Three years ago, David Nixon took over the principalship at John C. Calhoun Elementary School. "Thirty minutes into his first day of school at John C, a father walked into Nixon's office and said, 'I want to give you the authority to whip my son's butt.' Nixon was surprised, but after he thought it over, he decided to give every parent the same option." Did corporal punishment save a struggling school?
As of 2008, corporal punishment in American schools is legal in twenty-one states
(no longer in Utah), mostly in the southeast. Children with disabilities, minority children, and boys
are physically disciplined in schools disproportionately more often than other children, as noted by Human Rights Watch (report)
and the Center for Effective Discipline (resources)
. Still-fascinating Corpun (previously)
claims that most American students prefer
the "'short sharp shock' of intense but brief pain to long, tedious hours of unhealthy incarceration," and observes that in South Korea, where corporal punishment is both legal
and sometimes abusive
, seventy percent of students think that teachers' use of the cane is fair
The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (policy)
and the American Academy of Pediatrics (policy)
both oppose corporal punishment in schools. The AAP also discourages the use of corporal punishment in the home
. Elizabeth Gershoff's famous 2002 meta-analysis of 88 studies
found ten "strong associations
" between corporal punishment and negative child behaviors and experiences. Her 2008 summary report on principles and practices of effective discipline
includes 130 references providing evidence and arguments against the use of physical punishment.
Not everyone agrees
that corporal punishment is always detrimental. (Indeed, Gershoff's meta-study received comments questioning its validity
.) Robert Larzelere argues
counter to Gershoff that "detrimental child outcomes are associated with the frequency of any disciplinary tactic, not just physical punishment," suggesting that "excessive misbehavior . . . is the actual cause of detrimental outcomes in children." Larzelere and Brett Kuhn's own 2005 meta-analysis finds that optimized corporal punishment results in significantly better outcomes (PDF)
than alternatives like time-out, reasoning, privilege removal, scolding, and ignoring. Their executive summary (PDF)
asserts that "outcomes of physical discipline depend on how
it is applied." They castigate previous studies for ignoring the distinction between abusive vs. optimal use of corporal punishment.
The Economist comments on the rapid decline of school corporal punishment
elsewhere in the world and refers to the United Nations campaign to end all corporal punishment of children
by 2009 as a piece of "Utopian dottiness."
Back at John C. Calhoun Elementary, referrals to the principal's office have gone down by 80% since David Nixon's arrival, and the school has won "three statewide Palmetto awards, one for academic performance and two for overall improvement—the school's first such honors in its 35-year history. Not everyone agrees with his methods, but most parents and teachers will tell you [Nixon] couldn't have pulled off such a turnaround without his wooden paddle."