Gilbert Leal is a man on a mission. As a tutor in the Dallas Independent School District (DISD), he feels teachers are spending far too much of their time disciplining students and not enough time educating. But he worries that trips to the principals' office, detention, and in-school suspensions aren't making enough of a difference in students' behavior.
His solution? Bring back the licks.
"I want to bring back corporal punishment to Dallas," Leal said. "Kids have no fear anymore. There are no consequences."
He hopes simply the threat of corporal punishment will change students' behavior.
Paddling was banned five years ago in the DISD. Since then, however, according to research compiled by the Dallas Morning News, student suspensions have increased.
"If you're not on the battlefield, you never really know what it's like," Leal said. "If you're not in the class dealing with these disruptions, you might have some idealistic solutions.
"There aren't a lot of alternatives to dealing with 20 kids that get out of control because of one," he said. "Yyou can suspend them, send them to the office. We have a great school counselor. ... And when none of that works, what do you do?"
Leal is urging voters to back candidates who vow to "Bring Back Licks" in this Saturday's Dallas school board election. There are three spaces up for election. Thus far Leal has found candidates for two of those races who are willing to reinstate corporal punishment.
Leal, who tutors children who under-perform on the state's standardized tests, has even written a song about it to "show the lighter side" of the issue.
Twenty states, including Texas, currently allow the use of corporal punishment in schools.
According to the Department of Education's, Office for Civil Rights, in the 2006-2007 school year, the most recent year for which data is available, upwards of 223,000 American schoolchildren were subjected to physical punishment. Nearly a quarter of the students receiving such punishments lived in Texas.
Experts Say Corporal Punishment Harms Children
Child psychologists and academics long have spoken out against the use of paddling.
"Many times things that are used don't work," said Nadine Block, executive director of the Center for Effective Discipline. "However, paddling doesn't work either. They paddle the same kids over and over, and they are more often boys, more often children with disabilities, poor children or minorities.
"If it doesn't work and you have the potential to do harm," she asked, "why on earth would you think of going back to that?"
A recent study by Tulane University found that parental spanking caused children to be more aggressive. Toddlers who were spanked regularly were more likely to grow into kindergarteners that bullied, hit, and were destructive and disobedient.
"Not to sound uncompassionate, but whether or not that kid who gets licks is going to turn out better or worse, I don't consider that to be the argument," he said. "What is the argument ... is that one bad apple is literally holding an entire class back, and that is not fair to the rest of the class, and that is how you get a school that is low-performing."
In the coming weeks, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., plans to introduce legislation that would potentially end the practice of corporal punishment in schools. The legislation would tie banning corporal punishment to federal funding for education.
"Researchers, principals and teachers say paddling is not an effective discipline tactic. Paddling implores immediate pain, lasting physical injury and ongoing mental distress." McCarthy said at a Congressional hearing last month. "How can we talk about safety in schools and not bring sanctioned hitting of our students into the conversation?"
McCarthy, the chairwoman of the Healthy Families and Communities Subcommittee, hopes to introduce the legislation before the Memorial Day recess.
Leal, who was paddled once himself as a student in the DISD, was inspired to bring back corporal punishment based on the apparent success of paddling in the Temple Texas school district.
Can Corporal Punishment Be Effective?
Temple, a town of roughly 60,000, banned the practice several years ago but brought it back last May after clarifying the definition of corporal punishment. Since the practice was reinstated, there has been one incident of paddling and the number of students referred to the principal's office has declined.
However, the Temple Independent School District (TISD) sees it differently, claiming corporal punishment is not the cause of the better behavior.
"In the last two years, we have implemented a lot of new interventions to equip our classroom teachers to really create this atmosphere, to set expectations and for students to know what expectations we have for them that will prevent these incidents from occurring in the first place," said Regina Corley, TISD director of communication and community involvement.
Temple requires explicit parental consent and approval before the use of corporeal punishment, which is reserved for "major offenses" such a bullying.
"This is not something that we get a blanket approval to do," Corley said. "It's never been widely used in the history of the 126-year-old school district."
Corley believes that paddling does play a role in student discipline, noting that some parents may prefer corporeal punishment to suspension, particularly if the parents work and no one is available to watch the student during that time.
"It is important that parents have options," she said. "The whole point of education is to build those relationships with parents. Educating children, it has to be a cooperative affair. And if that's an option that parents have asked us to consider, and it's parent-driven, building that dialogue to do what's best for kids, I think that's important. I think there is a place for that."
Update: Gilbert Leal has been released from his position at Conner Elementary. Leal was informed by the school's principal that the topic of corporal punishment was causing a dispruption among the teachers.