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Jerry Webster

Does Spanking Work?

By September 6, 2009

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Many states do not permit corporal punishment in any form, but 20 do. Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union are asking the Federal Government to extend the prohibition for corporal punishment to the states that permit it. Can you blame them?? According to the New York Times:

The report, based on federal Department of Education data, said that of the 223,190 public school students nationwide who were paddled during the 2006-7 school year, at least 41,972, or about 19 percent, were students with disabilities, who make up 14 percent of all students.

Looking at those numbers, you might say that kids with disabilities are 25% more likely to be spanked. The article specifically cited the case of a 6 year old child with autism.

What? Despite the arguments about teaching violence, scapegoating, etc., there is the specific question of whether that particular 6 year old understood that a spanking was related to his behavior. Children with Autism do not understand the unwritten social contract that neuro-typical or typically developing children do. Children with Autism often learn that violent behaviors including kicking, biting, hitting and throwing furniture get them what they want. Hey!! Let's reinforce those really productive behaviors by making it a school policy to hit children that do things we don't like! Then let's spank them some more when they do those behaviors! Sounds like a recipe for a really violent community.

I work in a facility with "challenging behavior" in it's name. In my state, a professional would be investigated for spanking a child, and would probably earn a place on the state's child abuse reporting system. I have come to believe what research has shown: punishment doesn't work! It may make a behavior go underground, but it doesn't eliminate the behavior.

When I began teaching 35 years ago, corporal punishment was permitted. I took a long term subbing position and found it wasn't the spanking I did, but the token economy I put in place that made a difference for that tough group of 6th graders. I remember the art and music teachers coming to me to find out what had happened: they had hated seeing that 6th grade class at the beginning of the year, but found they had become pleasant and more cooperative and manageable.

The flip side of the spanking question is: what does it mean for the teacher, who spanks? I have to honestly say spanking was a great release for my anger and my sense of powerlessness. But in the end I felt like a bully. Does spanking turn the teacher or administrator into a bully? I think so. How about you?

What do you think? Is spanking an appropriate intervention for problem behavior? Does it actually work?


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