Tuesday, February 16, 2016

When Is It OK To Hit Your Students?

I would like to say never, but there are schools in this country that practice corporal punishment and it makes me sick.

I honestly have a knot in my stomach the more I think about it. School is supposed to be a safe place. It is a place to make mistakes and hopefully have someone kind and compassionate guide you to better decisions next time. For some students, school might be the only safe place they have all day. To steal that from students by issuing corporal punishment is disgusting.

This article in the Washington Post by Christopher Ingrhaam, "The states where teachers still beat kids" provides some great information on where corporal punishment is legal and which states keep track of when and on who it is used. Some might argue that it is not very widespread and does not happen that often. Tell that to the student asked to bend over and is spanked. One child that is hit is an institution for learning is too many.

I often wonder about the educators that issue/administer corporal punishment. Are they just part of the system and are too afraid to speak up about it? Do they believe, despite the fact that, "Many studies have shown that physical punishment — including spanking, hitting and other means of causing pain — can lead to increased aggression, antisocial behavior, physical injury and mental health problems for children," the American Psychological Association wrote in 2012", that corporal punishment works? The UN and the American Academy of Pediatrics both oppose the practice, but what do they know?

Do some educators simply believe that kids deserve it?

Anyone that was ever hit growing up, knows that feeling. The feeling of embarrassment and shame. The anger lingers long after you have been hit. The tears shed as you look at someone that is supposed to care for you as you are hit. No educator should ever give those feelings to a student. I do not see how any educators that claims to love children can also be part of hitting them as part of their job. It makes no sense to me.

There are cultural aspects that are in play in corporal punishment. For some communities, spankings, hitting, whoopings, etc are just part of discipline. It breaks my heart to think that is where the conversation ends for some people. "It's just what we have always done" is a terrible way to argue in defense of hitting a child. I try and think of the different reasons one might have to validate hitting a child as a form of punishment. Bullying? Cheating? Tardiness? How about fighting? I'm sure kids are paddled for fights. I imagine it goes something like this.

Principal - "Billy, hitting another classmate is never appropriate. You have to learn to settle your differences in a more constructive manner. I want you to think about this as I take this paddle and strike you 5 times in the backside."

There are plenty of things in education that have evolved over time. Making students do homework as a punishment connects learning as something bad. I do not see this practice anymore and I used to get this as a punishment in school. We are taught not to publicly shame our students in class. We should handle discipline privately with the students. Can you imagine making a student sit in the corner with a Dunce cap on? The backlash from the Internet would be insane! Yet, we seem to ok with educators hitting students. We need to move away from archaic practices and focus on what is best for our students.

As educators, it has to be our job to stop these types of things from going on in our schools. It is up to us to ensure that our students know they are coming to a safe place. The students need to know that we are not going to hurt them. If we cannot offer the protection these children need, who will?

The other side of this issue is the disproportionate number of black students that are subject to corporal punishment. There is a great piece from the Brookings Institute that provides all of the data needed to see that they numbers are insane. The article states,

"Black students are twice as likely to be struck as white students in North Carolina and Georgia, 70 percent more likely in Mississippi, 40 percent more likely in Louisiana, and 40 percent more likely in Arkansas."

These numbers come from the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights and they are not good. Sadly, I wonder if these numbers are too low. How many schools are not accurately reporting the number of times students are being disciplined? Corporal punishment seems to be something that schools do, they know it is not really the best thing so they keep it sort of quiet, but keep doing it because that's what they do.

It does not stop with corporal punishment either. Black students are more likely to be suspended than white students. In Michigan, if is a student is suspended, there is a very likely chance that they are black. I will do another post on the out of school separations and the fact they accomplish very little most of the time, but these numbers are a problem.

Again, it has to fall to educators to solve this problem. We cannot wait for legislators to come in and save the day. Some of them have the best intentions, but it can be taken out of their hands if we stop the craziness and find a better way. Is it really so hard not to hit students in school as a form of punishment? Would there really be educators that are devastated they can no longer wail away on students for being bad? If there are some, they need to be gone right away. While figuring out how to discipline students is never an easy thing and our practices have evolved over the years, we need to make sure that discipline is equatable across the board. As educators, we need to be better in different ways to help support our students. We all have different approaches to ensure the success of our students. I would truly hope we could all agree that we need to stop hitting them in schools.


  1. I'll be honest: I thought corporal punishment was ancient history, everywhere. I mention to my students from time to time, just to let them know that in living memory of people who are not (that) old, it was OK for a student to get swatted for talking back to a gym teacher, or coloring outside the lines. (Also, I tell them the rule in my house was "anything you get at school, you get twice at home". That cured me pretty quick.). The students' general response runs along the lines of "Anybody hits me in school, I'm hitting back". Counter-productive, to say the least.

  2. Wow. I had no idea! I too thought it was a long gone practice. How sad and horrible!! :'( I remember in middle school a favorite teacher taking 'early retirement' after picking a student up by the shirt and tossing him into the hallway. My dad frequently talks about his 'witch of a teacher' (poor guy, had her for 4 grades!) who would bust his knuckles with a ruler just because he was 'a stupid Kraut' (he & my grandparents are American born from German descent) my heart breaks every time I hear him talk about it.

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  4. I don't care if it's legal or even if it's supported by the parents and community... it is NEVER okay to use physical force in disciplining a child in school. If that's the type of discipline used, that shows a weakness in the adult to understand the misbehavior in the child and modify that behavior. Seriously? There are no better alternatives? (Of course there are.) It also demonstrates to the child, as you noted above, that a person in power is allowed to use physical force. What a horrible example to set for children. If I knew personally any educator doing this, I would lose respect immediately and would NEVER ask them to speak, present, or advocate for children. How hypocritical.

  5. Corporal punishment works in most instances. We still practice it at my school. Many teachers and administrators who don't support corporal punishment are really in denial of how effective it can be. It's a quick reminder that a rule was broken. I would argue that, because it doesn't remove the child from the classroom for long periods of time, it's much more appropriate than suspension or expulsion.

    1. Nic, is it really effective in modifying behaviors so that children understand their choices? Or is it a show of adult power - or "the bigger person with power" - or the "authority with power?" We don't use corporal punishment in our school. When our students break the rules, we talk with them. We work through the behavior with them. If they continue, they have natural consequences that fit the choice they made. Corporal punishment is a temporary (and maybe quick) consequence that rarely fits the misbehavior or rule-breaking. You might see some children choose not to break the rule again, but this is because they don't want to get HIT again... not because they don't want to break the rule. Fear doesn't lead them to a good place, and it eventually breeds mistrust and resentment. Not respect. I doubt I'll change your mind (or any others who still choose corporal punishment as "effective,"), but I will always choose to work with a child for understanding and following rule because they're necessary, not because an adult has required compliance. I can't imagine that adults would tolerate corporal punishment in the work place for breaking a rule. Why on earth would we do that to children?

  6. Corporal punishment is effective when used as it is intended. There is no "hit" involved. The discipline dies not take place at the moment of the offense which allows both individuals the chance to think rationally. Often, there is an opportunity for the student to show remorse for the offense and, in turn, earn back respect and a lighter discipline.In both cases, there is calm and reasonable talking with a behavior plan in place. It is in no way abusive or barbaric.
    You portray it as an angry adult giving a kid a whoopin' with a belt. THAT is hitting.
    When students know that the worst that could happen is getting out of school, why wouldn't they continue to re-offend?
    We, as a society, have coddled and held our students hands to the point that they no longer have respect or an inclination to better themselves.

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  9. I completely agree with you. I don't see how anyone can think hitting a child for doing something bad (like hittinng someone else) models what we want them to do. The only thing it teaches a child is to fear the person with the most power.

    I plan on teaching abroad next year. The country that I plan to teach in, official made corporal punishment in schools illegal recently, however, from my research it still happens and many teachers believe it to be effective. As someone who has a strict belief that corporal punishment is wrong, I am extremely worried about what the experience will be like.


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