Recently, the topic of corporal punishment in schools has come up again. This time, the topic has bubbled up thanks to a letter sent on November 22 by U.S. Education Secretary John B. King Jr.. In his letter, Secretary King urged state officials to end the use of corporal punishment, like spanking, in schools. While King’s letter may be recent, this discussion is not. Almost 15 years ago, our Board of Directors adopted a resolution calling for the banning of corporal punishment in schools. Today, as research continues to confirm the harmful effects of corporal punishment, we are reaffirming our stance.
Corporal Punishment in Schools: What We Know
According to Secretary King, 22 states currently use corporal punishment in a school setting. King also points out that the use of corporal punishment “is harmful, ineffective, and often disproportionately applied to students of color and students with disabilities.” While this statement may be alarming, it is also sadly true.
A recent investigation by Education Week confirms the substance of Secretary King’s letter. In their investigation, EdWeek determined that more than 4,000 schools nationwide still use physical discipline in the classroom. Their investigation revealed that 109,000 children had been physically punished in the 2013-2014 school year. Making matters worse, EdWeek also determined that black students are twice as likely to receive corporal punishment when compared to white students.
And while it cannot be denied that schools will need to discipline students from time to time, research has shown that corporal punishment actually results in long-term negative health and behavior outcomes as opposed to actual behavior change. According to Dr. Elizabeth Gershoff, a leading researcher in the field of discipline, corporal punishment is directly related to negative outcomes including, aggression, anti-social behavior, negative parent-child relationships, low self-esteem. “There is no evidence that spanking does any good for children and all evidence points to the risk of it doing harm,” wrote Dr. Gershoff at the end of her most recent study. So while schools must have the ability to discipline children, we believe that they should not be allowed to use a form of discipline that 99% of studies show is ineffective.
What Can We Do?
We support Secretary King’s effort to end corporal punishment in schools and hope that you do too. We believe that schools are a place where children need to feel safe in order to learn. The use of physical punishment teaches children to be afraid and to use physical violence to control others rather than how to find peaceful means of solving problems. Alternative forms of discipline, such as those that enforce consequences and take away privileges, teach conflict resolution in a way that has more meaningful, lifelong impacts. To that end, we support:
- Banning the use of corporal punishment in schools in all fifty states.
- Providing initial and ongoing training to all teachers on alternative means of discipline
- Promoting positive and appropriate behavior in schools by focusing on social and emotional learning that contributes to improved self –regulation, relationships skills and decision-making.
But we need your help. Your voice is needed to stand up for children in your community and your state. If you live in one of the 22 states that still employs corporal punishment, you can make a difference by calling your local legislators and telling them you support ending the use of physical punishment in schools. The “Rethink Discipline” website from the Department of Education contains useful information that you can use when speaking to elected officials.
Even if your state has banned corporal punishment in schools, you can still be an advocate or mentor for children. For example, attend your local PAT meetings and learn how the school is creating positive environments for students and staff. Or, you can encourage your school district to support more training for teachers on effective and nondiscriminatory discipline. Connect with your local Prevent Child Abuse America chapter to learn how to make the biggest impact in your state.