Corporal punishment paddles down public education

Anya Lomsadze

By: Anya Lomsadze

It seems like something out of a Victorian-age movie. A child is pulled out of class for spitting on another student and is taken to the principal’s office to be paddled. He screams and cries as he’s beaten in a manner protected by Georgia laws.

That’s exactly what happened in April last school year in Jasper County Primary School. A video a mother recorded of a principal beating her 5-year-old son went viral. These incidences aren’t rare — according to state data gathered by the Atlana Journal Constitution, students were paddled 9,713 times in Georgia schools in the 2014-2015 school year alone.
Corporal punishment is discipline in which a school staff member inflicts physical pain on a student as a consequence for bad behavior. Often, it comes in the form of spankings and paddlings. And it’s perfectly legal in Georgia’s public schools.

Don’t worry, a Grady staff member cannot inflict physical force on a student unless it is to disarm a weapon, break up a fight or prevent a student from harming themselves or others. The Atlanta Board of Education prohibits corporal punishment. However, that’s not the case elsewhere in the state where school districts can decide their own policies on corporal punishment.

Corporal punishment has enduring and rather alarming impacts on affected students. A 2016 analysis by experts at The University of Texas at Austin and the University of Michigan looked at five decades of research involving over 160,000 children. The analysis found that the more children were spanked, the more likely they were to experience anti-social behavior, aggression, mental health problems and cognitive difficulties.

Physical punishment is often cyclical — children who are hit are more likely to do so to solve problems with siblings and peers. Later, kids become more at risk for delinquency and criminal behavior.

Corporal punishment also disproportionately affects minorities. The Children’s Defense Fund found that nationally, African American children were nearly two-and-a-half times more likely to be spanked or beaten than caucasian children and nearly eight times more likely than Hispanic children. This racial tilt is seen at an even greater magnitude at the state level. In Mississippi, the state with the most cases of corporal punishment, African American students are 49 percent of the state’s student population, yet are 64 percent of students paddled. Conversely, only 35 percent of their white classmates experience such discipline.

What’s more startling is the number of cases in which students with disabilities were disciplined with corporal punishment. The Human Rights Watch found that disabled students made up 18.8 percent of students subjected to corporal punishment during the 2006-2007 school year, although they were just 13.7 percent of the total nationwide student population.
A recorded 41,972 disabled students were corporally punished, but those numbers likely undercount the actual rate of discipline, since not all instances are reported or recorded. In Georgia, 1,760 instances of paddling used on students with disabilities were recorded in the 2015-2016 school year.

Too often, corporal punishment only momentarily subdues behavioral outbursts, as it discourages students in school and encourages them to use violence as a solution. Despite the overwhelming evidence suggesting its ills, a YouGov poll showed that about half of Americans think corporal punishment is effective.

The Supreme Court defended use of corporal punishment in the 1977 case of Ingraham v. Wright. The court found that spanking in schools does not violate students’ rights, specifically the Eighth Amendment’s “cruel and unusual punishment” clause and the Fourteenth Amendment’s right to due process.

Many states eliminated this practice, but states in the South and Midwest continue to use this abuse. According to the Children’s Defense Fund, a child is corporally punished in American public schools every 30 seconds.

Efforts to ban corporal punishment have made national news in the past few months. Legislators in Colorado and Kentucky are currently authoring billls to ban its use, working to join 31 other states that ban corporal punishment. Across the Atlantic Ocean, France became the 52nd country to ban corporal punishment in the home, making it a crime for a parent to beat their child. According to the Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children, most western European countries have long banned corporal punishment in schools.

It has been proven time and time again that corporal punishment fails to correct behavior, impairs students’ cognitive abilities and disproportionately affects minorities and the disabled. There’s something fundamentally wrong if two students wake up on opposite sides of a street separating school districts, and one goes to school knowing they could be physically assaulted by the institution built to support and inspire them. Georgia ought to follow the example of Atlanta Pubic Schools and ban this deplorable practice in our public schools.