The Commercial Appeal
Students deserve better than corporal punishment
As a graduate of Collierville High School, a student of education policy and a citizen invested in the future of Memphis, I oppose the unified school board’s decision to consider allowing corporal punishment to be an accepted method of discipline for the nearly 140,000 students in the new district.
In my junior year of high school, I presented compelling research to school administrators about the negative consequences of corporal punishment. Unfortunately, rather than abandoning the practice, some members of Shelby County’s unified school board are now seeking Christine Dickason to expand its reach to the schools formerly under the jurisdiction of the Memphis City Schools district.
Every year in the United States, over 200,000 young people are physically punished at school.
Methods of discipline are supposed to offer constructive intervention to educate students on acceptable behavior. But what are students actually learning from corporal punishment? Fear, violence, humiliation?
This is not to say that teachers and administrators do not need tools to manage unruly or disruptive behavior in the classroom. But there are alternatives.
Some forms of discipline that have worked well include praising for good behavior, suspension, motivators, withdrawing privileges or talking with students about why their behavior is failing to meet the school’s expectations.
According to data from the Office of Civil Rights in the Department of Education, Tennessee consistently ranks among the 10 states in the country with the highest rates of corporal punishment.
In child care centers, juvenile detention centers and prisons in Tennessee, physical punishment has been outlawed for decades. Yet we subject students in some Tennessee school districts to treatment that has been deemed inappropriate for even the most hardened criminals. More i mportant , this “treatment” is ineffective, at best. In the worst cases, it has damaging long-term consequences.
Research findings from organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the United Nations show that students who have been physically punished are more likely to drop out of school, suffer from depression, participate in violent activities, abuse alcohol and drugs, engage in risky sexual behavior, abuse future partners or have lower occupational success.
It gets worse. There are significant and troubling inequalities in the occurrences of corporal punishment.
According to a study by the American Civil Liberties Union, African-American students make up 17.1 percent of the student population in the United States, yet they comprise 35.6 percent of those who are physically punished.
In Tennessee, students with disabilities are physically punished at more than twice the rate of the general student population.
The practice of corporal punishment has been condemned by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Bar Association, the National Association of Social Workers, the United Methodist Church General Assembly and the American Medical Association, just to name a few. Thirty- one states have effectively banned the practice. Yet Tennessee continues to cling to an outdated, archaic and ineffective practice.
“That’s how it’s always been done” is not a good enough rationalization anymore.
Corporal punishment is a quick fi x. It allows school administrators to abstain from tough decisions or creative thinking in seeking a solution for a student’s misbehavior. However, our students deserve more than a thoughtless, one-size-fitsall approach to behavioral problems.
As leaders of what will be one of the largest school districts in the country, the unified school board for Memphis and Shelby County has the responsibility to seek methods of discipline that are most effective at both curbing disruptive behavior and providing a safe and nur- turing environment for the students.
Corporal punishment accomplishes neither goal.
A school should be a refuge for students to expand their knowledge. Rather than foster an environment of intimidation and violence, education leaders in the Mid-South should craft creative solutions that assist teachers in their mission to provide a quality education for each and every student in the district.
Hopefully, the board will decide to make a positive impact by providing the opportunity for an exceptional education to every student in a safe and nurturing learning environment, free from the lessons of violence taught by corporal punishment. Christine Dickason is in her junior year at the University of Mississippi, where she is majoring in public policy with a specialty in education policy.