Corporal punishment is banned in the armed forces of the United States in their training sentence. It is no longer permissible to use it as a sentence for a crime. Juvenile detention facilities are banning it in almost all circumstances as well. Teachers in a Head Start program are not allowed to use it.
There are still 19 states as of 2018 that still permit schools to use corporal punishment as a form of discipline. In the places where it is permissible to hit a child for spanking, there are methods that include a paddle which is still allowed as well. More than 106,000 children were physically punished in American public schools during the 2013-2014 school year, which is the last time that data has been released on the subject.
Even though the number of students punished in this manner has declined, there is a significantly higher number of boys, African-Americans, and disabled students who receive this consequence at a greater rate than their classmates. Since 2016, only two states, Louisiana and Tennessee, have amended their corporal punishment laws to protect children with disabilities.
Corporal punishment at private schools is permissible in 48 states.
List of the Pros of Corporal Punishment in Schools
1. Schools have the option to pursue other policies if they prefer.
When you look at the map of corporal punishment incidents in the United States, the vast majority of them occur in Texas and the southern states that were part of the Confederacy. There are a handful of incidents that happened in Indiana, Idaho, and Missouri as well. Even though the number of students who receive this form of discipline represents just 0.2% of the overall U.S. public school population, a significant majority of students in the south attend districts where it is permissible.
Some states have moved to an option where individual schools or districts can decide if they want to use corporal punishment. The last remaining school district in North Carolina voted in October 2018 to end this practice, which ends it for the state even though it is still legal.
2. Corporal punishment follows the family practices of some communities.
The school districts in the United States that still use corporal punishment are typically very supportive of the practice. They are often convinced that it helps to change the behavior of the student because that is the same approach that is used at home. Some rural areas of the country have parents that find it not only culturally acceptable to spank with a paddle or belt, but it is also the preferable approach over a suspension.
3. It immediately stops unwanted behavior.
The primary reason why schools allow corporal punishment is that it gives teachers and administrators an option to immediately stop unwanted behavior. If someone is being unsafe, then this intervention can create a positive outcome for everyone else involved in the situation. It can be a way to keep the classroom safer from bullying, shoving or unsafe decisions that can happen frequently when children are younger.
4. The actual data on the impact of corporal punishment is limited.
Everything that Americans know about nationwide corporal punishment comes from the datasets that the Department of Education manages through the Office for Civil Rights. The information is somewhat limited in its scope, categorizing students by gender, race, and disability. It does not indicate what disability a student might have, nor does it offer information about what type of physical punishment that the student received. There is no data on why the students were punished either.
Tennessee enacted a law in 2018 that requires schools to report these details, including the reason for each instance of corporal punishment. Proponents suggest that because the data is limited and many studies are from overseas locations, the assumptions that some might make about this practice are potentially flawed.
5. It sets clear boundaries for the child to follow.
When kids have a clear set of expectations that receive support from a consistent structure, then it is easier for them to make positive choices. Children also make better choices when they have an understanding of what to expect if they choose certain actions. The goal is to create a deterrent against specific unwanted behaviors in the same way that prison is supposed to act as a way to stop crime. This effect can prevent a continuation of adverse choices to conform to societal expectations at home, school, or anywhere else they happen to be.
6. Kids often choose corporal punishment if provided the option.
Some schools give children the option of choosing corporal punishment or a suspension. Other consequences might be offered as well, such as after-school detention. When there is a choice between a physical consequence and something else, most kids will choose the former over the latter. The swift punishment allows them to stay in contact with their friends, maintain their classroom status, and stay engaged with school activities. The child’s education remains uninterrupted, which means less homework is necessary to perform as well.
7. Corporal punishment must follow specific rules of implementation.
There are specific laws and stipulations that school districts must follow if they choose to use corporal punishment in the classroom. Before Louisiana updated their laws in this area, they required that three swats were permitted at most with a paddle that cannot exceed 20 inches in length and four inches in width. If teachers or administrators punish a child using some other method that falls outside of the policies or procedures in place, then there is the possibility that the staff could be held criminally liable for any injuries suffered by the child.
List of the Cons of Corporal Punishment in Schools
1. The distribution of corporal punishment is not equal.
The Government Accountability Office looked at the federal data on corporal punishment in schools for the last year it was released. They found that African-American children, both boys and girls, receive this consequence 22% more often than the general population in the K-12 population. In some schools in Mississippi and Alabama, the rates can be up to five times higher for them when compared to children from a Caucasian background.
Boys are more likely to receive this consequence than girls as well, even if the reason for a consequence involves the same behavior.
2. It impacts the health and wellbeing of children with disabilities.
Children with disabilities of any type are more likely to experience a physical injury when receiving corporal punishment. The different medical diagnoses that are possible in the modern public school are numerous. Any sort of impact from an adult, who is clearly stronger than the child, could result in long-term health consequences. Tennessee officials moved to protect this population after discovering that those with disabilities were being physically punished 80% more often than students with “normal” health and behaviors.
Louisiana schools were also punishing students with disabilities at a rate that was disproportionately high to the general population.
3. Parents believe that it gives them permission to do the same thing.
Many parents are highly protective of their ability to discipline their own children. They want to use a method that they see as fit for the circumstances. Tennessee’s new laws allow the parents of a disabled child to opt-in for corporal punishment as a compromise, and it was necessary to add this option to get the bill to pass in the first place.
In 2012, after Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings was indicted for hitting his son with a “switch,” 70% of Americans agreed with the idea that it is sometimes necessary to discipline children with a good, hard spanking.
4. Corporal punishment produces several adverse outcomes for children.
When children are spanked severely or frequently, then they have a higher risk of experiencing a bevy of mental health issues in the future. This disadvantage can range from depression to anxiety. It can also include drug or alcohol abuse. Parents who hit their children with a belt, switch, paddle, or hand may also develop a more distant relationship with their kids later on in life.
5. It produces more aggression in children instead of serving as a teaching tool.
A meta-analysis of 27 studies performed in 2012 found that children who receive regular spankings are more likely to be aggressive. This outcome occurs well into adulthood as well. Although most parents use this disciplinary action to immediately stop unwanted behaviors that could put the child or someone else in danger, kids can also learn to associate the violence of the act with power or ensuring that you can get your own way by doing the same thing to other people.
There is a trend in all cultures, across all time periods, ages, and countries, where corporal punishment creates a higher risk of turning a child toward bullying, spousal abuse, and similar outcomes.
6. Corporal punishment reduces the cognitive ability of the child.
Studies that go back to the early 1960s show that there is a potential relationship between the use of corporal punishment and a decreased cognitive ability during the early childhood years. Over 40 years of follow-up studies have found similar results. A 2009 effort examining two cohorts of children in the National Longitudinal Study of Youth found that the children of mothers who use little or no corporal punishment gained cognitive abilities faster than those who received frequent spankings.
A 2013 study found that high-frequency spanking by a father at the age of 5 was directly associated with a lower vocabulary score four years later. Schools that use corporal punishment in kindergarten were also in the bottom 20% of math scores. There is also evidence to suggest that spanking children places them at a higher risk of academic failure by the fifth grade.
7. Most of the developed world has banned corporal punishment.
54 countries have already banned the use of corporal punishment as a consequence for children. This process includes an elimination of the practice at home – not just in the schools. There are only 9 countries that still permit this practice without consequence, with most of them in Africa or the Middle East. From an American perspective, the only justification often given for it involves a family tradition. “It was done to me and I survived, so that is what I will do with my children as well.”
8. Even correctly administered corporal punishment can result in an injury.
When an adult inflicts a purposeful injury on someone else, there is the possibility that such an action could qualify as criminal assault. When corporal punishment is allowed in schools, then an injury can occur when an adult who is not a child’s parent decides to inflict the physical consequence. If the practice is not implemented correctly, then there is a risk that an injury could occur. This outcome is possible with correct usage as well. If a child is focused more on the pain they feel instead of their studies, then the educational outcome will not be as beneficial to their future.
9. Discipline and corporal punishment walk a fine line with abuse.
One of the most famous incidents that looks at this disadvantage involves a church in Georgia. Over 40 children were placed into the custody of the state in 2001 because the congregation was using corporal punishment at the behest of the pastor. Some religious communities take the concept of “spare the rod, spoil the child” to a much higher level. When police detectives interviewed the families, they said that the kids were whipped because it was a punishment for their improper choices. Many of the parents even refused to let their kids come home because they wouldn’t agree to change their approach to discipline.
The pros and cons of corporal punishment in school are essential to consider if you live in a state where this practice is still permitted. Whether you agree with physical consequences or you prefer a different method of discipline, it is imperative that parents stay connected to their local schools and their child’s teacher to understand the choices that kids can make. It may be a successful solution in limited circumstances, but the wealth of research suggests that other forms of behavior modification are more effective.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.