The Memphis Commercial Appeal

End to school paddling sought
But polled parents support spanking

October 8, 2004
By Ruma Banerji Kumar

Memphis city school board member Lora Jobe is resurrecting a plan to abolish school paddling, despite a recent survey of 1,006 Memphis parents that found 70 percent support corporal punishment.

"It's like putting leeches on to lower blood pressure in this day and age when you know there are medicines available that work better," Jobe said Thursday. "They're not embracing the research and literature that shows there are other, more effective ways to discipline children."

Jobe, whose anti-paddling push has been on the back burner since February, will bring her proposal back before the full school board Oct. 18.

School board vice president Wanda Halbert plans to put up a counter proposal that would strengthen the existing policy with firm consequences for those who misuse corporal punishment, but would not do away with paddling altogether.

"I have heard vehement opposition from teachers who don't want us to do away with paddling," Halbert said. "They worry that doing away with it completely gives the appearance to children that they have the authority to completely disrespect."

School data that showed black boys and middle schoolers are disproportionately paddled has fueled the local debate, and news reports of abusive discipline like that of Hamilton High basketball players paddled for missing free throws stoked the fire.

In community forums and school board meetings, the issue has spurred hot philosophical and religious debates that had parents and board members jousting over whether paddling is sanctioned child abuse, or discipline biblically justified by the "spare the rod, spoil the child" adage.

Memphis Supt. Carol Johnson, who opposes paddling, collected data that showed nearly 98 percent of the 13,804 students paddled in the 2003-04 school year were black and 73 percent were male -- in a district that's 88 percent black and 50 percent male.

Despite data that showed arbitrary and inappropriate use of paddling, a recent phone survey conducted by the Memphis school district found more than 71 percent of parents "trust the school staff to use spanking fairly." More than 80 percent consider paddling "effective discipline," and would OK paddling for less severe behavior like cursing and skipping school.

That concerns Memphis Council PTA president Zorina Bowen, a paddling opponent.

"I thought we'd be more enlightened than that," Bowen said. "For every case of corporal punishment that's administered correctly, there are 10 that aren't."

Contact information for Memphis Board of Education.