According to Lakeshia Taylor, her son Christian’s teacher at Linwood Elementary School in Yazoo County, Mississippi, hit her kid with a yardstick, then slammed his finger in the door so hard that he needed nine stitches. Taylor admits that Christian can be a handful since he has attention deficit disorder, but she feels that his teacher’s punishment — which included hitting the boy with a yardstick — went too far. Taylor first learned of Christian's physical punishment in the classroom after hearing about the door-slamming accident that injured his hand, and now she’s suing the school. While Christian’s Mississippi school district has a corporal punishment policy that allows teachers to physically punish kids, Taylor said she requested for her son to be put on the list “not to paddle.”
What happened to this little boy is heartbreaking, and for many parents, it’s the corporal punishment that is a sticking point. Yazoo City Municipal School District policy dictates that teachers, principals and assistant principals can use corporal punishment — that is, the “reasonable” use of physical contact to discipline, self-protect or enforce a school rule. The policy also says that a paddling must be witnessed by at least one other school employee at all times.
Even with a controversial policy like this, Christian’s teacher appears to have violated school rules — there’s no report that another staff member was there to witness her hitting the boy with a yardstick in class. And as Taylor pointed out, she had already requested that her son not be paddled at school, which is within her rights as a parent.
Whether or not your child’s school has a paddling policy, there’s something very important that every parent can take away from this troubling story: teaching kids that they have the right to speak up.
It’s a delicate balance, and it’s one we have to drill into our kids starting from day one. On one side, we have the respect of authority — which is an important value to instill in kids from a young age, and it’s also one that can go too far. If we teach our kids to respect anyone put in power over them without question, we are robbing them of the chance to learn, think and develop ideas and beliefs for themselves. We may also be putting them in danger if they think an authority figure can treat them unfairly and there’s nothing they can do about it.
There’s a point when obedience becomes blind obedience, which can quickly become a loss of autonomy. For kids who can’t speak up for themselves, this makes them especially vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse from the people they are supposed to trust.
According to ChildHelp.org, the U.S. has a terrible track record among developed nations when it comes to protecting our kids — as many as four to seven children die each day from child abuse and neglect. The Crimes Against Children Research Center tells us that 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys will be a victim of sexual abuse during childhood. Even more depressing is the fact that these numbers are grossly underestimated, since most cases of abuse go unreported. Children with special needs who have a harder time communicating may be at an even greater risk for abuse.
We need to tell our kids and keep telling our kids that it’s OK to speak up when they feel uncomfortable or are mistreated. Even if it’s with a family member. Even if it’s at a friend’s house. Even if it’s in a classroom in front of 20 other kids who are not being treated the same way.
In Taylor’s case, she didn’t find out about her son’s alleged abuse at the hands of a teacher until it was too late, until he nearly lost a finger when a classroom punishment got out of hand. It helps to remember that our kids are voiceless until we give them a voice — by empowering them to speak up and by listening to what they say when they do.
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