Chewing gum in class, talking back to a teacher, violating the dress code, and going to the bathroom without permission are punishable offenses at just about every school. But the consequences can be especially painful for students who break the rules in Texas and Mississippi, two of 19 states that still allow corporal punishment in schools. Corporal punishment, which often takes the form of paddling, has been banned in 106 countries, including in Britain and most other European nations. But it remains widespread across the southern region of the United States, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch.
In the 2006-07 school year, 223,190 public school students between the ages of 3 and 19 were physically disciplined for minor and serious offenses, according to the Office of Civil Rights of the Department of Education. Texas and Mississippi schools employed corporal punishment the most, the report says. They were followed by Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Florida, and Missouri. To be sure, not all schools in these states paddle students, and the number of students who are physically punished has declined from previous years. But in issuing a scathing report that includes interviews with students who were beaten by their teachers and principals, Human Rights Watch hopes to put enough pressure on the remaining states and local districts to abolish paddling altogether.
One of the strongest arguments against the practice may be that states are disproportionately using paddling to discipline black, American Indian, and disabled students. According to the report, 17.1 percent of students nationwide are black, but they made up 35.6 percent of students who were physically punished in 2006-07. In Texas, 10.7 percent of students have disabilities, but they made up 17.4 percent of paddled students. Girls of all races are physically disciplined less than boys, but black girls were paddled at twice the rate of white girls.
Studies cited in the report suggest that corporal punishment is not having the desired effect. Rather than discouraging misbehavior, school beatings can create a hostile environment, especially for struggling minority students, who are then more likely to get into more trouble, fail, or drop out, the report says. But not everyone thinks that the long wooden paddle should be taken away from teachers. Recently, a school board in Twiggs County, Ga., voted to keep a policy allowing spanking, USA Today reports. After a local paper ran a story, readers responded with dozens of comments, "and they were 95 percent positive." Weigh in with your thoughts. Should schools be allowed to paddle students with discipline problems?