Corporal punishment, as a means of discipline in public schools, is currently employed in twenty states. In 2006, over 223,000 students received some form of corporal punishment. 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, 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
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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, 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
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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.
 “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.
 Proverbs 13:24. New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1976. Print.
 “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.