Friday, April 16, 2010

Spare the Paddle, Spoil the Child?

Texas City Revives Paddling, Swats at Misbehavior:

TEMPLE, TEX. -- In an era when students talk back to teachers, skip class and wear ever-more-risque clothing to school, one central Texas city has hit upon a deceptively simple solution: Bring back the paddle.

Most school districts across the country banned paddling of students long ago. Texas sat that trend out. Nearly a quarter of the estimated 225,000 students who received corporal punishment nationwide in 2006, the latest figures available, were from the Lone Star State.

But even by Texas standards, Temple is unusual. Since paddling was brought back to the city's 14 schools by a unanimous board vote in May, behavior at Temple's single high school has changed dramatically, Wright said, even though only one student in the school system has been paddled.

"There are times when maybe a good crack might not be a bad idea," said Robert Pippin, a custom home builder who sports a goatee and cowboy boots.

Corporal punishment remains legal in 20 states, mostly in the South, but its use is diminishing. Ohio ended it last year, and a movement for a federal ban is afoot. A House subcommittee held a hearing on the practice Thursday, and its chairman, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.), is gearing up for a push to end the practice once and for all. She plans to introduce legislation within weeks.

"When you look that the federal government has outlawed physical punishment in prisons, I think the time has come that we should do it in schools," she said.

Nice sentiment, bad analogy (schools = prisons?).
A joint American Civil Liberties Union-Human Rights Watch report last year found that students with disabilities were disproportionately subjected to corporal punishment, sometimes in direct response to behavioral problems that were a result of their disabilities. Many educators and psychologists say that positive tools, such as giving praise for good behavior and withholding it for bad, are far more effective for discouraging misbehavior.

Rules about paddling vary from district to district, but typically only administrators, not teachers, can mete out the punishment, which is done in private. Usually, a long, flat wooden paddle is used to give as many as three blows across the student's clothed rear end, although Farmer found students who had been hit many more times. Boys are overwhelmingly the target.
I can attest to that personally. When I was in elementary school in the 1970's paddling was routine for kids who clearly had behavioral problems, and it was almost always boys. It was often done in the hallways, with classroom doors open, so that we could hear the poor soul getting thwacked from one end of the building to the next. I can remember one teacher even drilled holes into her paddle, in the outline of Snoopy, and kept it hanging on the wall behind her desk. I used to stare at that thing and marvel at the juxtaposition: Snoopy is fun-loving, rebellious against his owner, and is going to bite you in your @ss.

However, this isn't the 1970's anymore (thankfully) and the indiscriminate way it is applied has caused several states and jurisdictions to ban it completely. Not to mention, while it may seem to have been a deterrent for most students back when, there has never been any causal evidence to show it was paddling alone that kept kids on the straight and narrow.

In fact, the biggest argument against a deterrent effect is the fact that there were always several kids lining up, dropping drawers and being beaten throughout the school year.

I don't want to be too critical of Texas schools here (interestingly enough, while states like Georgia are slashing education budgets due to the recession, Texas hasn't cut a single dime in either its public or higher education budgets). But surely we've progressed in the 21st century to move beyond beating kids as a way of disciplining them, no matter how much we wish to return to the "old days."

I find myself part of the parenting club which bemoans kids and their Nintendo DS's, Wii, computers and the lack of wanting to go outside. But do I wish my kids could grow up "like things used to be" back in the 70's and 80's, when crime was rampant, teen pregnancy off the scale, and drugs were everywhere? LOL.

By every measure, kids today are more well-behaved than they have been in generations. And being a kid today is way better than it was when we were.

UPDATE: May 19, 2010: David Brooks has a column today that echoes what I wrote above.

We’re familiar with talk about how Vietnam permanently shaped the baby boomers. But if you grew up in or near an American city in the 1970s, you grew up with crime (and divorce), and this disorder was bound to leave a permanent mark. It was bound to shape the people, now in their 40s and early-50s, reaching the pinnacles of power.

It has clearly influenced parenting. The people who grew up afraid to go in parks at night now supervise their own children with fanatical attention, even though crime rates have plummeted. It’s as if they’re responding to the sense of menace they felt while young, not the actual conditions of today.

If you grew up in a big city in the ’70s, then life is better for you now in about every respect. Today, most liberals and conservatives have more sophisticated views on how to build and preserve civic order than people did then, and there is more of it. The children of the ’70s grew up with both unprecedented freedom and disorder, and have learned, in mostly good ways, from both.
Thanks, Dave. Rather than royalties I'll take a credit next time.

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