Op-Ed

Prisoners better protected from corporal punishment than students

Staff

Easily solved problems in public education are rare, but corporal punishment is one of them. The Herald-Leader recently noted that the practice has declined in Kentucky since 2010. It will take less effort, then, to end it altogether in public schools.

The key impediments to progress revealed in the article were bad arguments and admitted ignorance from defenders of the practice.

As state Sen. Mike Wilson, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, has said, “There was corporal punishment when I was going to school, and I’m not any worse the wear for it.”

If a public official endured salmonella while in school, saying now that he is no “worse the wear for it,” that would not be reason to intentionally infect students with the illness.

Hazing is defended the same way. Some people think that because they endured suffering, so should others. Americans recognize the flaw in that logic today.

Another reason given for corporal punishment is that, “Parents don’t want their kids to be out of class,” according to Principal Greg Wilson of the Bell Central School Center in Pineville.

That is a textbook example of a non sequitur. All it offers is reason against out-of-school suspension. The punishment of detention does not take students out of school. Just the opposite.

Two further arguments in defense of corporal punishment are rooted in ignorance of available knowledge on the subject. One says that “It works for some students.” The other hinges on parental support for the practice.

In terms of desired consequences, studies have only shown that corporal punishment yields short-lived immediate compliance, not enduring positive behavioral change. The negative long-term consequences associated are a heavy price to pay for false gains. So to say, “it works” is to mistake the purpose of punishment, which should be the redirection of behavioral habits. Plato argued long ago that “nothing taught by force stays in the soul.”

Next, parental support for corporal punishment is influenced by the false dilemma of out-of-school suspensions, treated as the only alternative. Beyond that, if parents were unintentionally to endorse a decision harmful to children, such as to take bad medicine from an unethical doctor, we would blame the harmful expert, not the parent. Kentucky schools are presenting corporal punishment as an acceptable option. We know better today.

Bell County Superintendent Yvonne Gilliam said she’s had very few complaints about the use of corporal punishment in her district. The fact that complaints are few changes nothing of their validity. A punishment in Mississippi caused a boy to faint, hit the concrete floor, chip teeth, and lacerate his chin, resulting in a lawsuit. One such case is one too many.

Parents are not the only relevant constituents, furthermore. Our tax dollars pay administrators and teachers to strike children.

Sen. Wilson said, “I don’t know that anybody has presented any overwhelming evidence that we need a change in the law.”

There are at least seven overwhelming reasons to make the change:

▪ Corporal punishment in public schools frustrates the proper aims of education.

Public education in a democratic society is meant to empower each citizen with the ability to think critically and participate in shared leadership. Education must be inviting, welcoming, safe and encouraging. Corporal punishment frustrates each of these aims.

▪ We are harming kids.

Elizabeth Gershoff published the definitive meta-studies, which found that: “The more children are spanked, the more likely they are to defy their parents and to experience increased anti-social behavior, aggression, mental health problems and cognitive difficulties.”

▪ It violates the basic constitutional right to security of person.

With the exception of capital punishment, U.S. constitutional law prohibits the state from using violence as a punishment for people in state custody. Kentucky prisoners have more rights than children.

▪ It targets our most vulnerable citizens.

As the Herald-Leader article noted, along with African-American youths, persons with disabilities are targeted most.

▪ There are effective, nonviolent forms of discipline.

Thirty-one other states offer examples to follow. There is also a Center for Effective Discipline at Gunderson Health for more information.

▪ The moral burden is on justifying the practice.

Child protection is uncontroversial. Government violence against children is not.

▪ It is incredibly easy to end corporal punishment.

Other problems cost money. This one requires only courage.

Eric Thomas Weber, visiting associate professor of philosophy at the University of Kentucky, is executive director of The Society of Philosophers in America. He wrote “Democracy and Leadership” and“Uniting Mississippi.” Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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