The Commercial Appeal

Stu­dents de­serve bet­ter than cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment

- By Chris­tine Dick­a­son Society · Collierville, Tennessee · Memphis · Newport County A.F.C. · United States of America · Department of Education · Philippines Department of Education · Tennessee · organization · United Nations · American Civil Liberties Union · United Methodist Church · Virginia General Assembly · Finland · University of Mississippi · Mississippi · Collierville High School · Shelby County · Memphis City Schools · American Academy Of Pediatrics · American Bar Association · American Bar Association · National Association of Social Workers · American Medical Association

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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