In Defense of Spanking

Maybe instead of suing, parents should do something about the behavior that prompts spanking.


Human Rights Watch has a new study decrying spanking in public schools. Of course, HRW's authors don't call it spanking or paddling or hitting; they call it "corporal punishment." And in the 21 states that permit it, the schools are portrayed as little more than domestic Abu Ghraibs.

The report begins with the sorry tale of Tim L., a fifth-grader in rural east Texas. On the fourth day of school, Little Timmy's gym coach "took a wooden paddle and beat Tim severely on the buttocks," even drawing blood. Three days later, Little Timmy got another tanning, this time resulting in "bruised and swollen" genitals.

And what did Little Timmy do to deserve such hidings? In the first instance, he "refused to run in gym class because he didn't have his asthma medication." When his gym coach "confronted" him, sweet Little Timmy told the coach he "sucks." In the second instance, Little Timmy was "playing with a pen" during band class. (No further details are offered, but one suspects "playing" is an elastic term.)

Little Timmy's mother was irate. She demanded that school authorities take action against the teachers, which they didn't. She tried to file assault charges, but the police laughed her out of the precinct. Then she tried to sue, but the court threw out her charges. Eventually, she decided to pull Little Timmy from school and teach him on her own.

Now, I'm not particularly a fan of spanking, and certainly drawing blood is taking things too far. But rather than excusing her brat's behavior by blaming and suing everyone else, perhaps his mother ought to, well, mother.

Thankfully, in the best vindication of our public schools I've read yet, Little Timmy doesn't suffer alone. Throughout the 130-odd pages of the report, there are countless examples of kids deservedly taken to the woodshed. There's David F., for example, an eighth-grader who was busted for popping his fellow students with rubber bands in band class. Matthew S. was paddled for laughing when a classmate threw something at a teacher. And then there's Keshawn E., who got a licking for chucking paper wads at his teacher. "I was just trying to make the class more fun," said Keshawn. "Eventually after I threw about four or five paper balls, she got really mad and sent me and my friends to the office and we got a whuppin'."

HRW calls on all sorts to end this barbarism—the president, Congress, the Department of Education, the Office of Civil Rights, governors, state legislatures, judges, DAs, the police, school boards, superintendents, principals, teachers, teacher's colleges, teacher training programs, and education associations. Everyone, that is, except parents. The problem isn't the spanking, it's the crummy behavior that leads to the spanking.

But demanding that students take responsibility for their actions is too much for HRW. The report notes, for instance, that in some districts students are given a choice after misbehaving: detention or suspension, or a few good licks. Most students choose the latter. This struck me as fairly enlightened, but HRW views it as particularly inhumane: "It is a form of coercion that exploits vulnerable young people with underdeveloped decision-making capabilities, asking them to trade away their right to be free from beatings by school personnel." Oh, good grief.

There's too much laugh material in this report to detail here—like the prurient twist the authors place on male teachers spanking girls; or the contention that age-old gym class punishments like running a lap, while "seemingly portrayed as a part of routine physical education, amount to corporal punishment because of the intent to cause pain." Then there's this ludicrous statement: "The experience of being hit on the buttocks, an inherently private part of the body, can be particularly humiliating." Would the back or head be better?

Peppered throughout HRW's study are all sorts of big-worded emotional traumas spanking produces that will no doubt blunt the blighters' futures and lead to drug abuse and ax-murdering. But let's get back to Little Timmy. With scars on his hind and surely in his heart, what happened to HRW's showcase example? Evidently Little Timmy got so fed up having his mother as a teacher he demanded to go back to school. His mother, perhaps telling Timmy "no" for the first time, refused.