Over 109,000 Students Endure Physical Punishment Every Year

Trey Clayton, who grew up in Mississippi, was used to being paddled. By his own admission, he disobeyed teachers and didn’t do his homework. He chose paddling over suspension.

But one day he talked back to the school librarian and was sent to the principal’s office. Here’s how he tells what happened next:

“So, I get three licks. They started to escort me to class. We walk out of his office. I went to walk around him and just woke up on the floor. I felt something in my mouth. And I start holding my hand out just to see what it is. And I start spitting out teeth, like shards of my teeth.

I done bit through both sides of my tongue. I have got one tooth already missing, and my jaw’s broke. And my mouth stays wired shut for six weeks.”

Corporal Punishment Found in 21 States

While the use of corporal punishment in public schools has declined rapidly across the US in the past 20 years, it is still legal in 19 states.

Yet a new report by the Education Week Research Center found physical punishment is actually being used in 21 states across the country. More than 109,000 students endured beating or other forms of physical punishment during the 2013 to 2014 school year at over 4,000 schools.

Using the most recent civil rights data available from the Education Department, researchers found that policies vary both from state to state and even from school to school, with little guidance and virtually no accountability. They also found such punishment at all grade levels, from kindergarten to high school.

States Using Corporal Punishment

Corporal punishment at a school involves paddling, spanking, or any kind of physical discipline inflicted on a child.

From Education Week:

“Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee, and Oklahoma physically disciplined the most students in 2013-14 — though the practice continues to be the most widespread in Mississippi, where more than half of students attend schools that use paddling and other physical discipline. But students were physically punished even in a few states that prohibit the practice.”

For a complete list of states that still allow physical punishment, click here.

Within those states that use this form of punishment, African-American students made up 22 percent of overall enrollment in schools, but a whopping 38 percent of these students received this form of discipline in the 2013 to 2014 school year. Compare this to the fact that white students comprised 60 percent of total enrollment, but only just half of the students punished in this way.

In addition, the report also found that low income students were more likely to experience corporal punishment in the states where it is permitted.

Why Corporal Punishment Is Wrong

These discrepancies are not the only reason that corporal punishment is wrong.

After Trey Clayton broke his jaw and had his mouth wired shut for six weeks, he missed taking important exams and was never allowed to make them up. He became less and less interested in doing well at school and eventually dropped out.

Speaking on the PBS NewsHour, Sarah Sparks, one of the authors of the Education Week report, discussed the research showing that punishing a child physically can lead to higher aggression rates and more defiance of adults. She also cited a study showing that students paddled several times had “lower brain matter in the part of the brain associated with self control.”

Alarmed by these reports, numerous medical and human rights groups have called for an end to this ineffective and potentially dangerous practice.

“You want to keep kids in the classroom, but to suggest that the only way to keep them in is to beat them with a stick is ludicrous,” said Dennis Parker, director of the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program.

Better Ways to Discipline

As a teacher, I know that to teach effectively, I have to first establish a well-disciplined classroom in order for my students to learn. My goal is for each student to learn to take responsibility for herself.

Children who suffer beatings do not learn self-discipline. Instead, the more kids are punished for their lack of self-control, the less they have. They rely on being controlled by outside forces, but don’t internalize that control. And they are also likely to pass that method of punishment onto their own children.

Across the country, more and more schools are turning to restorative justice as they realize that not only do traditional disciplinary measures like paddling fail to deter misbehavior, they can also make student failure increasingly likely, as children become more and more disengaged from school.

Instead of employing physical punishment or suspension, restorative justice empowers students to resolve conflicts on their own and in small groups. The practice brings students together in peer-mediated small groups to air their grievances, talk and ask questions. Kids have to face up to what they have done and talk everything through with their peers and teachers. The practice is in growing use in US schools.

It is long past time for all states in the US to ban the use of corporal punishment.