Breaking Out the Paddle: Corporal Punishment Thrives in America

Every day, school children in Georgia, Texas, Louisiana and 20 other states across the South live with the threat of being physically assaulted, often with a wooden paddle, at the hands of school administrators and teachers.

It completely shocks me that the government will not step in and stop corporal punishment in our schools. What also stuns me is that corporal punishment is legal in public schools in 23 states. It is committed with the full sanction of the law.

Once the shock wore away, anger set in and I couldn’t stop myself from digging until I exposed the whole, ugly truth.

The reality in which these children live is scary. Whether it is elbowing another child, passing a note, getting up without permission or ignoring directions, small infractions can earn corporal punishment for a child.

Take the example of a fourth grader, Megan Cahanin, who was paddled by the schools principle for elbowing a friend in the cafeteria. She received the customary three whacks on her behind with a 3 inch by 15 inch wooden paddle. When her parents saw the purple, doughnut-shaped bruises on her behind, they filed suit against the Georgia school district in which the altercation took place.

The Cahanin lawsuit argues that corporal punishment violates the guarantee of equal protection, since it is illegal to hit prisoners, nursing home residents or children in foster care.

So far, the courts have not agreed with extending the guarantee of equal protection to school children.

In fact, the Supreme Court ruled in 1977’s Ingraham v. Wright, that the eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment, applies to convicted criminals but not to students.

Robert Fathman, president of the National Coalition to Abolish Corporal Punishment in Schools said that almost every democracy in the world has banned corporal punishment but that the United States is going in the opposite directions.

“”You can’t whack a prisoner, but you can whack a kindergarten child,”” Fathman said.

Children need equal protection under law. Just as a prisoner is at the mercy of the guards or law for his well-being, the children in those 23 states are at the mercy of those in charge of the school. At any point during the day, for the smallest infraction, these childrens” rights are smashed to bits with the blows from that wooden paddle.

There is plenty of evidence to convince a reasonable person that school children are entitled protection from this primitive and unconscionable practice of corporal punishment.

Yet the fact that the Supreme Court has turned a blind eye to children’s right to learn in an environment free of abuse makes the court a conspirator in the continued abuse of school children across our nation.

The purpose of government is to protect those who are weak and defenseless from being abused. It is the government’s duty to protect the life and the rights of everyone in our nation.

So why do those lofty principles of protecting the rights of all come to a full and complete stop when they are applied to children? Aren’t children the most exploitable group in our society?

Why does our government continue to abuse our children under the guise of corporal punishment? How can the government justify their its use of abuse as an acceptable punishment on school children?

According to a recent New York Times article, some school districts and states insist that corporal punishment is necessary to maintain order. As sickening as it seems, it was reported that corporal punishment is a treasured tradition in the South.

Robert Surgenor, a detective from Berea, Ohio who investigates corporal punishment cases, claims that paddling works because, “”pain is the most effective form of punishment.””

Pain is the most effective tool? Give me a break.

Pain scars, Mr. Surgenor. It doesn’t teach kids to be obedient; it just trains kids to temporarily outwit the pain or to shutdown so as to avoid it.

Many experts argue that corporal punishment can cause depression or can worsen existing aggression.

Corporal punishment is a dangerous lesson to teach in schools. Experts say that paddling perpetuates a cycle of violence, teaching children that violence is the appropriate tool for managing the behavior of others.

Violence in the form of corporal punishment should not be promoted as the effective solution for student misbehavior, especially in the view of the recent school shootings.

Corporal punishment’s devastating effects can be seen in Cahanin’s life. She has started biting her nails and tries every morning to avoid going to school.

In an interview with the New York Times, Cahanin said, “”It’s so painful seeing [the principal] every day. Whenever I see a paddle, I just move away.””

Cahanin is only one example of a child forever scarred by corporal punishment. There are hundreds of thousands of kids who have also been abused at school because of corporal punishment. According to Department of Education research from the 1996-1997 school year 365,000 children faced corporal punishment.

That should make 365,000 assault convictions against the school administrators, right? Nope ‹ in those 23 states, assault on children is legal.

The number of children facing corporal punishment in these schools should be zero. We have no excuse for punishing children with violence in schools. If prisoners are afforded the right to be protected from cruel and unusual punishment, so should children. Corporal punishment must be outlawed. We must protect our children.

I call upon those 23 wayward states: Let us break the chain of abuse. Let us break those wooden paddles.

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