When I think of corporal punishment in school, I think of that scene in Little Women where Amy comes running home crying after her teacher raps her palms with a ruler. That was set more than 100 years ago, and I remember Marmee was pissed, even back then.
But this Wednesday, just two days ago, in 2011, New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez signed a bill outlawing corporal punishment in New Mexico public schools. It seems like it should be triumphant news, but rather than celebrating, I’m stuck on the idea that in the year 2011, it’s actually still legal for teachers to hit children. It just seems sooo two centuries ago.
The worst part is that New Mexico isn’t even the last of its kind — another 19 states still allow corporal punishment against students. These states are Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wyoming.
Having grown up in the public school system in one of these states, I never experienced or witnessed any physical punishment in the classroom. So this brings me to my next question: Are teachers actually using their legal rights to strike children, or are we dealing with out-of-date, out-of-practice laws that no one has bothered to change?
According to The Center for Effective Discipline, 223,190 students were legally hit in the classroom in 2008. And, according to a 2006 article in the Times, little Amy might have actually been lucky—instead of using rulers to slap kids on the palms, some teachers use big, wooden paddles to beat young backsides black and blue.
Unlimited Justice is one campaign that’s working to end corporal punishment nationwide. If you’re somehow having doubts about whether to support the banning of beating children, you may want to check out this organization’s very convincing facts. They note, among other things, that the United States is the only industrialized country that allows corporal punishment in schools; that students who are paddled are more likely to become dropouts; and that, while teachers are allowed to hit children in some states, it is illegal in all 50 states to hit a prisoner or an animal.
Click here to find out how you can help change these much outdated policies.
Sarah English is currently living in rural northern France. When not teaching English to France’s uninspired youth, she’s traveling and writing about what she sees, who she meets along the way, and anything else that sparks her interest. Read her entire HV archive here.