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Spare the Rod in Schools

When students get out of control and make the news, it's inevitable that a vocal group of fed-up taxpayers want to bring back corporal punishment. But despite widespread belief, paddling never went away. It is still permitted in 20 states, according to the Center for Effective Discipline. Granted this number is miniscule compared to a quarter of a century ago when all but a few states allowed its use, but it is still significant.

The question is whether there isn't a better way of addressing the issue of unacceptable behavior. The latest focus is Witchita Falls, Texas, where an 11th grader received three swats to his buttocks so severe that he wound up in the hospital ("Schools Under Pressure to Spare the Rod Forever," New York Times, Mar. 30). His offense was skipping detention at his high school.

Although there are groups vehemently opposed to the practice, some people still believe that it has its place in school. I disagree. Using the threat of paddling does not engender respect or cooperation. The International Institute for Restorative Practices has provided data that hold promise about this emotionally charged issue. What the evidence shows is that the lives of young people can be positively changed without resorting to corporal punishment.

Restorative Practices does so by engaging students to take responsibility for themselves and for their school. It is the antithesis of reliance on punishment, especially corporal punishment. Even former military officers who have made teaching a second career have acknowledged the effectiveness of the program.

When a discipline problem cannot be resolved by traditional counseling, all parties involved meet in a circle for a session that runs from ten minutes to half an hour. The focus is on repairing the harm, rather than on punishing the offender. Students are taught how to control their impulses. To train staff, workshops are customized to the specific needs of a school. Restorative Practices attributes its success to the relationships it builds between students and staff.

When administrators or teachers counter that without paddling, they couldn't do their job, I have to ask whether they are in the right job. Students need to learn rules about behavior as much as they need to learn rules about any subject. But just as certain pedagogical practices are better than others, so too are certain discipline practices. Paddling is an admission of failure.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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