Education Secretary John B. King Jr., in a recent letter, called on schools across the nation to abolish corporal punishment of students—a decades-old disciplinary practice that has flown largely under the radar despite being lawful in more than a dozen states.
“I write to you,” he said in a written appeal to governors and state education officials, “to call your attention to a practice in some schools—the use of corporal punishment—which is harmful, ineffective and often disproportionately applied to students of color and students with disabilities, and which states have the power to change. If you have not already, I urge you to eliminate this practice from your schools and instead promote supportive, effective disciplinary measures.”
Education Week, citing the latest statistics, says 15 states permit corporal punishment of students in schools, while another seven don’t have in place any policy that speaks to the matter, which means schools can choose whether or not to allow it. Twenty-nine states ban corporal punishment.
In an investigation, Education Week also found that more than 4,000 schools still use corporal punishment and that in 2013 and 2014 an estimated 109,000 students had been disciplined in such manner.
The largest portion of pro-corporal punishment jurisdictions are in the South. Nearly 43 percent of schools in Alabama use corporal punishment to discipline students; about 55 percent do in Mississippi; 41 percent in Arkansas; 17 percent in Louisiana; 18 percent in Oklahoma; 19 percent in Tennessee; almost 10 percent in Georgia; more than 8 percent in Texas; and 6 percent in Missouri. Only a handful of schools in other states where the discipline method is allowed have implemented corporal punishment policies.
Despite the widespread use of corporal punishment, evidence is growing that physically punishing children actually impedes the desired outcomes, and calls are growing for a ban to come from the federal level.
“Today, as research continues to confirm the harmful effects of corporal punishment, we are reaffirming our stance,” the nonprofit organization Prevent Child Abuse said in a written statement.
Elizabeth Gershoff, a faculty research associate at the University of Texas-Austin and an associate professor of human development and family sciences, said a federal ban against corporal punishment of students was introduced in Congress in 2015 but failed to move to the floor for a vote and died in committee.
Still, research, coupled with the growing realization of the archaic nature of corporal punishment in schools, is ramping up pressure on states and localities to outlaw the practice.
“’I was hit, I turned out OK.’ That’s an attitude that needs to change,” Gershoff said. “All research indicates there is no benefit to corporate punishment of children, but instead actually increases harm. So there’s absolutely no reason to do it.”
While studies have yet to look specifically at the long-term effects of school paddling on students as they grow into adulthood, Gershoff said it’s pretty much accepted in the mental health field that physical punishment of children is tantamount to abuse.
“The more a child experiences physical punishments, including spanking, the worse their relationships with their parents, the worse they do in school—there’s a host of negative outcomes,” Gershoff said. “It really just causes the opposite effect.”