The Cassville School District in Missouri has decided to bring back corporal punishment. Corporal punishment is a form of punishment intended to cause physical pain to a person in response to undesirable behavior. In the case of Cassville School District, physical pain will be inflicted on students of all ages with a paddle. According to the Superintendent, Dr. Merlyn Johnson, younger students will be hit one or two times, and older students may be paddled up to three times. According to Johnson, Cassville is a very traditional community in southwest Missouri, and he suggests that parents have long expressed frustration that corporal punishment was not allowed in the district. It sounds like Cassville has a tradition of violence against children.
Dr. Johnson was quoted as saying, “When it becomes necessary to use corporal punishment, it shall be administered so that there can be no chance of bodily injury or harm. Striking a student on the head or face is not permitted.” These words are meaningless when considering that the definition of corporal punishment is a punishment intended to cause physical pain. Corporal punishment is a form of violence and is an abusive practice. The very definition of violence is “behavior involving physical force intended to hurt, damage, or kill someone or something.” Check corporal punishment is intended to cause physical pain, and therefore it is violence. Should our schools teach and model violence as a solution to stress-related behaviors? What are we teaching children when physical violence is the solution?
We’ve all heard the argument, I was spanked or paddled, and I turned out fine. The fact that someone survived pain and trauma in their lives is always a good thing. However, this does not mean they were not negatively impacted by the violence perpetrated against them. It does not mean that they did not suffer harm. It only means that the individual perceives that they survived attempts to physically and physiologically harm them. We know from the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACEs) that experiencing violence as a child can lead to long-term impacts. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), we know that ACEs can have lasting, negative effects on health, well-being, as well as life opportunities such as education and job potential. The use of corporal punishment, which is violence imposed on a child, can increase the risks of injury, sexually transmitted infections, maternal and child health problems, involvement in sex trafficking, and a wide range of chronic diseases and leading causes of death such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and suicide.
What other impacts do we see from using physical violence, such as corporal punishment, on children? We know that corporal punishment teaches children that violence is a way to solve problems. We know that corporal punishment is related to decreased internalization of moral rules. Corporal punishment has also been linked with decreased IQ, increased aggression, and antisocial behavior. Children subjected to corporal punishment have poorer mental health outcomes and are at an increased risk of being victimized by abusive relationships into adulthood. We also know that corporal punishment destroys trust and relationships with adults, which is detrimental to student success.
You can not simply say that when a child hits another child, it is violence; when a child hits an adult, it is violence, but when an adult hits a child, it is discipline. Corporal punishment has no place in a civilized society.
The 1990s were the decade of the brain. We know more today about our brains than we knew 50 years ago. Today we understand how trauma causes changes in our brain’s structure and function. We know trauma leads to changes in the amygdala, the hippocampus, and the prefrontal cortex. The result of these changes can lead individuals to become hypervigilant and result in an increase in stress behaviors. We also know that traumatic stress results in an increase in depression, substance abuse, dissociation, personality disorders, and a greater likelihood of long-term health issues. Why would anyone agree to the use of corporal punishment on their child? I implore parents in Cassville to do their research before you allow the school district to traumatize their children.
As of 2022, 63 countries prohibit the use of corporal punishment. Sadly, the United States is not one of them. Today 19 states allow the use of corporal punishment; this is state-sanctioned child abuse. At the Alliance Against Seclusion and Restraint, we believe this is a civil and human rights issue. There should be a federal law prohibiting corporal punishment in schools nationwide, but there is not. There have been efforts to pass federal legislation, including H.R.1234, the Ending Corporal Punishment in Schools Act of 2021. The bill, which seems to have stalled in the House of Representatives, would prohibit the Department of Education from providing funding to any educational agency or institution that allows its school personnel to inflict corporal punishment upon a student as a form of punishment or to modify undesirable behavior.