I don’t know if it was naivety on my part or just the fact that I’m from Australia, but I had no idea that corporal punishment was still legal in 20 US states. A third-world country maybe – but the US? In Australia it is absolutely illegal to strike a student, and so it should be. I just assumed that the America had the same protocols. Turns out I was wrong.
In response to the dreadful story of the elementary teacher charged with assault for allegedly choking and punching 8 first grade students, the Washington Post recently wrote an expose on the issue of legalised corporal punishment:
In June, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) introduced the Ending Corporal Punishment in Schools Act, which would ban corporal punishment as a form of punishment or way to modify undesirable behavior at all public and private schools with students that receive federal services.
Congress apparently had other things to do. The bill was sent to a committee but never made it further in the legislative process.
Last year a congressional committee had a hearing on the issue. The panel learned that:
- School officials, including teachers, administered corporal punishment to 223,190 schoolchildren across the nation during the 2006-07 school year (according to conservative government estimates, the latest year for which national statistics were available).
- As a result of that punishment, 10,000 to 20,000 students requested medical treatment.
- Students are typically hit on their buttocks with a wooden paddle, about 15 inches long, two to four inches wide and a half-inch thick, with a six-inch handle at one end.
- Most students are paddled for minor infractions, such as violating a dress code, being late for school, talking in class or in the hallway, or being “disrespectful.”
- Almost 40 percent of all the cases of corporal punishment occur in Texas and Mississippi.
- Current studies indicate that physical punishment is most common in kindergarten through eighth grade, in rural schools, in boys, and in disadvantaged and nonwhite children.
- African American students are 17 percent of all public school students in the United States but are 36 percent of those who are victims of corporal punishment, more than twice the rate of white students.
Supporters of corporal punishment will defend the method as being effective in dealing with unruly behaviour. In my opinion, it is a lazy option that should never be allowed. As much as I wish it weren’t the case, not all teachers care deeply about their students. Many get disenchanted, flustered and resentful. While a vast majority of teachers want nothing more than to see their students thrive, others will surely exploit any means possible to shut them up.
Australia and the United States have a close relationship and share many of the same values and ideals. But corporal punishment isn’t one of them. How can 20 States continue to allow such an extreme form of punishment in today’s age? Please don’t wait for more horrible stories about unprofessional and violent teachers before doing something about this.
No matter how badly behaved they may be, kids deserve better than this!