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Last week, while looking for something completely different, Hanna stumbled upon this post on corporeal punishment in schools from Teaching Tolerance: A Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center. I realize the post was published in May so that the link is a bit stale, but the comment thread was just too good a MSTing opportunity to pass up. The original post is a call to stop the practice of paddling in schools, which is still legal in twenty states. “Physical punishment is banned in federal prisons and medical facilities. It’s long past time to extend the same protection to our children,” writes the SPLC blogger. All well and good.

It’s the comments that really take the cake in that a number of them refuse to see the problem with being physically violent toward children as a “corrective” measure. Here are a few choice selections

By the fourth comment in, we’ve already resorted to the classic “it worked for me so obviously that’s what’s best for everybody” argument:

When I was young we got paddled in school. I was smart enough to know right and wrong and never once got paddled. My mother taught me better. With that being said, the “emotional” problems I got were only that I needed to behave or I would get paddled. My school did not do it right infront of the class they would take them out into the hallway and do it, but everyone knew what was going on and feared it happening to them. I believe this should still be legal in ALL schools. I can guarantee that children would behave better and, in turn, learn more.

In case a behaviorist argument isn’t swaying the crowd, someone else chimes in to suggest that children are incapable of rational discussion, moral reasoning, or compassion. Oh, and have we mentioned that hitting kids doesn’t do them any harm?

Have you ever tried to reason with a child? They don’t understand the way an adult does. I’ve spanked my seven year old son about 4 times in his life and he’s doing just fine.

But maybe not all children respond the same to physical punishment — perhaps it works better on black children than on white children.

In some cultures little Sally may receive a paddling and her whole life is ruined to where Davonte receives a paddling and it corrects his behavior. What is normal for some may be abnormal to others.

Not everyone is okay with the normalization of violence, as this comment shows

When we physically punish our community’s children, we teach them that it’s okay to hit when we’re angry. It’s okay for a man to hit his wife, okay for a child to hit a peer, okay to kick a dog–okay to use violence instead of dialogue to solve our problems.

To which someone responds with a theory straight out of Dobson.

Ah, but that is why a very disciplined adult is required for paddling to be effective. There is a universe of difference between a visibly angry and aggressive adult taking an object and striking a student with it and a very calm and controlled adult reasonably informing the student that they have done such and such a wrong and that the punishment is a few moments of pain (and I emphasize, it must be a FEW MOMENTS; lingering pain and soreness teaches a child that a reasonable adult inflicts suffering as a form of discipline and that is NOT the proper message) and a slight dose of shame because while the punishment must not be physically very painful, being bent over and spanked like a little child causes shame and shame, used properly and constructively, induces a desire in the child to avoid being shamed and thus, avoid the activity which caused them to be spanked and shamed. This is how a mature well-meaning adult physically disciplines a child for the child’s betterment.

This idea of a dispassionate adult rendering judgment on a child brings us right back to the defining narrative of Evangelical Christianity, with its dispassionate God who causes us intense pain and threatens us with abandonment in the name of our eternal salvation.

Causing human beings shame does not make them better people. Instead, it destroys their sense of themselves and cripples their ability to make meaningful, responsive connections to others. Punitive measures rarely give anyone (child or adult) greater understanding as to why what they have done has caused harm; instead, punishment teaches them to do better next time … and not get caught! As another anti-paddling commenter observes

I think the first thing we need to think about is how kids learn. What are they learing from being spanked or paddled by an adult? That hitting another person is okay? Many pro-spankers feel that pain associated with a behavior will teach a child to not do that behavior again. While that might be true for infants and toddlers, it is not the case for older children. In addition to that, for the pain/behavior association to work, the spanking must be done immediately so that the association is made. I’m thinking this isn’t the case in these schools.

The next thing to think about is what this does for the teacher- do pro-spankers feel that it gives them some sort of power over the kids? It is my opinion that if spanking/paddling a child is the only way you can get respect from children or feel powerful, you might have to work on your teaching skills.

Not that all of the anti-paddlers get full marks for discussion either, considering how quickly the specter of pedophilia come up in relation to spanking

People with SPANKING FETISHES work in occupations that give them access to children like hospitals, schools, boy scouts, etc. and over 2,500 teachers were punished in a 5 year period since 2000 for inappropriate sexual relations with our nation’s school children, and women teachers are sexually preying on children at an increasingly alarming rate, which is why PHYSICAL/CORPORAL PUNISHMENT OF CHILDREN IN SCHOOLS MUST BE ABOLISHED IMMEDIATELY!

While I’d assume at least some of the people who get off on physically assaulting children get off sexually as well as just enjoying the power rush, I also think it’s pretty damn simplistic to assume that all physical contact = sex!

Sadly, the “debate” over whether or not physical violence against children is every okay is nothing new. Americans have been arguing over the place of physical punishment in school since at least the 1840s, when corporeal punishment came under fire from reformers who protested its use against sailors, prisoners, slaves and children. While in America, at least, the slavery issue became a moot point several decades later (although race, as evidenced above, has hardly vanished from the discussion), I’d venture to suggest that violence is still endemic in all of these spaces. And I, like the reformers, raise questions about its appropriateness in any of them.

Image: A Scary Vintage Postcard @ Flickr.com

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