Corporal Punishment Debate Heats Up
> 10/6/2006 9:58:14 AM

Educators have argued over the merits of physical punishment for more than a century, sponsoring numerous inconclusive studies intended to identify the most effective methods for administering childhood discipline. The form of punishment most frequently used on problem students involves one or more strikes on the bottom with a heavy wooden paddle; holes cut in the instrument's surface can render the blows more painful. The surrounding debate's current incarnation stands divided largely along religious and political lines, with many conservative Christians citing Biblical verse to justify the practice of spanking as an appropriate and ultimately successful response to misbehavior at school. Anti-spanking advocates argue that such painful punishment can permanently scar a student's self-esteem and actually increase the likelihood of said student developing criminal tendencies as an adult.

While the laws of more than half the states in our country forbid corporal punishment, a recent New York Times article on the issue focuses on the areas in which the paddle finds its most frequent usage: the deep south and the midwest. The vast majority of corporal practices occur in five states, with Mississippi and Arkansas ranking at the top. In many rural and suburban communities, public sentiment leans heavily toward the open use of such disciplinary measures. The Biblical book of Proverbs makes several references to beating one's son "with a rod" if he behaves in a disrespectful fashion, thereby saving him from damnation. Other, more extreme forms of punishment for misdeeds also surface during both the Old and New Testaments, but believers have used this passage in particular to argue for the legitimacy of striking an errant child.

A larger number in the US believe spanking or flogging to be an antiquated practice, but it persists in large parts of the world, often assuming a more violent form than the comparatively mild version practiced in our country. Again, most are not directly affected by the issue, but for millions around the world it is an element of daily life, and entire websites like are devoted to objective research on global punishment practices and debates. Though studies have been funded and referenced by advocates on both sides of the debate, there is no precise form for measuring the correlation between childhood punishments and future behaviors. Conclusions drawn from such research are largely unscientific and more accurately reflect the value judgements of those involved. Most instances of corporal punishment do not occur at school but in the home, and the childhood experiences of parents themselves often dictate how they will choose to discipline their own children. An anti-spanking advocate states that:

You have two camps. Some people are realizing that it did affect their lives negatively. Then there are other people who say this happened to me, and I think it should happen to my kids, too. It's a very determining factor, how people were treated as children themselves.

More than 300,000 American students received some form of physical punishment in the last academic year, and whether or not the experience affected them positively or deterred unacceptable behavior depends, mostly, on who poses the question and who's being asked.

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