Global Initiative - End All Corporal Punishment Of Children

Moreover, not all institutional settings are equally impersonal. Schools are much more personal than state courts. Teachers know their pupils better and are likely to care more for them than judges do for the accuseds that stand before them. Punishment in schools can thus be seen as serving a useful educational purpose. It facilitates the move from the jurisdiction of the family to the jurisdiction of the state, teaching the child that punishment is not always inflicted by close people who love one and know one. This is not to say that teachers, like judges, should not inquire into relevant aspects of a wrongdoer's background before inflicting a severe punishment.

Those who oppose corporal punishment do not normally do so on the basis of a single argument. Usually they muster a battery of reasons to support their view. They do not root their arguments in particular theories of punishment -- theories that justify the institution of punishment -- and say why corporal punishment fails to meet the theoretical requirements. In many cases, this may be because they lack a theory of punishment. However, it should be said in their favor that having a theory of punishment is little help, by itself, in determining whether corporal punishment is ever morally acceptable. This is because the traditional theories of punishment in themselves do not commit one to accepting or rejecting corporal punishment. A number of issues mediate the application of the theories to the question of corporal punishment. For example, consequentialist theories of punishment, the relevant considerations include the effectiveness of corporal punishment, either as a deterrent or reform, and the extent of any adverse side effects. For retributivists, punishment is justified if it is deserved. Retributivists are not concerned about the consequences of punishment, but they do consider the means of punishment. Thus, an important question for them is whether corporal punishment is an unacceptably cruel or degrading form of punishment. Retributivism per se says nothing about what constitutes an unacceptable form of punishment, just as utilitarianism itself cannot tell what kinds of punishment are effective or harmful. Thus we cannot turn to the theories themselves for answers to these questions. I shall not probe the theoretical foundations or venture any view about which theory of punishment is correct. This is because I take the theoretical background to be largely beyond the scope of this paper. There is a vast literature on whether punishment can be justified and I cannot hope to contribute to that here. Instead, I restrict my attention to the question of corporal punishment.


The arguments raised by those who believe that corporal punishment should never be inflicted are that corporal punishment 1) leads to abuse; 2) is degrading; 3) is psychologically damaging; 4) stems from and causes sexual deviance; 5) teaches the wrong lesson; 6) arises from and causes poor relationships between teachers (or parents) and children; and 7) does not deter. I shall now consider each of these arguments in turn.4

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23. One study cited by opponents of corporal punishment is that of Richard Walters and Lillian Demkow, "Timing of Punishment as a Determinant of Response Inhibition," Child Development 34 (1963): 207-14. The study is not specifically about corporal punishment. The punishment used was a loud unpleasant sound from a buzzer.

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Corporal discipline seems to be particularly prevalent in the case of 16-, 17- and 18-year-old high-school "athletes" (members of sports teams) in small-town Texas, where there is a tradition of sports coaches wielding the paddle on behalf of the school, even when the offense is not sports-related (such as for failing grades), as reported in about a 17-year-old footballer paddled at Ozen High School in Beaumont ISD.

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20. Robert Larzelere, "Should the Use of Corporal Punishment By Parents Be Considered Child Abuse? -- No," in Mason and Gambrill (eds.), Debating Children's Lives, pp. 204-9.

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Age restrictions. In general, statistics show that the most typical recipients of corporal punishment in the USA are boys aged 13 through 17 -- much as in pretty well all other cultures since the dawn of time. But in the great majority of American school districts, there are no age limits: the recipient may be any age from 4 through 19. Twelfth-graders, who might have been driving automobiles for three or four years, or having legal sex for two years, can be and are spanked in some high schools. In certain places, such as (which does not use CP at the elementary level at all), it has been reported that most of the district's paddlings take place in grades 9 through 12. Some anecdotal accounts suggest that these students, especially if male, can expect to be paddled a lot harder, stroke for stroke, than younger recipients: "It does hurt pretty bad," says an Alvarado twelfth-grader in about visiting the office to opt for three "pops" in lieu of suspension.