Editorial: Spare the rod in schools

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 1, 2009

A proposal that the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education ban corporal punishment in local schools is likely to reignite the long-running debate over whether spanking and paddling are appropriate forms of discipline for young children.
That’s a philosophical debate the board can’t settle. What it can do, however, is make sure it has a policy that is consistent across the entire system, rather than being subject to the disciplinary philosophy of individual principals. What sense does it make for students at one school to be subject to corporal punishment, while it is not used at another school a few miles away? Why should its application be subject to a particular principal, when the next principal who comes along may have a different view?
Admittedly, it’s not an issue that arises often in the schools, and in fact, some parents may have mistakenly thought the school system had already banned corporal punishment, as have many others around the nation. Currently, the code of conduct still allows for corporal punishment, although it stipulates strict guidelines for its use and has a provision allowing parents to “opt out” of any form of physical discipline for their children at school.
The board was told this week that only five schools in the system still use corporal punishment. While that small number might appear to negate any need for a policy change, in reality it bolsters the argument for taking the next step and formalizing an unofficial ban already in effect at a majority of Rowan-Salisbury schools.
While both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry oppose the use of corporal punishment in schools, that’s unlikely to sway parents who paddle their children or others who are frustrated with the perceived discipline problems in some schools. Anecdotally, at least, there are many stories of those who feel they benefitted from an occasional whack on the bottom and freely quote the biblical warning about sparing the rod. But corporal punishment administered at school is no substitute for parental guidance in the home. And while only a few principals may administer paddlings now, and do so infrequently, that narrow window can leave them vulnerable to accusations of improper use of force or even outright physical abuse.
With its previous restrictions, the board has recognized that, from an institutional standpoint, the potential perils of corporal punishment far outweigh any arguable benefits. In reality, a partial ban is already in place. For the sake of clarity and consistency, it’s time to make that ban comprehensive and official.