One day in the spring of 2016, Kemyriah Patie, a first-grader at Fair Elementary School in Louisville, Mississippi, was accused of saying something inappropriate to another student. Three teachers administered the punishment. Two held Kemyriah down while a third used a wooden paddle to strike her repeatedly on the backside and legs. Her mother, Shawanda Patie. found out about it after school that day. When she saw bruises all over the backs of her daughter’s legs, she took her to the emergency room. “I was in an outrage,” Patie says. “My baby couldn’t walk right for a week and a half” (Smith, 2018). Kemyriah Patie was a victim of corporal punishment in schooling. Corporal punishment refers to intentional physical pain on the body as a method to change behavior. It includes a variation of methods such as hitting, slapping, spanking, shoving, use of various objects (wooden paddles, sticks, belts, yardstick, pins), painful body postures, use of electric shock, or prevention of bathroom use. Corporal punishment is a violation of human rights according to the United Nations policy. It has been banned nationally in prisons and military facilities but yet is still allowed and consequently used in schools. Corporal punishment is cruel, sends the wrong message to the children and therefore should not be allowed in schools.
The prevalence of corporal punishment of children in schools remains high in the United States. In spite of many schools and other national groups calling for corporal punishment in schools to be banned, the United States remains one of the few industrialized countries allowing corporal punishment. In 1977, “the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in its Ingraham v. Wright decision that school corporal punishment is constitutional, leaving states to decide whether to allow it” (Rosa, 2017). Nineteen U.S. states currently allow public school staffs to use corporal punishment to discipline children from the time they start preschool until they graduate 12th grade; these states are: Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wyoming. More than 110,000 children were subject to corporal punishment in these states’ public schools during the 2013–2014 school year. “Children who are subjected to corporal punishment in school are being physically, emotionally, and mentally abused” (Greydanus 2003). There is no evidence that proves that a child being physically punished enhanced their moral character development, increase the child respect toward authority figures or make the classroom environment more secure.
Supporters of corporal punishment in schools typically agree that it is an effective form of correcting child misbehavior. However, research studies in this area show that a large part of evidence leads to the conclusion that corporal punishment is an ineffective method of discipline and has toxic effects on the physical and mental health of those whom are inflicted. It can lead to serious injury, specifically if an adminstrator uses an object, such as a paddle, to spank a student. “The Society for Adolescent Medicine estimates that 10,000 to 20,000 students annually require medical treatment for bruises, nerve and muscle damage, and broken bones suffered during physical punishment” (Rosa 2018). A child requiring medical treatment due to corporal punishment could mean the child being out of school for days maybe even weeks leaving the child to miss out on time that could be used for educational purposes. Corporal punishment also sends out the wrong message to children, one of escaping from being caught or negative ways of avoiding detection for wrong doing. A student may stop their disruption in one class only to continue in others. It encourages children to be violent because they see authority figures using violence. It teaches the students that violence is acceptable, especially against the weak, and vulnerable. “Research suggests that children who are physically punished are more inclined to engage in aggressive conduct toward their siblings, parents, teachers, and schoolmates” (A violent, 2008). A child being corporally punished is a form of abuse. Abuse is seen as a cycle; children of abusers can become the aggressors. Even students who are not corporally punished find themselves in an intimidating, and violent environment designed to instill fear. “A student interviewed said that “licks (hits) would be so loud and hard you could hear it through the walls.” A teacher reported that a principal turned on the loud speaker while paddling a student: “It was on the intercom in every class in the school…. He was trying to send a message … ‘you could be next.'” (Violent, 2008). A child should never be fearful or intimidated to go to school rather they should be eager and interested to go to school.
Students who are involved in this type of abuse are deprived of their full learning potential. Physical punishments do not improve students in-school behavior or academic performance. In fact, recent studies show that schools in states where corporal punishments are frequently used, perform worse academically than those in states that prohibit corporal punishment. While “most states demonstrated improvements in their American College Testing (ACT) scores from 1994 to 2008, ‘as a group, states that paddled the most improved their scores the least.’ At the same time, ‘the ten states with the longest histories of forbidding corporal punishment improved the most’ with improvement rates three times higher than those states which reported frequent use of corporal punishment” (“Corporal,” 2010). Educational environments were corporal punishment is inflicted shows that the students learn less due to fear. The development and encouragement of open communication, so essential to effective education is destroyed. Students can develop low self-esteem, magnified guilt feelings, anger, depression and various anxiety symptoms; which can have destructive effects in the psychosocial and educational development of these students. A student being hit and having their peers watching or laughing at them can hurt a student’s self-esteem, making them even more disengaged and embarrassed to go to school. The Society for Adolescent Medicine has found that victims of corporal punishment often develop “deteriorating peer relationships, difficulty with concentration, lowered school achievement, antisocial behavior, intense dislike of authority, somatic complaints, a tendency for school avoidance and school drop-out, and other evidence of negative high-risk adolescent behavior” (“Corporal,” 2010). These students withdraw from school activities and disengage academically. Corporal punishment damages the trust between administrator and student, destroys the educational environment, and leaves the student unable to learn effectively, making it more likely he or she will drop-out.
There are many alternates to corporal punishment. In order to maintain classroom control an effective communication and positive mutual relationships between parents, students, and teachers should be developed. School officials should have knowledge in youth development, largely enjoy working with children in the academically, have a strong desire to help youth learn, and encourage an environment that openly demonstrates that students are valued, respected, and understood. Schools should emphasize on positive educational interactions between teachers and students. Students, as well as their parents, should partake in making decisions about school issues that affect them, such as improvements and implementation of academics goals and disciplinary rules, along with positive behavioral support. Schools should have peer support programs that develop techniques to develop moral characters in students. It is vital that teachers receive proper training and resources to help them successfully maintain classroom control without going back to violent or destructive techniques.
All forms of corporal punishment, whether or not it causes significant physical injury, is a violation of student’s rights to physical integrity and human dignity. It is demeaning and humiliating, damaging the student’s self-esteem and making him or her feel helpless. Some students become angry and want to lash out against teachers or other students. Others become depressed or withdrawn and others become prone to the constant violence, accepting it as a part of their daily lives and, as a result, their right to a quality education is hindered. Corporal punishment in schools should be prohibited federally, in order to protect students from the physical, and emotional harms which it brings. Schools should focus on creating a positive, nonviolent learning environment, so students are able to achieve their full educational potential. A child should not to be hit, slapped, spanked, or shoved with wooden paddles, sticks, belts, yardstick, pins painful body postures, shocked electrically, or prevented from using the bathroom in the sake of punishment.