Corporal Punishment – Does it Add Value to Education?

March 31, 2010

Corporal punishment, as a means of discipline in public schools, is currently employed in twenty states.[1] In 2006, over 223,000 students received some form of corporal punishment.[2] Using a national average of 180 school days, that works out to be over 1,200 spankings each day.  Even if you believe in the “spare the rod” statement from the Bible,[3] it does not say you get to delegate that authority to the public school system.

Proponents of spanking point to the need for discipline in our school systems as justification for the practice, while opponents see it as child abuse.  To avoid the argument, it helps to look at the effectiveness of  the practice as it relates to discipline in educational settings.  First, there can be no question for the need of discipline as it promotes a healthy learning environment.  Second, rules must have consequences when they are broken or they effectively do not exist.

Much debate takes place over what constitutes a healthy learning environment and just how to enforce rules to promote education.  Again, avoiding entanglement in the argument and looking at results sheds some light on the effectiveness of corporal punishment.  Figure 1 shows the states allowing corporal punishment.

Figure 1 – States Allowing Corporal Punishment
(click for larger view)

In looking at the states involved, several stereotypical “theories” are often put forward as to why these particular states allow it:

  • Only “Biblebelt” states can justify corporal punishment, it is part of their evangelical teachings
  • States that employ it are run by backward thinking people
  • States with right-wing agendas use corporal punishment to control the young population
  • Only states with large minority populations use it

The list goes on and on.  There is little use in addressing the veracity of the points as doing so does not address the problem of discipline in education.  Truthfully, the one thing the points have in common, they are all irrelevant.  The reason for the use of corporal punishment has little, if any, bearing on its effectiveness.

In the end, looking at the results of systems that use corporal punishment against those the do not puts its effectiveness into perspective.  Using data from U.S. Department of Education’s  2009 National Report Card[4], on the performance of eight-graders, one of two grades tested, state results can be averaged and ranked.  Figure 2 shows the states shaded with regard to that performance.

Figure 2 – States Ranked by Performance Percentage
(Click for larger view)

The states are shaded yellow to red with yellow representing the top 20% and red the bottom 20% and the others scaled between.  No state that allows corporal punishment scored in the top 20%.  In fact, 60% of states that allow the practice scored below average or worse.  In fact, 12% scored in the bottom 20% of all states.  Figure 3 shows the same data only for states allowing corporal punishment.

Figure 3 – Only States Allowing Corporal Punishment
(Click for larger view)

While there is no direct correlation between the use of corporal punishment and poor performance (as densely populated states that do not allow for it, like New York and California also scored poorly), there is correlation that corporal punishment does not enhance the educational performance of students – no state that allows corporal punishment scored in the top 20%.  Of course, many other factors come into play, but if corporal punishment does not add to education, just what purpose does it serve?

While it is hard to object to a parent giving a little hand a quick “pop” as its reaching for the hot stove, applying the practice to the normal disciplinary actions of our public school system seems extreme.  The use of such practices well illustrates the duality within conservative groups that argue for individual rights and responsibility while promoting a state sanctioned punishment that should not exist beyond the realm of parenthood, if at all.   Of course the other side is just as guilty of duality by not acknowledging a lack of parental control feeds the problems of discipline but screaming to high hell when a child is punished.  Both sides are wrong and prove that dealing in extremes is never the preferred course of action.

Our system of education needs improvement.  A reasonable path involves looking at that top 20% , the states in yellow, and see what they do differently than the bottom 20%, the ones bleeding red.  Only then will we begin to understand how to improve.  Even the top 20% need improvement, but until we reach a level of parity,  it seems the best actions are to follow their lead.

[1] “U.S.: Corporal Punishment and Paddling.” The Center for Effective Discipline. Ed. Nadine A. Block and Robert Fathman. The Center for Effective Discipline. Web. 31 Mar. 2010.

[2] “2006 National and State Projections.” Civil Rights Data Collection. U.S. Department of Education. Web. 31 Mar. 2010.

[3] Proverbs 13:24. New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1976. Print.

[4] “Reading 2009 Report Viewer.” NAEP – Nation’s Report Card Home. Ed. Richard Struense. United Stated Department of Education, 19 Mar. 2010. Web. 30 Mar. 2010.


  1. When someone writes an piece of writing he/she maintains the image of a user in his/her mind that how a user can be aware of it.
    Thus that’s why this paragraph is amazing. Thanks!

  2. Its unfortunate that, that many states allow corpalpunishment

  3. i think corporal punisment is child abuse

    • While I do respect your point of view on corporal punishment and think it a subject worthy of debate, my post does not address the issue in general but specifically in our schools.

  4. I am confused by the fact that prisoners have the right to be free from assault, but our schoolchildren in 19 states do not. It appears to be a basic human rights issue.

    The research is clear, spanking is correlated to a plethora of negative outcomes in the short run (increased aggressive behavior) and in the long term (mental illness, adolescent drug use, adolescent suicide, depression). The list goes on. http://stopspanking.org is an excellent resource for the science. Spanking is on the continuum of violence. A little is bad, more is worse.

    Check out Johny O’Donnell’s response to our brutality toward school children. He was shocked. He thought the paddle was a cricket paddle! I think it is obviously a weapon.

  5. Is there a map of non- illegal immigrants and the scores?

    I mean come on, There’s a surplus of uneducated illegals coming across the border…

    • Knight, there is nothing in the data regarding citizenship or immigration status. Still, it makes me ask are you suggesting it is OK to beat children here illegally?

  6. This was intresting it really helped me out with my essay keep on doin the good reseach

    • Thanks Stacey-Ann,

      best of luck with your paper.

  7. Interesting stuff but its always difficult to find trends in such data. there are so many factors at play. in the same way if you showed data showing ‘cane’ schools were in the top 30% of schools it wouldnt prove its effectiveness either.

    when i 1st started teaching i met many head of years or deputies that maintained the mere ‘mention’ of the cane would ‘cure’ many a hard nut.

    on top of that one might argue that 30 seconds of pain is less abusive than an hours detention. I know what I would prefer.

    the simple thing is that some students dont respond to detention or telling off or rewards. Some do respond (according to those I spoke to years ago)to the physical sanction.

    personally I’m not sure where I stand. I certainly wouldnt like to be the one giving the punishment and no-one could stipulate it in your contract thats for sure.

    • you are correct Rod, it does not prove it takes away from performance but the fact that no state that allows is not scoring in the top 20% does speak to its not contributing to the performance of students.

      I live in South Carolina. Our schools are out of control to put it mildly. This state allows corporal punishment. This state has one of the poorest graduation rates in the nation. I only pint out that corporal punishment is not working here. If it does not work, why use it?

      People that support it see it as some sort of panacea for school systems. It is not. We need to stop looking to the past to solve the problems of today. We are not in the 1950s anymore. We cannot treat people, even children like we are.

      The problem is our tools are ineffective. We need tools that work. State that do not allow CP think it helps, as one that lives in a state that does, I can tell you it does not.

  8. Michael – I live here in Beaufort and am currently doing a study on cp in SC schools. I would love to talk with you and share what I have so far. Please email me at your convenience and I’ll give all contact information.


    Maureen Young
    Child Advocate

    • Hi Maureen,

      I am leaving for about 10 days on Friday, we would have to make it tomorrow. If you would email me if you can make it that quickly.


  9. We are unable to protect our 3 children, who we do not hit, from witnessing/overhearing classmates being threatened/Hit with Wooden Paddles by school employees just outside class for minor infractions to deliberately inflict physical pain and suffering intended to Punish them. Tennessee State Law does Not require Parental Consent or Notification for Children to be physically/corporally punished in Schools, ILLEGAL in Schools in 30 States! The U.S. Department of Education and the Tennessee State Department of Education have told us that our children’s heatlh and safety in schools is left up to the local, autonomous School Board.

    We made a written/verbal presentation to our School Board Members in April 2008, during “National Child Abuse Prevention and Awareness Month” to demand they Prohibit Physical/Corporal Punishment of Children in our Schools and to date 3/2010, we have received no response, no letter, no phone call, they have IGNORED US! School Corporal Punishment puts school districts at risk of lawsuits for paddling injuries. Our nation’s most trusted Children’s Health and Education Organizations have issued official position statements Opposing Physical/Corporal Punishment of Children in Schools and the Cost to Abolish Physical/Corporal Punishment of All Children in All Schools is $0.

    • Julie, I am grateful that you took the matter and addressed it. Even though you may not have heard back, you did put them on notice. It did make an impact. Remember, ever avalanche starts with a small quiver in the snow.

      Any parents in your district that are worried about such an event taking place need to remember there are federal civil rights laws that trump state laws (or the lack of them). Of course setting up a public demonstration at every school board meeting, you know the kind with signs asking “Why do you want to beat my child?” are very effective. Local TV stations love to cover that.

      It is unfortunate that measures like that are required to change things but if that is how they want to dance – I say dance away! Embarrass the hell out of them!

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