Spare the Rod or Swing the Paddle: How to Punish Students

It may be a declining practice in American schools, frowned upon by most child psychologists, but school officials in one Georgia county are reinstituting corporal punishment for students who misbehave.

When school resumes after summer vacation, principals in Twiggs County will be allowed to use paddles to spank students who don't respond to detention or other forms of discipline, reaffirming a policy that had lain dormant in the county since 2006.

The district is one of at least 150 school systems in the state that allow corporal punishment, according to school board chairman David Sanders, who said the practice is reserved for "acts that are so anti-social or disruptive as to shock the conscience."

Sanders told that he has not experienced opposition from parents and said students will only be paddled if their parents have given their permission at the start of the school year. The paddling also has to be witnessed by another teacher or school staffer, he said. Students as young as 4 can receive the punishment, according to school policy.

Sanders does not know, however, the last time that a student was punished physically in the county's school district.

The once-common practice, which involves smacking a student's backside with a wooden paddle, has been abolished in 29 states and is still legal in 21 states, although it is only routinely practiced in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Texas and Tennessee.

Some states, including California, Illinois and New York, have banned corporal punishment in public schools, but allow it in private schools.

The practice has rapidly declined in recent decades – in 1980, 1.4 million students were paddled compared to 223,000 students in the 2006-07 school year. Less than half of one percent of students are punished this way in U.S. public schools.

'Kids Need a Good Paddling'

Yet parents in Twiggs County seem supportive of the policy.

Sallie Walters, the mother of a child in the Twiggs County Elementary School, said she believes the school's decision to allow teachers to use physical punishment is a good one.

"If a kid misbehaves really badly, he should get spanked so he won't do it again," Walters said. "And I think it will work for those delinquents out there. I will definitely sign the permission slip for my child."

Edward Huston, who has two daughters, one entering ninth grade and another going into 12th grade, agreed with the county's policy.

"Kids are so bad these days they need a good paddling," he said. "I tell my daughters, 'If the teacher whups you, I'm going to whup you too when you get home.'"

Huston blames parents, saying that talking to misbehaving children only enables their bad behavior.

"When I was in New York and I visited my stepson's classroom, the kids were acting up and it was out of control," he said.

Discipline problems were one of the factors that led school board members to reactivate corporal punishment.

Last year, a state report listed 300 incidents of student misconduct and 62 violent fights in Twiggs County, a district with approximately 1,100 students.

Middle school students misbehave the most, according to Levi Rozier, the campus police chief of the county's public schools.

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