In-School Spanking? Not Okay with Me

That's me on the left (obviously) with what my friends and family have dubbed my "WTF face," as I listened to my counterpart parse the difference between spanking and abuse.

That’s me on the left (obviously) with what my friends and family have dubbed my “WTF face,” as I listened to my counterpart parse the difference between spanking and abuse.

Yesterday morning, I was asked to weigh in on a controversy surrounding corporal punishment in schools by Fox News, via their morning show Fox & Friends. Here’s the four-minute segment.

Some of you may be surprised that this is an issue, and may be checking your calendars to be sure it’s 2013 and we’ve not slipped back to the 1950s. But the truth of the matter is — and I was dismayed to learn this — in 19 of our great American states, it’s legal to paddle or otherwise physically discipline school children.

Fox got its teeth into this issue after Leeds Elementary, an Alabama school, sent home a permission form to parents. Essentially, families could opt in or opt out of corporal punishment in their kids’ classrooms. Fail to return the form, and your implicit “go ahead and paddle the little miscreant” is presumed by the school.

What the what? That was the reaction of Wendy Chandler, a kindergarten mother who was furious with the form. Not only did she check “no”, she wrote a note on the paper, reading, in part, “I can not imagine how it would ever be okay to show violence toward anyone. Hitting a child is beyond disgraceful.”

She got a wee bit of press, such as this article in the Huffington Post, and this post by KJ Dell’Antonia on the New York Times‘ Motherlode blog.

I was asked by Fox to participate in one of their “fair and balanced” debates on the subject. I didn’t know whom I’d be debating, and it turned out it was a man named Peter Sprigg, from the Family Research Council. I didn’t exactly count timing in the segment, but he seemed to get more time to express his “side.” Which seemed to be:

  • he, personally, would not have checked “yes” on the form
  • but he thinks it’s okay for parents to swat or spank when necessary for discipline
  • …and he thinks it’s fine for parents to allow the child’s teacher the leeway to employ physical discipline tactics.

Sprigg had time, at the end of the segment, to rebut what the Fox host, Alisyn Camerota, brought up: that “studies” show that corporal punishment has a poor psychological outcome for kids. He dismisses such studies, saying that they don’t separate out “ordinary disciplinary spanking” (there’s a phrase for you!) from “real” abuse like whipping or — what? Closed-fist punching? Burning with cigarettes?

I did not get a chance to weigh back in after that, but here’s what I would have said:

  • No one needs a study to show that kids who are physically abused are psychologically damaged.
  • Who decides what “ordinary” disciplinary spanking is? The 145-pound teacher about to strike a 35-pound kindergartener?
  • Even if disciplinary spanking doesn’t turn kids into psycho killers someday, it does, in the moment and possibly for years afterward, humiliate and shame a child.

People obviously have very different feelings about this subject, which why outlets like Fox can continue to flog it on TV. Before I was even back home and scraping the TV makeup off my face, I got an an email from a teacher that reads: “Corporal punishment is much needed and as a parent and teacher, I completely support [it]. Parents do not parent their children and the result is disruptive children.” She insists that if you’re not in front of a class every day, you can’t understand. That part, she’s right about. Later, I got a Facebook message from a high school classmate of mine, a teacher in a state that does make corporal punishment legal, though her county disallows it, to her relief. She wrote: “… My thoughts are if I can’t deal with an issue in my own classroom, I must be doing something wrong.”

Which is a point I tried to make. Hope some people heard it and weren’t distracted by my shiny lips and uncharacteristic hairdo.

By the way, Wendy Chandler started an anti-corporal-punishment petition. What do you think?