Corporal punishment in schools is surprisingly still legal in the South.
The Forrest City, Arkansas, school board voted on Monday night to reinstate corporal punishment in its schools. The measure was strongly advocated by school superintendent Dr. Jerry Woods. Many parents in the rural impoverished community near Memphis support the action, saying that children are out of control and need spankings either by paddles or rulers. Parents can tell school administrators, however, that they do not want corporal punishment used on their children.
Corporal punishment in schools is legal under Arkansas law. It states “Any teacher or school principal may use corporal punishment in a reasonable manner against any pupil for good cause in order to maintain discipline and order within the public schools.”
Corporal punishment in schools is legal in most of the other Southern states as well—including Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Arizona, and Texas—but it's also legal in Missouri, Colorado, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Wyoming.
During the 2010-11 school year, Arkansas educators used corporal punishment 31,847 times, according to the website Never Hit A Child. Large county school districts, such as the one that contains the state’s capital of Little Rock, have banned corporal punishment.
But places like Forrest City are increasingly becoming a rarity in the 21st century, as many states and even the United Nations have called for ending corporal punishment in schools around the world.
“All over the country, districts are doing away with it,” says Murray A. Straus, professor emeritus of sociology and codirector of the Family Research Laboratory, at the University of New Hampshire in Durham. “Within the states that still permit it, the school boards of major cities have ruled against it.”
Straus has studied corporal punishment for decades. He says that many districts and parents think that spankings will curtail misbehavior. Actually, he says, the opposite is true. He says that corporal punishment has been linked to a host of problems, but cautions that such effects won’t be present in every student who is spanked.
Students who are repeatedly subjected to corporal punishment often hit other students more frequently.
“All studies find spanking increases the probability of the child being physically aggressive,” Straus says.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has opposed corporal punishment for decades. The group “believes that corporal punishment can actually have a negative influence upon a child's self-image and thus interfere with his academic achievement. Punishment does not teach more appropriate behavior or self-discipline and may even cause a youngster to behave more aggressively and violently,” according to the Healthy Children website.
Some states haven’t even bothered to keep statistics on corporal punishment. Louisiana legislators only passed a law in 2010 that “requires the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to collect specific data on the use of corporal punishment in all public schools and report it to the Legislature prior to the start of the 2011 regular session.”
The 2011 report found that educators administered more than 11,000 instances of corporal punishment in Louisiana during the school year.
“Schools that are administering corporal punishment are increasing the probability of those kids being violent,” Straus says.
But not all Southern states engage in thousands of spankings.
In Florida, corporal punishment has declined from 13,900 in 1994 to just 3,661 during the 2009-10 school year, and school districts that once used paddling as punishment have decreased by half.
Advocates for corporal punishment often argue that paddling is simply part of the Southern culture, especially in the African-American community. They argue it’s difficult for the region where “spare the rod and spoil the child” is ingrained in parents’ mentalities to change its methods after decades of spanking.
“For years, people accepted it and wanted schools to do it,” Straus says. “That’s still the case in many places, but now you will have parents and groups who object to it.”
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