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Posted at 12:38 PM ET, 05/13/2010

When adults hit kids at school

By Valerie Strauss

The video of the now fired teacher beating up a 13-year-old in a Houston classroom is making the Internet rounds in all of its obvious ugliness. And, it turns out, there was an arrest warrant out for the teacher on a "criminal mischief" charge; she is accused of slashing four tires on a woman's car with a knife.

This case is, obviously, egregious, and raises all kinds of issues, including why school system officials didn't know why the police was looking for one of its teachers. It also begs the question of whether the woman had displayed anger management problems earlier that may have gone ignored.

The video, shot by a student, shows them clearly, as she backs up the boy in a corner and then beats and kicks him. Nobody, of course could countenance this kind of behavior.

But it still remains true that there is legal cover for paddling kids in schools. In 20 states corporal punishment is allowed in school districts that choose to use it as a disciplinary measure, and some of the beatings are so severe that kids require medical treatment.

For those who don’t find the practice abhorrent on its face, you should know that it has been shown by research to be ineffective.

Here's what a congressional committee recently heard during a hearing on the subject of corporal punishment :

*School officials, including teachers, administered corporal punishment to 223,190 school children across the nation during the 2006-07 school year (according to conservative government estimates, the latest year for which national statistics were available).

*As a result of that punishment, 10,000 to 20,000 students requested medical treatment.

*Students are typically hit on their buttocks with a wooden paddle, approximately 15 inches long, between two and four inches wide, and one-half inch thick, with a six-inch handle at one end.

*Sometimes paddlings occur in an office; other times it will be a more public setting, in full view of the student’s classmates.

*Most students are paddled for minor infractions, violating a dress code, being late for school, talking in class or in the hallway, or being “disrespectful.”

*Almost 40% of all the cases of corporal punishment occur in districts in Texas (though not Houston) and Mississippi. Those states, along with Arkansas, Alabama, and Georgia, account for almost three quarters of all the children receiving corporal punishment.

In Mississippi alone, there were 57,953 cases of corporal punishment in 110 of the state’s 152 school districts during the 2008-09 school year, according to the state Department of Education. It was a drop from the 58,343 cases reported a year earlier--but more than the 47,727 cases reported in 2006-07. And in Texas, one school district, Temple, that had banned corporal punishment recently brought back the practice.

*Current studies indicate that physical punishment is more common in kindergarten through eighth grade (versus high school), in rural schools (versus urban), in boys (versus girls), and in disadvantaged as well as non-Caucasian hildren (versus middle-class and upper-class Caucasians).

*African American students comprise 17% of all public school students in the United States but are 36% of those who are victims of corporal punishment, more than twice the rate of white students.

And, according to a 2009 national survey report by the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch, students with disabilities are hit at a rate twice that of the general student population in the areas where it is allowed.

The Supreme Court ruled in 1977 that it is legal for schools to spank or paddle kids for discipline in areas where it is not outlawed by local authorities, and each district that allows it has its own rules. You can see some here.

The American Academy of Pediatrics as well as other medical organizations oppose corporal punishment at home and in schools. Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY) is planning to introduce a bill in Congress to ban corporal punishment in all U.S. schools.

It’s way past time.


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By Valerie Strauss  | May 13, 2010; 12:38 PM ET
Categories:  Health  | Tags:  corporal punishment, corporal punishment laws, paddling in school, teacher beating kid, video and teacher and hitting, when kids are paddled  
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To the author,

While I watched the video, and obviously this was an inappropriate and wrong method of disciplining the child, you have a few missing elements in your story.

What was the child's general attitude? Was he regularly unruly, disrespectful, inappropriate himself? I see children with sorely lacking values every day, and it gets worse all the time. If you can't address both sides of the coin, I wonder how you can type these articles with your a knee jerking so hard.

Perhaps "It’s way past time" for parents to start doing their jobs more of the time and instilling the values we expect of them as adults later. If non-corporal punishment fails, then at a certain point you need to bring out the rod. This also applies in cases where parents who are doing their job battle the influence of their children's friends who have worthless parents doing nothing to instill discipline.

Kids these days are spoiled from being told they can't be touched, and that physical punishment is bad. It alienates parents as well as alienating a form of discipline that in my mind should be used along side gentler methods.

The world is doing it's best to build soft minded people without the guts to do what is painful at times for the long term benefit.

Again, a child shouldn't be beaten like this except in the rarest of circumstances (and of course only by a parent with a good reason, and yes sometimes a child DOES deserve a real beating) as all punishments should fit the crime (Thus instilling a strong sense of causality and consequence), and I don't see the teacher being in the right necessarily.

But with that I must also say, for myself to view both sides of the coin, maybe he deserved it?

Posted by: shatteredreality | May 13, 2010 5:16 PM | Report abuse

According to the news, the teacher was mad because the student had been calling a mentally challenged classmate names. The only thing he learned from this is not to call people names if someone bigger is around.

Posted by: sideswiththekids | May 13, 2010 7:50 PM | Report abuse


Under NO circumstances should a child be beaten like that, and it's all the worse that it happened in a classroom. All teachers have felt pushed to the breaking point by certain children. You never forget them and always wonder where they end up in life and hope you never see them again.

But you do not touch them, especially when you are angry. If you can't find some other way to cope, then it's time to quit.

Posted by: aed3 | May 13, 2010 8:59 PM | Report abuse

It's always funny to me when people come out in favor of beating children as a disciplinary measure. It reminds me of Hemingway and his whole thing about being a "real man"...well, maybe if you could get your nose all the way out of the bottle for 20 minutes, you could be one. Some people prefer to live in a fantasy, that's all, and some people don't even see that they are living in one. It's like the drunk in the bar talking about how kids of my generation are spoiled brats and his generation we real men who didn't go talking about their "feelings".

Sure, and you're drunk and loud in a bar and the girls won't go *near* you and I'm having the time of my life. So who got the bad end of that deal?

Posted by: dibee | May 14, 2010 1:52 AM | Report abuse

I agree with the author but I'd like to add that discipline, regardless of it's form, is better than the alternative.

Posted by: hokiematt10 | May 14, 2010 10:02 AM | Report abuse

It's unfortunate that after a story like this the discussion becomes a debate about physical punishment and discipline. The questions that no one asks is do our teachers and schools understand children with behavior problems and do they know how to help students with behavior problems. Because if the answer is "no" there will always be those teachers, schools, and parents that fall back on what's familiar, what's easy, and what everyone else does. Plus they'll find ways to justify and defend physical punishment, suspension, expulsion, etc., even though they don't work for the kids that most desperately need the help.

It's frustrating to see all the attention given to whether god should be said at school, whether intelligent design should be included in text books, and whether ethnic and culture classes should be taught at school when there is much more need in how to help address behavior problems at school. Why can't there be more analysis on zero tolerance policy, school climate, and teacher preparation and support? What about looking at schools and teachers that have bucked the trend and or being successful with these students? Maybe it doesn't bring the passion that physical punishment debated brings because dealing with behavior problems is more complicated than going back and forth about whether hitting a kid helps or him in the long run.

It's just unfortunate that when an incident happens that grabs the media's attention, it's coverage doesn't scratch the surface and only leads to the same tired debate.

Posted by: seanpeters70 | May 14, 2010 10:08 AM | Report abuse

I read the story several times, looking for the stats that show corporal punishment is "ineffective". It is actually very effective. The only stats given were how often, in what states, and of course, that black kids get spanked more than white kids (nice Washington Post touch). The facts in this case were simple. The teacher was breaking up a fight in a hallway between two other top notch honor students when this little bundle of joy slipped into a classroom, locked the door, and started physically taunting a mentally retarded girl with other students. The teacher's reaction was not only justified, but tame considering the circumstances. The smackdown could have been a life-changing moment for the kid, and all the other students, had the teacher been backed up by the parents and administrators. Instead, the teacher gets fired, the school gets sued, and the 13-year-old thinks he can do whatever he wants. When corporal punishment was allowed, it didn't have to be used very often because the mere possibility of it kept kids in line. Now, there is no line.

Posted by: jthomas87 | May 14, 2010 3:50 PM | Report abuse

jthomas87: Are you saying that because the student was bullying someone smaller (or more helpless) than himself, he deserved to be beaten by someone bigger than himself? All he's learned is to look around before he bullies someone--do you pay for your groceries only if the security guard is watching you?

And the video I saw was not a "smackdown"--the teacher was kicking, punching, and stomping the student.

Posted by: sideswiththekids | May 14, 2010 4:21 PM | Report abuse

Sideswiththekids: That's exactly what I'm saying. He deserved to be humiliated in front of his friends and other students. He was not seriously injured. What he's learned is that bullying other people is a bad idea. Security guards at grocery stores are necessary because of kids like this, not because of teachers who stand up to them. Otherwise, we could all use the self-checkout lines.

Posted by: jthomas87 | May 14, 2010 5:32 PM | Report abuse

jthomas87: Run your theory on the need for security guards past some police or security guards. Shoplifters are all ages and income levels. The store I worked in once caught a shoplifter who wore a three-piece suit and got into a Porsche when he left and one who was a minister; another customer threw a carton of cigarettes at an octogenarian cashier because the store didn't have any free matches to give him. By the way, it was a bookstore, and the most frequently stolen item in the three stores owned by the company was the Bible. (We never quite figured out what thieves do with stolen Bibles--they sure weren't reading it!)

Posted by: sideswiththekids | May 14, 2010 11:11 PM | Report abuse

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