How Much Do You Know About Corporal Punishment?


A Test

by John Fish


 
 
 
  1. "Tough Love," "Dare To Discipline," and "Spank Me If You Love Me" are titles of recent:

  2. S/M Movies;
    bondage and discipline novels;
    books on raising children.
     
  3. Indiana Moral Majority spokesperson Rev. Greg Dixon says that welts and bruises on children are:

  4. a sign of child abuse which should be reported to the proper authorities;
    a sign of disrespect for the human body, which is God's temple;
    a sign that a parent is doing a good job on discipline.
     
  5. A social studies teacher at North Dade Junior High (Florida) picked up a seventh-grade student by both feet and struck his head on the floor, then kicked the boy in the ribs and stepped on his face. According to 'school officials, this assault:

  6. will be prosecuted by them to the fullest extent of the law;
    has resulted in the placement of the teacher in a hospital for severely disturbed patients;
    may cost the teacher his job.

 

Answers:


If you chose the third response as the answer to the above questions, you have a perfect score. It is a myth of our culture that corporal abuse of young people by adults is the appropriate and most effective way to teach them to be cooperative and respectful of others. Every year more than 60,000 minors are reported to have been beaten, burned, or otherwise physically abused by adults [Footnote 1] ~ usually their parents or guardians. And these 60,000 represent only the ones whose abuse is severe enough to be termed "excessive" or "unreasonable".

Schools are generally a safer place for young people than homes ~ at least children are not as likely to be beaten to death there ~ but corporal abuse, rationalized as "discipline" or "motivation to do better," still occurs in schools on an all-too-frequent basis. In Chicago ~ where corporal punishment is officially prohibited in public schools ~ a substitute teacher told a Chicago Tribune reporter that she had turned down a permanent assignment to a school because of the way pupils there were treated. Other teachers at the same school told the reporter of seeing teachers there "punching pupils in the stomach, throwing them against the wall, and hitting them with yardsticks, shoes and belts." In the same article, a teacher at another school said, "Teachers will take a yardstick and wind it with masking tape so it doesn't leave a mark. I see teachers in the lunchroom twisting ears all the time. Maybe 50 percent of the schools have some physical abuse."[Footnote 2]

Illinois is not unique. It is not even the worst. That distinction presently belongs to the state of Arkansas [Footnote 3], where one out of every eight students is physically abused by teachers, as opposed to a national average of one in 28. In Florida, the long-time leader in corporal abuse of students until recent legislative changes, black students are still twice as likely to be beaten as their white classmates [Footnote 4]. Students in private schools are more likely to be beaten than those in public schools, with teachers in so-called "Christian" schools beating students most often and most severely [Footnote 5].

Nancy Berla, director of a hotline project run by the National Committee for Citizens in Education, says that from the calls they have received it appears that paddling is applied mostly to younger students. Of 4,000 calls received by the hotline during their first year of operation, 70 percent were complaints of physical assaults on students by teachers. "In many schools teachers carry their paddles attached to their belts," says Mrs. Berla. "The teachers are accustomed to using the paddle on children for petty or trivial behavior, such as being late to class, not having the right color pencil, missing the school bus home, talking at lunch time, or being out of their seats without permission." [Footnote 6]

Yet young people are still less likely to be assaulted by a teacher than by a parent or guardian. While it is not a strong one, the movement to halt physical assaults on students by teachers and principals is far more popular than the movement to halt all physical assaults on the young, including those committed by parents.

Our culture views physical assaults on young people as acceptable within certain limits of reasonableness. It is not the physical assault of the minor that is viewed as wrong, but the abuse of the limited privilege to assault minors granted by this cultural myth.

Our cultural mythology views physical assaults on young people as acceptable within certain "limits of reasonableness." [Footnote 7] It is not the physical assault of the minor that is viewed as wrong, but the "abuse" of the "limited privilege" to assault minors granted by this cultural myth.

A much stronger, more popular movement today has been mounted around the increase in reports of sexual assaults on young people by adults. These assaults are characterized as typical of all sexual contacts between young people and adults because another cultural myth says that all intergenerational sexual contact is unwanted by the younger partner, who therefore must be forced, tricked, or bribed into participating. Both consenting and non-consenting sexual activity involving young people and adults are often referred to as "child molestation," rather than "child abuse." The word "molestation" means "unwanted contact." In recent years, the word has become synonymous with "sexual molestation," in the same way that "intercourse" has become synonymous with "sexual intercourse."

But molestation is any kind of unwanted contact. And while the "spank me if you love me" advocates may claim that young people benefit from beatings by adults as punishment for failing to continually please them, Edward Zeigler, who heads the psychology section of the Child Study Center at Yale University, finds that "today there is total consensus among behavioral scientists that hard discipline is counter-productive. It only teaches children that people who are big and strong can do what they want." [Footnote 8] Educational psychologists G. Roy Mayer and Tom Butterworth, in a three-year study involving 18 schools, found that by training teachers to praise and otherwise reward students for wanted behavior (instead of punishing them for unwanted behavior), not only did school vandalism costs go down by an average of 75 percent, but "hitting, throwing objects, not doing assigned work and other kinds of inappropriate behavior decreased as teachers acquired the knack of using positive reinforcement." [Footnote 9]

Every corporal assault is contact unwanted by young persons, and therefore constitutes molestation, even when claimed to be justified as discipline. Cultural myths which hold that any type of physical assault can be "reasonable" or "effective" as discipline, or that any amount of physical abuse, however slight, is less than excessive, should be exploded for the benefit of all.

At present there are no jurisdictions in the U.S. where all hitting of young people by their parents is illegal. [Footnote 10] There are also no jurisdictions where young people have the right to initiate or participate in any type of erotic activity with adults. Is this a coincidence, or is there a connection? Why are those who defend corporal punishment as necessary and proper so often the same ones concerned about protecting young people from all sexual experiences?

Every corporal assault is contact unwanted by young persons, and therefore constitutes molestation. Cultural myths which hold that any type of physical assault can be reasonable or that any amount of physical abuse, however slight, is less than excessive, should be exploded for the benefit of all.

Two frequently cited goals of the current anti-child sexual molestation movement are that "children should be told they have the right to say 'no'," and that "children should be taught that their bodies belong to them and that no one has the right to touch them without their permission." Achieving these goals would be a great help in empowering young people to deal with the problems of unwanted sexual contacts.

There is an obvious conflict, however, between those two goals and the lessons young people learn every day from corporal punishment.
 
 

"You have the right to say 'no'. / Now go upstairs and do your homework. DON'T SAY 'NO' TO ME! If you EVER say 'no' to me again, I'll slap you so hard you won't know what hit you!" and, "Your body belongs to you. / Now stop slouching in that chair and sit up straight while you can still sit down!" and, "No one can touch your body without your permission. / If you don't clean up this room, I'll take a yardstick and break it on your behind!" are all examples of the conflicting messages many young people today are receiving from parents and teachers.

If there is a first step towards empowering young people, it is to abolish the privilege of adults to physically abuse the young. While calling for the abolition of age-of-consent laws is important and necessary, not many young people would consider legal sex as important as freedom from the physical assaults they face on a daily basis.


Assuming that young people are neither as irrational nor as schizophrenic as the adults who control their lives, which message will they believe? How long will it take them to figure out that when someone tells them they have a right to say "no", that person is lying? That they have no such right, only a dictate from society that they must say "no" to all sexual offers or be prepared to suffer the legal consequences? How long will it be before they realize that they may not do with their bodies as they choose, but only as those adults in control demand? How long will it be before they realize that who touches their bodies and how do not depend on who has their permission, but on who has the legal authority?

And once young people realize these things (which should not take any longer than their next beating), how long will it be before they, and concerned adults, begin to do something substantive to change the status of young people in our society?

Gabriela Mistral, Chile's Nobel prize winning poet, answers that question in this way:

If there is a first step towards empowering the young, it is not lying to them about a right to say "no." And while calling for the abolition of age-of-consent laws is important and necessary, not many young people would consider legal sex as important as freedom from the physical assaults that all of them risk facing on a daily basis. If there is a first step towards empowerment, it is to abolish the privilege of adults to physically abuse young people.

There are several organizations addressing this issue. One is the National Committee for the Prevention of Child Abuse, P.O. Box 94283, Chicago, IL 60690. Another is EVAN-G, the Committee to End Violence Against the Next Generation, Inc., 977 Keeler Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94708, a group whose aim is to end corporal punishment in schools and whose quarterly newsletter, The Last ? Resort, is the primary source for the data used in this article. In addition, many other groups, including the A.C.L.U., address the issue of corporal punishment in one way or another.

And if none of these groups seems right for you, you can always start your own. The Children's Rights Handbook, published by Youth Liberation Press, 2007 Washtenaw Avenue, Ann Arbor, MI 49194, tells you how. Although the handbook is out of print, copies can be found in many alternative bookstores.
 

Notes

1"To Stem Child Abuse", The Last ? Resort (Berkeley, CA), Vol. 12, No. 3 (Summer, 1984), p.3.

    2"Chicago Ban Poorly Enforced", Ibid., p. 18.

     3James Wallerstein and Adah Maurer, "Prison Admissions: The Statistical Relationship of Corporal Punishment and Crime", Ibid., Vol. 13, No. 2 (Winter, 1985), p. 7. Arkansas leads in school corporaI punishment per 1,000 pupils, and Texas leads in the reported number of incidents of corporal punishment by state. Ibid., p. 14. (Florida comes in second on both lists.)

     4"The University of Florida 'Alligator' vs. The Educational Establishment: Why More Blacks?", Ibid., Vol. 12, No. 2, p. 10; "Task Force At Odds Over Spanking Law: Florida Doesn't Like First Place", Ibid., p. 11; "3000 Paddlings a Year on 500 Students", Ibid., Vol. 13, No. 2 (Winter, 1985), p. 19.

    5Levona Page, "Christian Schools Fuel Debate Over State Control", Ibid., Vol. 13, No. 1 (Fall,1984), p. 14. "Panel Powerless Over Child Abuse, Members Claim", Ibid., Vol. 12, No. 3, (Summer, 1984), p. 11.
 
    6 "Hot Lines For School Abuse", Ibid., p.23.

    7 John R. Sarnowski, Jr., "Reasonableness or Absence of Malice?: A Question of Legal Standards", Ibid., pp. 6,7.

    8 Letty Cottin Pogrebin, "Hers" Ibid., Vol. 12, No. 2 (Spring 1984), p. 19.

    9 Paul Chance, "Vandalism: New Research Confirms 1974 Results in Portland Study", Ibid., Vol. 12, No. 3 (Summer, 1984), p. 14.
 
   10 John R. Sarnowski, Jr., Loc. Cit.

   11 "Another Tribute to Senator Mondale", Ibid., p. 4.

from NAMBLA Journal Seven (1986).


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