Policy drawn from fact not fiction

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I’ve never understood why hitting an adult is considered a crime but hitting a defenseless child for misbehaving is just discipline. It seems we’ve yet to learn that punishing children by hurting them only perpetuates the idea that you can control people with violence.

It’s shocking that corporal punishment in schools is still permitted in 19 states, although, thankfully, not in Nevada, where it has been prohibited by statute since 1993. The issue was in the news recently when a K-9 charter school, the Georgia School for Innovation and the Classics, decided to incorporate corporal punishment as part of their school’s disciplinary process. The school asked parents for their consent to punish children by hitting them up to three times with a wooden paddle. According to the school superintendent, about a third of the parents immediately returned the consent form approving the practice. Parents who disagree with the idea were told the school’s alternative punishment—a suspension of up to five days—will be applied should their children misbehave.

The school’s superintendent, Jody Boulineau, explained the school’s new direction by saying “In this school, we take discipline very seriously. There was a time where corporal punishment was kind of the norm in school, and you didn’t have the problems that you have.”

One assumes the superintendent includes violence among the problems that “we didn’t use to have” when children could be beaten at school, but she’s misinformed. According to a study published last December in the Journal of Pediatrics, children who were “spanked, slapped or struck with an object as form of punishment when they were younger” have more of a tendency to engage in dating violence than those who were not physically disciplined. Other research has shown that corporal punishment can lead to mental health problems and aggression.

But many school officials and parents in the 19 states that still allow corporal punishment ignore the research in favor of their personal experience, along the lines of “I got slapped for talking back at school, and I turned out just fine.”

Data shows that corporal punishment is more likely to be used on students with disabilities. Mississippi leads the nation in the percentage of students disciplined with violence, although one district banned the practice after a video showed a teacher dragging a special education student down a hallway by the hair.

Other schools let students choose between paddling or a suspension. In March of this year, three students in a rural Arkansas school district were paddled as punishment for participating in the national school walkout to protest gun violence on campus. The irony of the punishment was not lost on one of the students, Wylie Greer, who said “The idea that violence should be used against someone who was protesting violence as a means to discipline them is appalling.”

Texas still allows corporal punishment in its schools, but more enlightened administrators in that state are implementing a three-year pilot program that triples recess time to give children an outlet for their fidgety behavior. Children at Eagle Mountain Elementary School used to get 20 minutes of recess a day, but now they get an hour of recess, broken into four 15-minute sessions, in addition to their lunchtime. The program is modeled on the practices of the school system in Finland where students excel in reading, math and science.

Teachers in Texas say the extra recess has “transformed” their students, who are less distracted and easier to manage in the classroom. In Finland, research has shown that increasing recess also improves creativity and social skill development while it decreases behavioral diagnoses for anxiety, ADHD and anger.

In this Trumpian anti-science era, parents would do well to insist that school districts rely on research for policy development and ignore the parental anecdotes.