Going to school many decades ago, I can remember the rumors that would float around my elementary school about the "bad" child who had received a paddling. The rumor was my 3rd grade teacher was the dispenser of justice and he had a paddle hidden away waiting for someone to misbehave. It was a cautionary tale with mystery attached as no one ever saw children get paddled in my school and no children came forward to say they had been paddled. Despite this, the specter of those who misbehaved getting paddled was firmly entrenched in the minds of the children, including myself.
The whole basis behind spanking or getting paddled at school is that the punishment or threat of it will deter children from misbehaving. On the face of it, this sounds like a practical and straightforward way to discipline. The one annoying fact is that implementing corporal punishment in the form of paddling is ineffective. Children continue to misbehave regardless of the consequence.
There are additional concerns about the use of corporal punishment in schools. Many children who attend schools have experienced significant trauma in their lives. Children experience various forms of abuse and have their families irrevocably changed due to violence, drugs and accidents. Frequently child misbehavior is a reaction to the trauma experienced outside of school. The way to react to these behaviors is to offer support and understanding, not additional violence in the form of corporal punishment.
Most major health professions that focus on children's health, including pediatricians and school psychologists, have come out against corporal punishment as a form of discipline at home and school for the past couple of decades. Parents have heard the message as a 2016 study in the journal Pediatrics found that spanking has steadily declined over the past 25 years. Instead, parents are implementing more non-physical discipline techniques like timeout and redirection.
States have also come out against corporal punishment being used in schools. At this point, there are 32 states that have banned the practice. Kentucky is one of the states that still allows corporal punishment in the schools though it is rarely practiced in most school districts. There is hope that Kentucky will join the other 32 states in banning the practice as a bill is currently under consideration in the Kentucky legislature.
When corporal punishment is banned in schools, there is not a spike in student misbehavior. This is due to school personnel having many other options available to them that are non-physical forms of discipline and more effective. The discipline options start with preventing student misbehavior from even occurring by instituting school wide positive behavioral supports. Students control their behavior in anticipation of being rewarded for displaying prosocial behaviors.
Students who have trouble controlling their behaviors in the classroom can have various behavior management plans created. If those are not enough, students can be taken out of the classroom for a while to calm down before they return to class.
All of these techniques provide a model for students that problematic behavior can be tackled without resorting to corporal punishment. When these students grow up and have children of their own, they will have a range of techniques they have been exposed to that can be effective to use for disciplining their own children. It is time to end corporal punishment in Kentucky schools.
Dan Florell, Ph.D., is an associate professor at Eastern Kentucky University and has a private practice, MindPsi (www.mindpsi.net). Praveena Salins, M.D., is a pediatrician at Madison Pediatric Associates (www.madisonpeds.com).