The child’s mother thought she had no alternative. She was alone in a room with her daughter, a principal, and a clerk — who would believe her story if there were no cameras? So she set her phone in her purse and pressed record. Her video is nearly impossible to watch. The clerk helps the school principal position a six-year-old girl, yelling at her to “stick your butt out!” After the first strike with a heavy wooden paddle, when the girl leaps back, they scream at her to put her hands back on the desk so they can hit her again as she cries. The corporal punishment administered by Central Elementary School Principal Melissa Carter was so vicious it left bruises documented by the girl’s pediatrician, says WINK.
It was legal in the state of Florida, where the child resides.
Why the fuck is this legal?! Make it make sense. According to The Brookings Institute, 23 states either explicitly allow corporal punishment or leave it up to local authorities; 45% of US children live in places where it’s permitted. Oklahoma law, for example, says, “nothing contained in this act shall prohibit any parent, teacher or other person from using ordinary force as a means of discipline, including but not limited to spanking, switching or paddling.” South Carolina‘s law simply states, “The governing body of each school district may provide corporal punishment for any pupil that it deems just and proper.”
Switching, Oklahoma?! And how do you define “corporal punishment,” South Carolina? Does it include switching, like Oklahoma?
Florida’s statute states that, “Moderate use of physical force or physical contact by a teacher or principal as may be necessary to maintain discipline or to enforce school rule.” WTF is “moderate use of physical force”?
Back It The F*ck Up. Corporal Punishment?
In 1977, the US Supreme Court upheld the use of corporal punishment in schools. Generally, studies define it “as the use of physical force with the intention of causing a child to experience pain so as to correct their misbehavior.” Therefore, this practice intentionally causes a child pain. We are allowing educational institutions to intentionally inflict pain on children.
No, don’t say it’s necessary.
No, don’t say it’s okay if…
No, don’t say they deserve it.
Principals, teachers, and aides are intentionally inflicting pain on children who have no recourse to defend themselves. The Texas Education Code explicitly states corporal punishment is “…the deliberate infliction of physical pain by hitting, paddling, spanking, slapping, or any other physical force used as a means of discipline.” So pain is an intended goal of corporal punishment.
Estimates vary, but a 2016 study in the Society for Research in Child Development claims 166,000 students are subjected to corporal punishment per year; the Southern Poverty Law Center cites 600 students per day in 2013-2014. Its use is concentrated in the Southern states.
We could run through objects children should be hit with (“a wooden paddle approximately 24 inches in length, 3 inches wide and ½ inch thick” that does not have holes, cracks, splinters, tape, or other foreign material” in Pickens County, Alabama, according to the Society for Research in Child Development). We could point out that corporal punishment statutes generally don’t specify the age of the child involved, and that, as The Brookings Institute points out, in most places that allow corporal punishment, it is legal to hit preschoolers.
A discussion about corporal punishment in schools only becomes more and more disturbing. What the fuck are we allowing to happen in the name of education?
Who Gets Hit? Children of Color.
Intentionally inflicting pain on children is bad enough. Disproportionately inflicting pain on children for the same infractions is worse. In school districts that practice corporal punishment, The Southern Poverty Law Center found that while 7.5% of white boys were hit, an unbelievable 14% of Black boys were struck. The same racial disparities existed for girls: 1.7% of white girls and 5.2% of Black girls were hit. In five states, in schools where corporal punishment was practiced, Black boys experienced corporal punishment at a rate above 10% in 2013-2014: 17.5% in Missouri.
If your Black son’s Missouri school practices corporal punishment, he has a 17.5% chance of being struck during the course of a school year. Missouri leaves the use of corporal punishment up to the district.
Studies show that obviously, Black and white children misbehaved at the same rate, according to the SPLC. However, as one Mississippi high school student told researchers in 2008, “[E]very time you walk down the hall you see a Black kid getting whupped… I would say out of the whole school year there’s only about three white kids who have gotten paddled.”
Other minority students experience high rates of corporal punishment than white students as well, including Hispanic and Latinx students.
Who Gets Hit? Kids With Disabilities.
In more than half of all schools that practice corporal punishment, the study found that children with disabilities were hit more often than children without them. According to the Society for Research in Child Development, “Children with disabilities are over 50% more likely to experience school corporal punishment than their peers without disabilities in 67% of school districts in Alabama, 44% in Arkansas, 34% in Georgia, 35% in Louisiana, 46% in Mississippi, and 36% in Tennessee.”
They also report that Humans Right Watch and the ACLU found that children with disabilities were often disciplined for behaviors stemming from those disabilities. Punishing children for symptoms of their disability — autism, Tourettes, ADHD, obsessive compulsive disorder, etc. — is illegal according to IDEA, or Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, a federal law enshrining equal access to education.
In 2013-2014, The Southern Poverty Law Center found that over 3400 children with disabilities were struck in the state of Mississippi.
Newsflash: Corporal Punishment Doesn’t Work
We’ve known for years that corporal punishment is ineffective. According to The American Academy of Pediatrics, “2016 meta-analysis showed that current literature does not support the finding of benefit from physical punishment in the long-term.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center reports that corporal punishment in schools contributes to lower gains in math and vocabulary scores, increased absenteeism, and increased bullying. It also erodes student-teacher trust and respect.
They’re more likely to hit Black boys and kids with disabilities. They leave bruises (the SPLC says corporal punishment may result in 20,000 kids seeking medical treatment each year). They use actual paddles. They intend to inflict pain on children.
Why the fuck are we letting educators strike our kids? There is no reason why this should ever be legal, anywhere. Period.
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