Desensitization to Violence in Schools: Corporal Punishment

Rita Coombs Richardson & Charles H. Meisgeier

The following excerpts are printed with permission from Discipline Options: Establishing a Positive School Climate.

The fear of violence and the public's perception of undisciplined schools have caused an outcry for sterner measures of discipline. This urgency has compelled many schools to reinforce punishment, including corporal punishment, as a viable solution. The public school system is the only institution that legally supports corporal punishment of its clients. This practice is forbidden in the military, in prisons, and with employees in the work force. Paddling students legitimizes violence and conveys the message that violent approach is needed to solve problems. Violent students are frequent recipients of paddlings.

While the administration of corporal punishment temporarily suppresses undesired behaviors, it also legitimizes violence. Moreover, it does not teach appropriate behaviors, nor does it teach logical problem-solving skills. When inflicting corporal punishment on students, adults in authority are modeling resolving conflict thorough violence.

Corporal punishment in schools discriminates against students from certain sociocultural groups. Minority and poor White students receive paddlings four to five times more frequently than middle? and upper-class White students (Richardson & Evans, 1992). Corporal punishment can result in hostility, posttraumatic stress and displaced aggression.

The following incident was witnessed by one of the authors of this book. A man in his thirties walked into a high school carrying a baseball bat and headed straight for the gym. He was looking for a coach, not a particular individual, just a coach. He found one sitting on a bench waiting for his class to arrive. The man struck the coach repeatedly with the baseball bat. The coach was seriously hurt and the man arrested. The police questioned his motives and discovered that throughout his school career, the man had been repeatedly hit by his coaches. He accepted his punishment because his parents justified the school spankings by repeating the beatings at home. He continued this cycle of spanking with his own children but lost control one day when his son came home from school with red swollen buttocks from being whipped by his own coach.

This incident is an isolated case, and the great majority of coaches are responsible teachers, but corporal punishment can result in posttraumatic stress and violent behavior. Aggression that is passive in nature is equally devastating to children when it comes in the form of rejection, isolation, or the withholding of love, care, acceptance, or refusal by parents or caregivers to notice or speak to their children. Recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics renewed its opposition to spanking and other forms of corporal punishment and published a report on the harmful effects of such discipline on children. They called for state laws to abolish corporal punishment of children. Many school districts forbid the use of corporal punishment (Committee on School Health, 2000).

About the Authors
Dr. Richardson is a long-standing member of Tennesseans for Nonviolent School Discipline. She is currently Professor of Special Education at Southeastern Louisiana University.

Dr. Meisgeier currently is Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Houston in Texas.

Discipline Options: Establishing A Positive School Climate offers an approach to discipline that can serve as a framework for teachers and administrators. It is a wide-ranging text on classroom management.

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