Kyra Ragsdale, a parent in Arkansas, received a note last year from her kindergartner’s school informing her that spankings were still given to students. Ragsdale was appalled.
“I had to write up my own note and made his teacher and principal sign it stating he would not be spanked,” she says. “I'd be beyond livid if a teacher or principal left a bruise on my son.”
Believe it or not, many states in the United States still allow teachers to administer spankings in school.
Corporal punishment in schools is legal in most Southern states—including Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas. It’s also legal in Colorado, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, and Wyoming.
If one Democratic state representative from Wichita, Kan., had had her way, teachers, caregivers, and parents would have had the explicit right to spank their children to the point of leaving bruises. But according to the Wichita Eagle, Kansas state Rep. Gail Finney’s bill died in committee today.
House Bill 2699 sought to clarify the current law's open-ended language regarding the corporal punishment of children but in doing so would have condoned a harsh definition of spanking. Parents and caregivers would have been given the legal right to strike children's clothed bottoms with an open hand up to 10 times and leave redness or even bruising. The bill would have allowed parents to extend this right to school officials, and 18-year-old students would have been included in the definition of "children."
Finney explained to the Wichita Eagle that the bill was meant, in part, to address "children that are very defiant and they’re not minding their parents, they’re not minding school personnel.” She said she was also concerned about unnecessary arrests and introduced the bill at the request of McPherson Deputy County Attorney Britt Colle.
"It’s just trying to get a definition," Finney said, "because what’s happening is our kids and some of our law-abiding parents are entering into DCF (the Department of Children and Families) and law enforcement custody when it could have been avoided."
Colle told a Kansas television station that the bill “basically defines a spanking along with necessary reasonable physical restraint that goes with discipline, all of which has always been legal.”
Behavioral experts disagree with Finney and Colle, and they stress that less corporal punishment is needed, not more.
Murray Straus, founder and codirector of the Family Research Lab and professor emeritus of sociology at the University of New Hampshire, has researched corporal punishment for four decades. He makes an authoritative case against spanking, noting that it slows cognitive development and increases antisocial and criminal behavior.
“Research shows that spanking corrects misbehavior,” Straus says. “But it also shows that spanking does not work better than other modes of correction, such as time-out, explaining, and depriving a child of privileges.”
While behavioral experts seldom agree on many issues, spanking is one on which they do, Straus says. “More than 100 studies have detailed these side effects of spanking, with more than 90 percent agreement among them,” he says. “There is probably no other aspect of parenting and child behavior where the results are so consistent.” The American Academy of Pediatrics has opposed corporal punishment for decades.
“I do not believe this bill is a good idea in my professional opinion,” Anandhi Narasimhan, a child, adolescent, and adult psychiatrist practicing in Los Angeles, says. “Many times, spanking is done when the parent is experiencing anger towards the child, often resulting in a harsher action. This can result in a child growing mistrust towards that parent. Another viewpoint is that teaching a child to resolve problems by using aggression can often reinforce the idea that aggression is all right and acceptable.”
Even if the Kansas bill had been approved, the harm it may have done would be limited. In states where corporal punishment is allowed, individual school districts—such as Wichita—are banning the practice.
“In Texas, which is a big spanking state, the majority of children attend schools in large cities which ban hitting as a mode of correction,” Straus says. "Unless the Kansas law required teachers to hit children, which I doubt, the main effect would be a slight slowdown in the movement away from hitting, and probably not even that, because the teachers are part of a society that is treating children more and more humanely.”