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Corporal punishment: effective discipline or child abuse? Although the practice of corporal punishment in school dates back to the colonial period (Garrison 115), it is allowed and used in our country to this day. Nineteen of our nation’s states allow corporal punishment, or the use of spanking or paddling as a punishment, despite widespread controversy (Rollins 248). Although the practice is limited in some ways, it is still questionable whether or not it should be allowed at all. However, the practice of corporal punishment is completely justified and should be made legal in the thirty-one states in which it is outlawed and its use should be continued in the nine-teen states where it is legal.
The long lasting practice of corporal punishment has been justified many times in a variety of ways. Two specific ways that it has been upheld which allowed its continued use is through justification by in loco parentis and parens patriae (Garrison 116). In loco parentis, meaning ‘in the place of a parent’ in Latin, and parens patriae, meaning ‘parent of the country’, are legal doctrines that are used to protect teachers if and when corporal punishment is administered. In locos parentis essentially states, “One other than a parent who has been given by law or has voluntarily assumed in whole or in part the function of controlling, training, or educating a child, is privileged to apply such reasonable force… as he reasonably believes necessary for its proper control, training, or education.” (qtd. in Garrison). Until the late 19th century, parents always had the option of sending their child to school. This means that the parents chose to put the child under the care of the teacher and therefore gave the teacher some of the rights and responsibilities that they as a parent usually had over the child. For example, if a mother decides that she needs or wants to go to an event where her child cannot accompany her, she must find someone to watch over and take care of the child in her absence. Taking care of a child includes distributing consequences for their actions so that they can learn appropriate behavior and necessary consequences. If a parent entrusts someone else to watch over, take care of, and even educate his or her child, I think that it is important that said person has the right to do so in an effective manner, even if that includes corporal punishment.
In today’s times, public education is compulsory and parents no longer have the option whether or not they want to entrust their child to the care of a teacher. Due to this fact, the justification of corporal punishment in school by in locos parentis is not as valid as it used to be. However, this is where parens patriae then becomes another justification of the practice. In fact, parens patriae was one of the main reasons for compulsory schooling in general. It has also become a way to justify corporal punishment due to the “state’s needs to maintain order in its schools and to create an environment in which the students can be educated properly” (Garrison 118). I think that this is a completely valid argument because if a child has the right to an education provided and funded by the state, then a teacher who is providing that education has the right to use corporal punishment in a reasonable manner. This argument has been upheld in multiple court rulings in which parens patriae has been the justification.
Some people may argue that teachers are viewed as models for the students and that if a teacher distributes a paddling and uses corporal punishment, the action will be repeated by the students in violent acts upon others (Richardson and Wilcox 6). This is a very questionable argument because there is not any specific evidence to prove this theory. Contrarily, it can be said that although students should view a teacher as a model, they should also be viewed as a figure of authority. With authority comes the power to administer consequences whether or not that consequence involves corporal punishment.
In many cases, when corporal punishment is administered by a teacher in schools, the acts of battering would be considered child abuse if administered by a parent at home (Hyman, Clarke, Erdlen 1). However, there is a difference between child abuse and the administration of a punishment. Corporal punishment serves a purpose; to maintain control of a situation and to educate and inform a student that the manner in which they are acting is inappropriate and will not be tolerated.
It can also be said that the administration of corporal punishment is not fair. According to experiments done and data observed, male teachers are much more likely to use corporal punishment as a consequence. It has also been found that male middle school students are more susceptible to corporal punishment and that in any age group males are more inclined to receive this type of punishment than females (Hyman, Clarke, Erdlen 4). I can agree, in some ways, that the administration may need to be monitored more so that it is done fairly. However, the experiment from which this data came did not consider the behavior of different age groups or the behavior of male students compared to the behavior of female students.
The use of corporal punishment should be a last resort punishment reserved for a time in which other methods have already been tried (Jambor 221). This is true and therefore I think that the authorities that can administer corporal punishment should be restricted in order to create a fairer use of the consequence. If a student must be sent to a principal or vice principal to receive corporal punishment, I think that it would become a more fair and effective way to discipline a student. Never should a student receive corporal punishment as a first resort consequence for being disruptive or not doing their work. However, I do believe that if an administrator thinks that an offense may be serious enough, then he or she has the right to use his or her own discretion to determine if corporal punishment will be necessary and effective.
Although I do think that corporal punishment should be allowed and practiced in schools, I can agree that it needs to be administered with caution. There must be a line drawn so that corporal punishment cannot and does not turn into child abuse. I will admit that there are alternative punishments that may initially be more effective than corporal punishment and that these alternatives should definitely be used first. Only when all possibilities have been exhausted should the use of corporal punishment become the solution. In reference to parens patriae, when a parent sends a child to receive an education funded and provided by the state, the state has the right to determine what type of punishment may be administered. Lastly, I do believe that if corporal punishment is administered for any reason, it is necessary that a parent or guardian of the student be notified of the reason and the previous steps taken to discipline the child before the use of corporal punishment. I think that this would be beneficial to keep it professional and to increase awareness of how the system is not being abused. However, the right to use corporal punishment in schools when necessary should be legal and should not be questionable.
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