(References can be found at the bottom of the page.)
Whenever a particularly reprehensible act of violence occurs here in Memphis, we hear the comment that the rise of violence in our city is due to the decline of old-fashioned discipline. We are told that what these criminals really need is a good spanking. The popular belief is that almost nobody, parents or teachers, corporally punishes their children today. Nothing could be further from the truth. Teachers and parents continue to hit children at astonishing rates.
In a 1984 survey of public school principals, 100% of responding principals from the East South Central U.S. (which includes Kentucky, Alabama, and Mississippi, as well as Tennessee) reported that they use corporal punishment on their students. More recently, a 1994 study found that the East South Central U.S. supports corporal punishment more strongly than any other part of the nation, with 92.8% of respondents saying that spanking is at least somewhat necessary.
Memphis could easily be named the corporal punishment capital of the nation. In a time when virtually every economically developed nation has outlawed the use of corporal punishment in schools, and even South Africa has put an end to the practice, the Memphis City Schools and Shelby County School District continue to advocate the use of physical violence against children who do not follow the rules. The Memphis City Schools allows teachers and administrators to corporally punish students for such relatively minor infractions as loitering, unauthorized parking, improper dress, the posting or other distribution of unauthorized materials, and possession of tobacco products. Students can even be paddled for refusing to be punished in the first place.
Conventional wisdom says that all of this corporal punishment should lead to a society in which children and adults alike get along better, follow the rules more, and in general are better behaved. Conventional wisdom is wrong. A 1994 study found that on average, states that allow their schools to corporally punish students have higher rates of homicide than states that have outlawed the use of corporal punishment in public schools. Another study found that the crime rate in Tennessee is twice as high as the crime rate in New York, a state that does not allow corporal punishment in schools. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 1991 the number of prison admissions per 10,000 in New York was 6.94. In Tennessee, the number was 11.43 . Since that time, crime has fallen in New York City and increased in Memphis. For all of our paddling, popping, smacking, and spanking, Memphis still is a more violent city than the worst of the Northern non-paddling cities. The message Memphis sends to the world is clear. Corporal punishment does not discipline. Corporal punishment destroys discipline.
The time has come to put an end to violence against students in Memphis' public schools.
- Corporal punishment has never been proven to be effective. Why strike children if we don't know whether it does them any good?
- Corporal punishment can cause serious harm to children. People who are corporally punished as children are more likely to develop psychological problems, abuse alcohol, beat their spouses and children, engage in juvenile delinquency and adult crime, and earn less money later in life. Children who are not spanked have been shown to be more likely to grow up to lead healthy, productive lives.
- Practical alternatives to hitting children exist. The best way to get respect from our children is to show them respect. The first step towards a relationship of respect is to stop using violence as a means of control. Alternatives exist. The book Discipline Without Shouting or Spanking shows the way to a more humane method of raising a child.
This article is also available at Spare The Child
- Rose, T. L., (1984). Current uses of corporal punishment in american public schools. Journal of educational psychology, 76 (3), 427-441.
- Flynn, C. P. (1994). Regional differences in attitudes toward corporal punishment. Journal of Marriage and Family, 56, 314-324.
- Straus, M. A. (1994). Beating the devil out of them: Corporal punishment in American families. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass/Lexington.
- Maurer, A., (1991). Corporal punishment in the public schools. Humanistic Psychologist, 19, (1), 30-47.