Putting away the paddle

The Tennessean

Turning over a new leaf with new schools director Dr. Pedro Garcia may mean turning over the paddle for Metro educators. Garcia informed the school board last week that he will recommend the elimination of corporal punishment from the system. Paddling isn't the only way to discipline. He told board members he hopes to bring a formal proposal for the ban sometime later for their approval.

The new school director's plans should provide a timely debate on this sometimes divisive issue. Just last week, discussion at the American Psychological Association convention centered on a new study on corporal punishment at home, which concluded that mild to moderate spanking by parents had no detrimental effects on a child. Other psychologists, however, argued that the practice is harmful.

Yet the issue here isn't home discipline, but school discipline, and as such, other factors come into play. Metro began requiring parental consent forms in 1997 to be allowed to spank children as a form of discipline. At the same time, the board issued guidelines on how administrators dealt paddlings.

Nevertheless, any time a teacher or administrator takes up a paddle, they invite questions of whether the punishment was warranted and whether it was too severe. More basically, corporal punishment within the school teaches children that people in authority, like school principals, hold on to their power through force and violence.

Paddling is not only inappropriate, it's counterproductive. In the wake of a spate of school violence over the last decade, schools have been trying to teach students about alternatives to violence. It makes little sense to use a paddle or anything else against a student when the system is trying to teach children to resolve their differences in nonviolent ways.

Apparently, Garcia has something else in mind himself. ''I think it's a pretty sad commentary when our only means of disciplining students is by hitting them,'' he told the board. He called for a more ''civilized'' approach. That's always preferable.