- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 1, 2006

A group has formed in North Carolina to lobby for the prohibition of corporal punishment in public schools. I was asked to sign a petition to that effect, which put me in a bit of a bind.

I was concerned that my endorsement would create the impression that I am anti-spanking when I am not. Nor, however, am I pro-spanking. I think there are exceptional times when a spanking is warranted and arguably is the best of all possible disciplinary responses. (However, I think most spankings delivered by most parents are delivered stupidly and accomplish nothing.)

I simply believe the government should not be the arbiter of parental discipline and that existing child abuse law is sufficient to deal with parent behavior that goes over the line — although I often think the line is drawn arbitrarily and I am concerned that the definition of child abuse is slowly being “dumbed down.”

I do, however, believe that if individual school districts will not prohibit the use of corporal punishment — which often is the case in North Carolina and a number of other states, mostly Southern — it’s high time state government stepped in, gave those districts a good legal spanking and put the ban in place for them. School officials have no business spanking students, period.

In the first place, there is no evidence that students in school districts that allow corporal punishment are any better behaved than students in school districts that don’t allow it. Spanking is not the tipping point of good discipline at home or at school. (There is good and reliable evidence, however, that the children of parents who occasionally spank are generally happier than the children of parents who do not believe in spanking; but this is correlation, not cause-and-effect.)

Teachers in Texas, for example, administer nearly one of every four school spankings in the United States. In Mississippi, one out of every 10 students eventually is paddled. Neither of those states can claim the prize for most well-behaved students.

Second, it is obvious to students that a school-administered spanking is a last-ditch, desperate measure. Effective discipline is never administered in desperation. Another way of saying the same thing: Desperation and discipline are incompatible. In that context, a person who is administering a spanking is admitting defeat.

Third, statistics concerning school spankings suggest underlying racism. Consider that black students make up 17 percent of the public school population yet receive 39 percent of school-based spankings. It could be that black parents are more likely than white parents to give schools permission to spank, but that is no excuse for abiding an outcome that can be used to claim racism.

Last, but by no means least, for a spanking to be effective, an intimate, trusting relationship already must exist between the spanker and the youngster. In the absence of such a relationship, a spanking is likely to produce not better behavior, but resentment and even more rebellion. Needless to say, principals and teachers don’t qualify. Neither do some parents, but they would be the last to realize that about themselves. Some grandparents qualify, but grandparent is as far as I would extend the privilege under any circumstances.

Unfortunately, the National Coalition to Abolish Corporal Punishment in Schools (NCACP) is allied with End Physical Punishment of Children (EPOCH-USA) and the Center for Effective Discipline, groups that want the federal government to disallow parental spanking — law that inevitably would lead to the government’s assuming an increasingly totalitarian role in matters of child discipline.

On its Web site (www.stophitting.com), NCACP makes the usual unverified, histrionic claims about spanking, such as that “it teaches children to hit someone smaller and weaker when angry.”

Thus, my dilemma.

Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his Web site (www.rosemond.com).


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