Did you know that there are states in our country that still allow teachers and staff to use corporal punishment on children? We repeat: There are states that explicitly allow teachers to hit kids. Parents who live in those states are probably very well aware of this, but for those of us in states that ban it, the continued use of paddling in schools might be something we thought went the way of the dodo years ago.
Back in August, Education Week published the results of an investigation into the use of corporal punishment in U.S. schools. They found that while 28 states plus the District of Columbia have bans against physical punishment, 7 of the other 22 don’t have a rule about it at all and the remaining 15 have rules that expressly allow it.
In the 2013-2014 academic year, more than 109,000 students across 21 states and 4,000 schools received some form of corporal punishment. On Education Weekly‘s site, there’s an interactive map of the United States that allows you to see the percentage of students per state who go to schools that allow corporal punishment. In those states, the vast majority of which are in the South, you find that the numbers range from 0.1 percent of students in Arizona to 55 percent in Mississippi.
In response to these findings, U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. recently wrote a letter to the governors and school chiefs of all 50 states arguing that, “School-sponsored corporal punishment is not only ineffective, it is a harmful practice, and one that disproportionately impacts students of color and students with disabilities…This practice has no place in the public schools of a modern nation that plays such an essential role in the advancement and protection of civil and human rights.”
Indeed, the racial and economic differences between those students who tend to receive corporal punishment and those who don’t are horrendous: “[In] nearly all the states that allow corporal punishment,” says Education Weekly, “wealthier students are less likely than low-income students to attend a school that allows the practice.” The exception to this, oddly enough, is in Mississippi, where 59 percent of higher-income students attend a school that allows physical punishment versus 55 percent of lower-income students. Black students are also way, way more likely to receive corporal punishment than white students.
Aside from the economic and racial disparities in the use of corporal punishment, another troubling finding from the report is that many schools have no guidelines and offer no training regarding the use of physical punishment. In other words, teachers and staff are free to hit children with no rules about how many times they can hit the child, how hard they can hit the child, what they can hit a child for (reasons vary from lateness to fighting) or how the punishment should differ depending on the child’s age. In the states that allow it, most leave decisions about how to implement corporal punishment up to local school boards.
For example, in Texas, teachers and staff can hit a child unless there is a note from that child’s parents saying not to, whereas, in Utah, children cannot get hit unless there’s a note from the parents saying to do so. Interestingly, there is also a rule in Texas that foster children cannot receive corporal punishment because “it can hurt students with a history of trauma and interfere with students’ ability to trust adults.” But for everyone else’s kid, Texas says, have at it.
Dozens of groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Defense Fund, have since followed Secretary King’s lead with their own letter demanding a nationwide ban on corporal punishment in schools.