On Corporal Punishment

Everybody knows what corporal punishment is; nobody thinks it's a junior non-commissioned officer, and many people I talk to have a fixed opinion about the subject. Some people oppose it because they were spanked as a child; others are for it for the same reason. Still others were not subjected to spanking as a child and refrain for that reason as well (curiously, I don’t recall a parent ever telling me that “I spank my child because I wasn’t spanked”). In all three scenarios parents’ firm opinions about corporal punishment derive precisely from their own experience. I suppose this includes me as well.

Full disclosure: I was spanked (with no enthusiasm) by my mother until I was about 7 and (I think with enthusiasm) by my 6th grade teacher in Texas. I (infrequently) did the same with my own children. And for the past 20 plus years have fully embraced a community (Montessori) that roundly condemns the practice as disrespectful of children.

I have no intention in this essay of convincing my readers of anything that contradicts strongly held views. But I always look for interesting tidbits on any number of subjects relating to education, children, and other topics of mutual interest to share with you, and I found one in a recent report on NPR about the subject called "What Happens When a Country Bans Spanking?"

It turns out that 54 countries ban corporal punishment altogether and some others partially ban it in schools (including the United States), begging somebody to do a study comparing violence between the two categories. Researchers at McGill University looked at teens fighting and reported their results in the World Health Organization's Health Behavior in School-aged Children study and Global School-based health survey. The data show a clear correlation: of the countries included in the study, 30 have passed laws fully banning physical punishment of children, both in schools and in homes. The rates of fighting among adolescents were substantially lower than in the 20 countries with no bans in place: by 69 percent for adolescent males and 42 percent less for females. The lead researcher, Frank Elgar, cautions that the data show correlation, and not necessarily cause and effect.

The NPR report also cited an earlier study by Professor Elizabeth Gershoff of the University of Texas who had studied metadata of work on physical punishment of about 160,000 children during a 50-year period. She reported, “The findings were consistently negative. Although spanking is traditionally supposed to teach a lesson to correct bad behavior, children who were spanked were neither more compliant nor better behaved. Moreover, for both boys and girls, she said, We found [spanking] linked to more aggression, more delinquent behavior, more mental health problems, worse relationships with parents, and putting the children at higher risk for physical abuse from their parents.

One of the challenges for parents is having a workable alternative to spanking. We obviously have these tools in the classroom. They are not as swift as a quick smack on the bottom, and I know how time challenges us all. They also require patience, which I can affirm may be is short supply after a long day at work. If you are interested, though, please reach out to your child’s classroom director.

Ironically, these data and their interpretations will not lead us to a single conclusion. Rather, each reader will internalize this information according to their life experiences. I hope, dear reader, you will assess the information here with the recognition of your own context.

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