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Corporal Punishment in Schools Is Indefensible

I've never understood the rationale for corporal punishment in schools. When a student has to be paddled for misbehavior of one kind or another, it's an ominous sign. Yet it is legal in 19 states, even though it is opposed by the American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Pediatricians, and the American Medical Association ("Where Teachers Are Still Allowed to Spank Students," The Atlantic, Dec. 15, 2015). 

If teachers or administrators have to resort to the paddle, in my view, they have lost control of their students. There are more productive and humane ways of correcting unacceptable behavior. When I was teaching high school in the Los Angeles Unified School District, I had a few students over the 28 years who were disruptive. I told them to sit outside on the steps of my classroom bungalow while I continued with the lesson. I asked them to return at lunchtime so that we could talk. I made it clear, however, that if they misbehaved again I would send them to the dean, who in turn would call their parents.

During our lunchtime talks, I found that the usual cause of the problem had little to do with my class. There was almost always something going on in their lives that was the trigger. I never felt qualified to probe too deeply. Instead, I let them know that I was always there for them. My aversion to corporal punishment was actually quite selfish. If I had paddled a student, it would have completely changed the atmosphere of trust that I felt indispensable to teaching.

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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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