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Arguments For and Against the Use of Corporal Punishment in Schools

Since completing university in England, Paul has worked as a bookseller, librarian and freelance writer. He currently lives in Florida.

The Pros and Cons of the Corporal Punishment Debate

The Pros and Cons of the Corporal Punishment Debate

Should Corporal Punishment Be Allowed In Schools?

Corporal punishment in schools is an emotional and controversial topic for many people. The arguments for and against mainly revolve around the ethics and practicalities of using physical force as a way of maintaining student discipline.

People who are for corporal punishment in schools generally take the view that, provided that the physical force can be properly regulated, it can be an effective way of maintaining discipline in an educational setting . . . while those who are against it generally view it as an ineffective and/or unethical method of controlling human beings.

The idea behind the practice is to control students' behavior with pain that is deliberately inflicted, usually by a teacher. This punishment is given for an offense that the student has committed and serves not only as discipline but also as a deterrent against future rule-breaking.

Typically, the punishment is performed by striking the pupil repeatedly with some sort of implement. For example, the palm of a hand might be hit with a ruler. Paddling (being spanked with a paddle) is a common way of administering corporal punishment in the US.

In schools, corporal punishment is prohibited in over 30 countries globally, including Canada, Kenya, South Africa, New Zealand, and most of Europe. The United States tends to be spilt horizontally across the middle, with Northern states generally prohibiting the practice and Southern states generally allowing it.

In answer to the question: Should corporal punishment in schools be allowed? Here are the main arguments for and against that people use.

Arguments for Corporal Punishment in Schools

  1. Because it works. That is why corporal punishment has been teachers' traditional punishment tool for so long—because it is effective. There are no other means of punishment that have the same effect as both a punishment and a deterrent for misbehavior. The psychological and physical immediacy of a short, sharp shock is simply the most effective way to affect behavior change in some circumstances.
  2. It's easy to administer. As long as it's properly regulated, there should be no problems with it being used in schools. Some of the negative stories cited by people who are opposed to corporal punishment were the result of failures in regulation and leadership, not in corporal punishment itself.
  3. It can be administered quickly. Afterward, the pupil can then continue with his or her learning, unlike other forms of punishment (such as suspension from school when they miss school time and their education is put on hold).
  4. It's an effective use of staff time, unlike other forms of punishment (like detentions, when hours of staff time can be wasted supervising students who have misbehaved). It makes it possible for staff to spend more time educating or supporting students instead of punishing them.

Arguments Against Corporal Punishment in Schools

  1. It is a form of child abuse: psychologically, as well as physically. It also sends out the message that violence is socially acceptable, which is entirely the wrong message to be giving out. You can't prevent violence with violence.
  2. It doesn't work. There is no evidence that schools that use corporal punishment are any more disciplined or orderly than those that don’t. If anything, the lasting effects of physical corrections are more negative than positive and undermine the teacher-pupil relationship.
  3. It's not administered fairly. There is evidence that corporal punishment is not used in an even-handed way. For instance, statistically speaking, boys are more likely to be punished physically than girls, and African-American students more than white ones, for similar offenses. Children with disabilities are also more likely to be hit.
  4. Its "positive" effects don't last. Physical discipline fixes a behavioral problem in the short term but can cause psychological harm or make the child more aggressive in the longer term, according to many child psychologists. Building a trusting relationship and good discipline policy takes time and energy, but it's worth it in the long run.

Power is of two kinds. One is obtained by the fear of punishment and the other by acts of love. Power based on love is a thousand times more effective and permanent then the one derived from fear of punishment.

— Mahatma Gandhi

Two students receiving the cane in a drawing from 1888.  Corporal punishment in schools has a long history and was unquestioned as method of disciplining children for centuries.

Two students receiving the cane in a drawing from 1888. Corporal punishment in schools has a long history and was unquestioned as method of disciplining children for centuries.

State Laws About Corporal Punishment in Schools

The legality of corporal punishment is decided at a state level in the United States, so laws vary in different parts of the country.

  • Currently, the practice is banned in public schools in 31 states, plus the District of Columbia.
  • New Jersey and Iowa also ban the practice in private schools, too.
  • New Jersey was the very first state to abolish school corporal punishment, in 1867.
  • Corporal punishment is most often used in the South, mainly in public schools in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas.
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Where is corporal punishment legal? The blue areas show states where it is prohibited. The practice is most common in the Midwest and South.

Where is corporal punishment legal? The blue areas show states where it is prohibited. The practice is most common in the Midwest and South.

Corporal punishment is as humiliating for him who gives it as for him who receives it; it is ineffective besides. Neither shame nor physical pain have any other effect than a hardening one.

— Ellen Key

Sources and Further Reading

Your opinion!

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

Questions & Answers

Question: What are the benefits of corporal punishment?

Answer: Proponents argue that as a traditional form of punishment, it has a proven track record. It is also effective as a deterrent, quick to administer, and an efficient use of staff time.

Question: What are ten perspectives against physical punishment in schools?

Answer: 1. It creates moral confusion if you tell a child that violence is wrong then subject them to physical punishment. 2. It may make the child fear the teacher, but that's not the same as respecting them. 3. It can cause a child psychological harm, many will remember the punishments well into adulthood. 4. It can be difficult to exactly define the line between what level of punishment is acceptable and not acceptable, much easier to ban it all together. 5. It is an out-dated way of controlling children and will present the school as old-fashioned and behind the times. 6. It may cause psychological damage to those administering the punishment. 7. All sorts of rules, training, vetting procedures need to be introduced to ensure that all is carried out correctly, increasing bureaucracy and expense. 8. Things go wrong, teachers punish children unjustly, too harshly, or can be abusive in other ways,. 9. Children learn from the teachers and use physical punishments on other children. 10. It is just plain immoral, we don't generally allow adults to hit each other to get their way, why should it be allowed in schools.

Question: Is corporal punishment necessary?

Answer: Proponents argue that corporal punishment acts as a strong deterrent as well as a punishment, that its effects are immediate, and that it is cost-effective.

Question: Why is corporal punishment not the best way to maintain discipline in schools?

Answer: Critics argue that it causes emotional as well as physical harm to children, encourages the idea that using violence is an acceptable method to get one's way, is difficult to oversee, is problematic to define what level of physical punishment is appropriate and what constitutes abuse, creates an atmosphere of fear rather than respect, and promotes an out-of-date methodology that doesn't work.

Question: What is the psychological effect of corporal punishment on a child?

Answer: Most psychologists oppose physical punishment and point to studies that show spanking, hitting and other methods of causing pain to children can lead to antisocial behavior, physical injury, increased aggression, and mental health problems.

© 2012 Paul Goodman

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