Schools Still Debate Use of Paddling

ByABC News
July 18, 2001, 1:58 PM

July 23 -- Hazel Fournier remembers her teaching days back in the 1950s, when hitting kids who misbehaved wasn't so controversial. Now, as a school board member in Mobile County, Ala., the state's largest district, she sees how times have changed.

In a measure that's sparked heated discussion as the topic has across the nation the school board is debating putting an end to the practice of "paddling" in its classrooms. Alabama is one of the 23 mainly Southern states where paddling is still legal, and a paddling ban in the most populous district would likely send waves through the state.

Paddling, which involves spanking a child with a wooden board instead of the bare hand, is by far the most common form of corporal punishment used in schools. But the Mobile school board, like many others across the U.S., was split in a vote last week on whether any form of corporal punishment is effective discipline.

Fournier, who opposes paddling, said she poses this question to those who support it. "Do you want someone to spank your child in the classroom when you're not present to witness it? The bottom line," she says, "is if you don't want that to happen to your child, then I don't want it to happen to any child."

But it is happening to many children, and many teachers, school officials and even parents support it although apparently in fewer numbers than those who support spanking at home.

While 56 percent said they disapproved of school spanking in a 1994 Newsweek poll, 65 percent approved of spanking in general in a 1997 Gallup poll.

Paddlings Down in Last 20 Years

About 400,000 children are hit each year in public schools, according to the U.S. Department of Education, and those data don't even include private and parochial school incidents. But paddlings are sharply down since 1980, when 1.4 million children were reported hit at public school.

Corporal punishment is banned in 27 states. Paddling is most common in Southern and Bible Belt states where the "spare the rod, spoil the child" philosophy is most popular.