CORPORAL PUNISHMENT IN SCHOOLS: A HIT OR MISS PROPOSITION


By Terry M. Kopansky, Ed.D.

The author is the Founder and current President of Tennesseans for Nonviolent School Discipline. A long-time school principal, Dr. Kopansky has done extensive research in the area of corporal punishment and discipline alternatives in public schools. This article appeared in the Tennessee School Boards Association Journal, Spring 2002.

The use of corporal punishment continues to be a controversial topic across Tennessee. As this article will show, schools that continue to opt to use physical punishment (to hit) most often elicit a host of unwanted negative consequences while missing opportunities to promote student discipline through nonviolent methods.

At the heart of any discipline program lies the question of "What type of citizens are our schools attempting to develop?" Do we want to create democratic and nurturing schools that develop students who possess a positive sense of self-esteem and who are self-disciplined? Or, on the other hand, do we wish to have autocratic, punitive, custodial schools that diminish student self-worth while turning out students who behave only out of fear of punishment while in the presence of an authority figure.

As an accepted disciplinary practice, corporal punishment continues to lose favor among educators and parents alike. The momentum to abolish the use of corporal punishment has been aided by the fact that 26 states and most major school districts across the United Stares have chosen to set the practice aside in favor of nonviolent forms of discipline.

Additional support for a ban of corporal punishment has come from such organizations as the National Education Association, National Elementary Principal's Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, National Association of State Boards of Education, National Associations of School Psychologists and School Social Workers, the American Bar Association and the National PTA.

Despite a mounting opposition to the use of corporal punishment on a national level, the United States remains one of a few industrialized nations of the world that continues to allow corporal punishment of school children.

Support for the use of corporal punishment in schools has its roots in local custom, fundamental religious beliefs, and in the mistaken assumption that as a practice it is effective and not harmful. Myths that surround the use of corporal punishment include the beliefs that the practice leads to the development of character, teaches respect, that corporal punishment is the only form of discipline that some children understand, that corporal punishment is used as a last resort, and that behavioral problems would increase in its absence.

Not only are the preceding assumptions false, but, to the contrary, the use of corporal punishment is most often associated with the following host of negative correlates. Such correlates include:

An increased likelihood of withdrawal from the punishing situation (Azrin, Hake, Holz, & Hutchinson, 1965) which means that students are more apt to be absent, tardy, truant, or drop-out altogether (Boren & Colman, 1970; Mauer & Wallerstein, 1984) .

Physical punishment has been found to be negatively correlated with school achievement: (Rosenshine & Furst, 1971; Lamberth, 1979). Rosenshein (cited in Hyman et al., 1978) reviewed studies on the relative effects of praise, mild criticism, and strong criticism. Results showed that praise and mild criticism did not substantially influence achievement, while strong criticism was associated with statistically significant negative correlations of achievement. An Ohio study found that: districts using corporal punishment were more likely to be under academic watch and academic emergency - designations the state uses based on academic targets school districts are required to meet. It also found that paddling is most common in schools in rural low-income areas with fewest resources (Stephens, 2001, p. B1).

Physical punishment serves as a model for aggressive behavior and inappropriate ways of resolving conflict while increasing the incidence of aggression (Welsh, 1979; Bandura, 1962).

Corporal punishment produces emotionality, anxiety and fear in the child being punished, none of which is conductive to good learning. (Baumrind, 1971) .

Vandalism of schools is one outlet for the anger, frustration and elicited aggression experienced by students who have been punished by school personnel. The Safe School Study Report to Congress (National Institute on Education, 1978) generated two significant conclusions with regard to the link between school discipline and vandalism: (a) systematic school discipline marked by strict enforcement of rules resulted in lower property loss and (b) where school rules were arbitrary and unnecessarily punitive, that property loss was greater (Sohn, 1980).

Physical punishment is linked to a lowered sense of self-worth (Loeb, Horst, & Horton, 1980).

It has been well documented that sex, race and socioeconomic status influence school personnel in their decisions to track students, refer and assign students to special education programs, and in determining the type and severity of disciplinary methods used in schools. If you happen to be poor, male, and a member of a minority race, you are more apt to receive harsher punishment as compared with other students (Glackman, Martin, & Hyman, 1978; Gregory', J., 2001; Shaw & Braden, 1990; Wauchope & Straus, 1897) .

Every year students are seriously injured as a direct result of having been corporally punished at school (Hyman et al., 1978). Additionally, principals and teachers are increasingly finding themselves fending off lawsuits from angry parents (Connors, 1979) as the appropriateness of corporal punishment continues to be questioned by a larger segment of our society.

ALTERNATIVES TO THE USE OF CORPORAL PUNISHMENT
Corporal punishment has never been promoted as a disciplinary tool in any teacher training program across the United States, yet, those who cling to the practice often complain that they need to be taught alternatives. Effective nonviolent alternatives exist and have existed for years as many talented teachers and principals can attest.

Good classroom control begins with preparation, consistency of daily routine, firm and fairly applied rules/consequences, rapport with students, frequent communication with parents, an atmosphere of mutual respect between teachers and students and high expectations for both academic and social behavior. A growing number of Tennessee school districts have found that student discipline can be maintained without the use of force.

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR CHANGE
Conclusions and recommendations set forth in the Senate Joint Resolution No.175 of the 96th General Assembly of Tennessee -"A Study of Discipline in Tennessee Public Schools" found (a) that corporal punishment was not effective and that more effective disciplinary methods existed; (b) that most teachers do not use corporal punishment, but that many favor keeping it as an option; (c) that smaller classes, increased parental involvement, improved teacher training and the development of specific discipline plans would all help to improve student conduct (Joint Committee, 1989).

There is no reason that every school district cannot set corporal punishment aside in favor of nonviolent forms of discipline. Teachers and principals must be supported by providing inservice programs that teach and review effective classroom management practices, additional school psychologists and social workers should be employed to offer early intervention for troubled students, alternative programs for the most disruptive students need to be expanded, and teachers should be encouraged to share creative and effective discipline methods.

Students in Tennessee are not any more difficult to manage than are the students attending schools in the 26 states that have abolished corporal punishment. The choice is ours, to continue to hit students and evoke all of the associated negative consequences of such discipline and, thus, miss the opportunity to create more positive and nurturing learning environments for the students attending Tennessee schools.

If you would like a more detailed copy of the research citations, e-mail: HERE


TENNESSEANS FOR NONVIOLENT SCHOOL DISCIPLINE
www.forkidsake.org