Corporal Punishment Is Unethical

Arkansas children continue to be mistreated and discriminated against as gender, racial/ethnic and special needs groups are paddled in excess of their proportions of district student enrollments.  In reply to a complaint filed with the Office for Civil Rights, U. S. Department of Education (November 19, 2002), the OCR acknowledged that statistical analyses supported our claim that corporal punishment was being administered disproportionately against African American, Special Education and male students.  However, they deemed disproportionality alone to be insufficient for initiating an investigation of discrimination.  Under the administration of Secretary of Education Rod Paige, the OCR was investigating singular complaints of discriminatory treatment of individuals rather than allegations of unfair treatment of groups.

There being no empirical evidence of any measurable, therapeutic or educational value in corporal punishment, it is unethical for this treatment of children to occur.  While proportionate paddling would not be moral either, its opposite tends to engender the impression of malice and injustice in more of our children, to list just one of the shortcomings of the practice.  The institutional corporal punishment of children is a base, brutal treatment passed off as an educational tool; one for which there is no college, pre-service or in-service training anywhere in our country. It would be absurd to suggest that there is any standard.

By its mere permission, the corporal punishment of minor students, as a legitimate way to treat virtually defenseless and less powerful people, facilitates the exploitation of policy and the deliberate harm of children.  Teacher training and certification has not achieved the reliability or status of a genuine security measure and it is not uncommon for "bad" teachers to be exposed to children for years.  Not only is there no screening mechanism to protect children from potential child abusers, there is no safeguard in place to identify and remove sexual predators.  Providing license and putting weapons in the hands of potential perpetrators of abuse seems to disregard the protective aspect of the community’s responsibility to its children.

When the corporal punishment of children is prosecuted according to established policy, with diligent attention to due process, it remains a miserable way to treat the progeny of our species and exceeds warrant, no matter what the child's behavior.  There is the risk of serious physical and emotional harm and the near certainty of no positive, educational result.  The degrees of risk are irrelevant in terms of what minimal negative effect might be considered permissible because there is no degree of long-term benefit.  All presumptions about lasting improvement in behavior are supported nowhere in the knowledge base of modern educators.  Traditional and moral are not synonymous.  That a practice has existed in the past, is not what makes it right.  So students are still being hit today primarily because it is permitted and because people resist change.  The risks to the children are not justified by any measurable, long-term benefit.

Modern classroom teachers possess knowledge of teaching and child management techniques that do not rely on intentionally hurting their pupils.  To select a method of treatment that always causes, at least, transient pain over effective, positive alternatives that do not hurt is an unethical choice.  Children do not need to hurt to learn.  To the contrary, pain and discomfort probably inhibit learning.  Paddling school children has never demonstrated more than very temporary control of behavior.  So, if merely temporarily interrupting undesirable behavior is the relevant goal, then it must be acknowledged that paddling has never demonstrated greater effectiveness than its positive alternatives.  Some of those alternatives have demonstrated long-term positive change where paddling has not.  Why paddle?

There is no redeeming result, as far as the children are concerned, that makes the use of corporal punishment permissible by a compassionate and future oriented people.  The popularity of the method and the confidence in it are not supported by anything we know about how children learn or why they behave well. 

Randy Cox 


"The No Spanking Page":

"Corporal Punishment in Arkansas Public Schools":