Kids forced to crawl across gravel as punishment at school

Oct 1, 2015 at 11:24 a.m. ET

What would you do if your middle schooler came home with bruises and blisters on the palms of her hands?

That was the question Gloria Martinez had to answer last week after her 12-year-old daughter was punished, along with the rest of her entire seventh-grade gym class, by being made to do bear crawls across a gravelly soccer field. Only a few members of the class at the Harmony Science Academy in Carrollton, Texas, had been disruptive, but the teacher allegedly decided to discipline every single student, and in a way that showed little regard for their safety.

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Martinez's daughter was found crying in the school bathroom after gym class and was sent to the nurse. At least one other student was also treated by the nurse for injuries received during class, and the use of this exercise as a form of punishment has been banned by the school in the future. But so far there's been no determination of how the teacher will be disciplined, if it all (hopefully no one will make him do a bear crawl across a field of gravel), and Martinez's daughter has to deal with a zero on the homework assignment she couldn't complete when her hands were too sore to work the night after her punishment at school.

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Texas state law actually permits corporal punishment, as long as a child's parent or guardian hasn't opted out by submitting a signed statement to the school district. But it's hard to imagine any teacher would think it was appropriate to beat an entire classroom full of 12-year-olds on the palm with a ruler until they were too bruised to hold a pencil or to scrub their palms with sandpaper until they blistered.

So why would anyone think it should be OK to punish kids this way just because the teacher wasn't actively striking them? This is still corporal punishment, and a bizarrely cruel form of it, to boot.

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And while we're on the subject of over-punishment, let's not forget to address the issues with punishing an entire class for the misbehavior of a few. When a whole group gets punished this way, kids learn to resent their misbehaving classmates, they learn that their own good behavior isn't enough to avoid punishment (so why behave?), and they learn that they can't trust teachers to treat them fairly. Asking kids to exert some peer pressure to get their classmates to behave is one thing, but it's not right, or possible, to expect students to be able to totally control one another's behavior. Collective punishment is a convenience for the teacher, not a useful educational tool, and it's one that should be jettisoned just as fast as corporal punishment.