The Commercial Appeal

Students deserve better than corporal punishment

- By Christine Dickason

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.

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