then added, "I'm a brutal punisher. I take away sweets and television privileges."

Dixon made her remarks on condoms during the taping of an interview with WHMM-TV (Channel 32). Asked whether she supports the distribution of condoms to students in the city's schools, the mayor replied, "I think that that's something we need to explore. Yes, I would lean towards it, actually."

Staff writers Roxanne Roberts, Jacqueline E. Trescott and Debbi Wilgoren contributed to this report.

Copyright 1991 The Washington Post

Corpun file 19925


Washington Post, 11 April 1991


No Corporal Punishment

DURING HER campaign for mayor, Sharon Pratt Dixon scored a bull's-eye when she said that education is the area where real change is needed if this city's children are to be prepared for the economy and society of the 21st century. One major thrust of her argument, which she offered this week, is that schools must get back to basics and create classroom conditions where proper teaching and learning can take place That too is very much on point. Then, on students, she said, "There's got to be some kind of authoritative figure in their lives. . . . {They} respond to discipline." We would agree with that also, except the way Mayor Dixon puts it, school discipline might be equated with punishment. If that is what she means, we think she's wrong.

There are plenty of people who believe that young students sometimes need spanking, paddling or knuckle-rapping to get their attention in school. Corporal punishment is authorized in more than half of the states. But that number is declining for the same reasons that the practice was ended 73 years ago in the District and two years ago in Virginia and is being phased out in Maryland: Corporal punishment in the schools is regressive and dangerous. It is a reckless grant of power for a teacher and in any event teaches the wrong lesson. There are, of course, other, more mundane reasons for abandoning the practice as well, not the least of which is the fear of parental lawsuits and increased insurance rates.

There are things that can be done to make children more receptive to what's being taught. Properly trained, well-equipped and highly motivated classroom teachers are a good starting point. And they can be backed up with counselors and others who are skilled in assisting with disciplinary or unruly situations. But finally it is paramount that parents or guardians be made part of the educational process, and if that means instituting parent education courses to help them learn how to establish and enforce rules for their children, then so be it.

Mayor Dixon also said this week, "When you set standards for {young people}, you are telling them you expect something of them. When you have no rules, there are no expectations, then they are not going to live up to any potential that might be there." She's got that right.

Copyright 1991 The Washington Post

Corpun file 19924


Washington Post, 12 April 1991

School Spanking: It Hurts

By William Raspberry

Ever since D.C. Mayor Sharon Pratt Dixon came out for school spankings, I've been having flashbacks to my own school days. I've been thinking of classmates who got paddled for playground fights, for failing to produce homework assignments or even for being late to school. I've been thinking of the occasional spankings I received, although I can't recall what they were for -- probably for clowning in class.

In each of these cases, I'm sure the teachers were acting out of concern for us. They wanted to instill the values of study, self-discipline, punctuality and what used to be called "deportment." The spankings did no harm that I can see, and probably did some good.

But I've also been thinking about some other children who got spanked for things like missing too many arithmetic problems or too many words on spelling tests; hungry kids who were paddled for stealing a classmate's lunch; nonreaders and slow learners who were punished for being what we inelegantly called "dumb." And though we couldn't prove it, my classmates and I were certain that some children were more likely than others to get paddled, not because their deportment was significantly worse but because the teachers didn't like them.

These spankings, we knew even then, were harmful. They humiliated their victims, confirmed them in their belief that they were stupid (or bad) and made them hate school.

The kids knew the difference, and so did their parents. Some of us knew that if our parents found out we'd been spanked in school, we'd get another spanking at home. But others, even at that tender age, knew their punishment to be unfair. Several times a year, parents -- mostly from "across the tracks" -- would show up at school to protest the humiliation of their children and to charge the teachers with having "picks" and "pets."

Mind you, this was small-town Mississippi in the 1940s, a place and time when parental spanking was universal.

How could it not be worse in a city like Washington, where some parents are likely to think of spanking -- even by parents -- as teaching children that might makes right and that violence is an acceptable way of solving problems, while others who might spank their own children don't want them spanked by teachers whose fairness they doubt?

It's easy enough to see what's on Mayor Dixon's mind. She, like most of us, would like to see a return to the old values. Teachers, she said in an NBC-TV special on education scheduled to air next week, "need to have the authority to instill standards and values and discipline in young people, especially in a society where so many women are working and trying to rear children alone."

But to return to the old values is not necessarily to return to the old methods, which -- though they might have done some limited good in communities that were, for all practical purposes, villages -- would likely be a disaster in the bigger, more impersonal schools of the '90s.

Dixon's nostalgic views seem particularly anachronistic at a time when, on the one hand, we are having serious discussions about the advisability of installing metal detectors to keep weapons out of school buildings and, on the other, advocating student-directed dispute-resolution programs to teach children how to settle problems without resort to violence.

Her frustration -- and mine -- is that too many children come to school from homes where the old values, including discipline, are too little enforced. And her implied question needs to be taken seriously: How are children, undisciplined at home, to gain the self-control that makes learning possible?

But to acknowledge the importance of the question is not to reach her conclusion that children need "some kind of authoritative figure in their lives" and that corporal punishment is the way to achieve it.

An analogy to law enforcement might be helpful. There was less street crime in the days when cops cleared street corners by personal edict reinforced by the threat of a station house beating. Today, we have less summary punishment by law officers and more crime. Therefore ...

A moment's reflection on the recent police brutality in Los Angeles reveals the fallacy of that reasoning.

Dixon is right: We need to teach our children the time-tested values, both at home and at school. We need to find ways to reward good behavior and to punish inappropriate behavior. But school spanking, apart, perhaps, from an emergency swat on the behind to keep a kindergartener from dashing into a busy street, isn't the way to do it.

Copyright 1991 The Washington Post

Corpun file 19923


Washington Post, 18 April 1991

Letters to the Editor

Mayor Dixon and the Spanking Issue

I say, bravo, Mrs. Dixon. Though this program will not fly, her approach is exactly what this country has been wanting from its leaders {"Let Teachers Spank, Dixon Urges," front page, April 10}. In making her statement, Mrs. Dixon has done what no other mainstream politician has been willing to do -- take a risk. She actually made a radical proposal. What Mayor Dixon did in her idea was set the parameters very wide for what is feasible to discuss. Her idea is so far from the mainstream and her position as mayor of the nation's capital so visible that we will be forced to either rebuke her or come back with new and creative ideas -- not more of the same old, tired compromises.

Our country did not attain greatness following leaders who chose to be cautious. We need leaders who dare to be bold.

LENNY MARSH Fort Washington

That the mayor of a city already so torn by violence should advocate a policy of hitting its most vulnerable residents, "starting at the earliest possible age," boggles the mind. Hitting children is easy -- much easier than affording them the dignity and patience they deserve as citizens and individuals. Hitting children requires little thought on the part of the perpetrator. In fact, the less you think about it, the better.

Because when you think about it, you realize that hitting children teaches them that violence is an acceptable way of solving interpersonal and other problems. Hitting children also humiliates and confuses them. Sanctioned violence and degradation can only trip up children. Mayor Dixon should reconsider her views.


Mayor Dixon may be on to something in supporting spanking as a behavior modifier, but she has targeted the wrong group. Leave the kids alone ... we'd be much better off spanking politicians.


What could the District's intelligent, educated mayor be thinking when she says she feels that corporal punishment could serve as a means to improve the D.C. school system? Since when is violence a viable way to end violence?

I am thankful that the school board is not within the mayor's direct control. I am old enough to remember the good old days when a whack on the backside was the solution to a behavior problem in school. These are memories that I will never be able to forget. Mayor Dixon should listen to the professionals on this subject and reconsider her position.


In the wake of the terrible beating and scalding death of a 6-year-old boy in the District {Metro, April 9}, I find it appalling that Mayor Dixon advocates the use of corporal punishment in the schools as a means of achieving classroom discipline. I applaud and agree with the head of the D.C. Board of Education and the head of the D.C. teachers' association who both opposed the notion.

The use of violent force as a means of controlling children is a myopic solution with potentially harmful consequences. Eventually those children so victimized will grow into adults who believe that violence and power are synonymous, and the use of the former is a legitimate way of exerting control over others -- especially those in a powerless position. I would not be surprised if the police involved in the alleged brutality incident in Los Angeles first learned this lesson in a school that employed a method similar to the one the mayor wishes to reinstate.


Copyright 1991 The Washington Post

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