Shockley Lee, Ed.D.
that defend the rights of the child, Jesus model of valuing
and embracing children, and female ethics of care and compassion
offer hope of transformed schools where principals and teachers
protect and nurture childrens lives and dreams.
is a form of discipline in which an adult deliberately inflicts
pain on children to correct misbehavior (Paintal, 1999). Since the
colonial period, corporal punishment has been accepted and practiced
in American schools. Although use has steadily declined since the
1970s, the Center for Effective Discipline (2000) estimates that
public school officials administer corporal punishment to more than
two thousand American schoolchildren every day. This paper examines
one principal's use of corporal punishment. The analysis unmasks
four forces that legitimate corporal punishment: tradition, law,
religion, and hegemonic masculinity. The conclusion identifies alternatives
for just and humane treatment of schoolchildren.
Collection, and Ethical Considerations
Data were collected
during a two-year ethnographic study of an elementary school principal.
The writer was participant-observer in this study which was conducted
using established methods and principles of anthropological fieldwork.
Ethical commitments required replacing proper names with pseudonyms
in published reports. (see Lee, 2000, and Lee & van den Berg,
in press, for a discussion of methodological and ethical considerations
in this study.) The scope of the study was broad; only the issue
of corporal punishment is discussed here.
the School and the District
students suggested, resembled former President Ronald Reagan. For
31 years, this aging Caucasian educator of rural, southern, religious
upbringing served the Riverside School District. As principal, he
established a reputation as a "white knight" who rescued
troubled schools. Mr. Haines was reassigned to Washington School
where I planned to study his efforts to improve the school.
District was located in an economically and racially layered suburb
near a major midwestern city. The district included 14 elementary
schools, three middle, and three high schools with a total enrollment
of over 11,000 students. The school district was divided geographically
and racially by a small river known by insiders as the "Mason-Dixon
Line." District enrollment was 44% African American and 56%
Caucasian. South of the Mason-Dixon Line, Principal Haines' domain,
schools served predominantly African American poor and working-class
was a P-6 elementary building with approximately 450 students and
30 staff members. African-American students comprised more than
77% of enrollment, the highest percentage of any Riverside school.
More than 63% of students qualified for free or reduced lunch, again
the highest percentage in the district. Washington was beleaguered
by low student achievement, poor discipline, and weak teacher morale.
Principal Haines explained:
to Roosevelt, they called it the armpit o' the district.
But Washington, it's worse. If ya take the left armpit 'n the right
armpit 'n move 'em ta the center of the back an' slide 'em down,
that's Washington. (Field notes)
The following vignette
offers an account of one afternoon at Washington School. The subsequent
analysis unmasks forces that legitimate corporal punishment in schools.
Arm of the Law"
sat down at his desk, pulled out the bottom drawer to serve as a
footstool and leaned back in his chair. "Ya know, Sharon, I
used ta be a pastor. Well, in a way, I still am. God's given these
people to me. I'm responsible for 'em. These kids and teachers are
my congregation. This school is my church."
A small African
American boy burst into his office. "Mr. Haines, a girl up
on a ladder in our room. Miss Yates can't git her to come down."
Principal Haines stood, grabbed his paddle known as "the strong
arm of the law, slid it into the right sleeve of his jacket,
and headed out the door.
Miss Yates waited
at her classroom door. Her third graders sat motionless, staring
at the girl screaming on the third rung of the stepladder.
"Who is she?"
Mr. Haines asked.
of Mrs. Farley's [special education students]," Miss Yates
The principal strode
confidently across the room, pulled the girl from the ladder and
carried her to the hall. Putting her down, without a word, he shook
his right arm. The paddle slipped into his hand, and he gave her
five quick, hard swats. Mr. Haines led her through the long hallway
and up the stairs to the special education classroom. He opened
the classroom door and pushed the child inside.
As he walked toward
the office, Joan Smith called out to him, "Mr. Haines! I have
a couple of boys I want you to meet."
Mrs. Smith and
two African American boys came to the office. "Mr. Haines?
She handed him two completed discipline forms. "You already
know Andre." She pointed at a chair, and Andre sat. "This
is Orlando. He just came to Washington yesterday."
"Come on in,
Orlando." The boy entered his office, and Mr. Haines closed
the door. In less than three minutes, the door opened. As Orlando
left, the principal concluded in a mock African American vernacular,
"I don't know how yo' behaved at yo' other school, but yo'
not gonna act like that here! Ya hear? Andre! Come in."
Mr. Haines and
the boy stood facing each other. The principal spoke with quiet
intensity. The boy did not respond. They glared at each other in
silence. Finally, Mr. Haines stood and reached for his paddle. He
tapped it twice on the surface of his desk. Andre obeyed the unspoken
cue. The boy leaned over and placed his hands where the paddle had
touched the desk. Mr. Haines took a long, deep breath and struck
five sharp swats.
The principal placed
his hand on the boy's shoulder, spinning him around. Andre turned,
his eyes downcast. Mr. Haines stuck the paddle under the boy's chin
and lifted his face until their eyes met. The man towered over the
The Principal and
significance of corporal punishment would be relatively easy if
these were isolated incidences, but sanctioned violence against
children is routine in many American schools. Official reports indicated
that during Principal Haines' two years at Washington School, Haines
paddled 80 students a total of 218 times. During the same two-year
period, the 13 other elementary principals reported a total of 150
paddlings. Mr. Haines reported using corporal punishment more frequently
than all the other Riverside principals combined. Significantly,
the two schools headed by female principals reported no incidents
of corporal punishment. Of the students Mr. Haines paddled, 86%
were African American; 14% were Caucasian; 88% were male; 12% were
during the study indicated that Principal Haines underreported corporal
punishment. Instances of students paddled several times in the course
of a single day were reported as one only. He maintained no records
regarding punishment of students with disabilities.
an experienced and respected assistant principal, worked closely
with Mr. Haines, but a male teacher, not the assistant principal,
paddled when the principal was absent. Ms. Mitchell refused to use
corporal punishment, instead practicing, and advocating more humane
expressed confidence in Principal Haines' use of corporal punishment.
Firm discipline, they claimed, was his greatest strength as an administrator:
never any indecisiveness
. It makes me very secure knowing
gonna be supported in the office. Im going
to get backing
. [Paddling] works. It really does. [Students]
know theyre not getting away with anything
. You feel
like you have control of your classroom, and he has control of the
. Its very secure knowing hes at the helm.
In an interview,
Superintendent Samuel Tate explained Principal Haines' use of corporal
sees great value in corporal punishment
. That's southern
There are strong traditions
and discipline is a big thing
in the south
. There was an absolute preoccupation with discipline,
and kids were supposed to be afraid when the principal came around.
And if that principal didn't come around with a little crop, WHAP!
They weren't doin' their job. (Tape transcription)
Violence is the
use of physical force to cause pain (Jackman, 2001). Corporal punishment,
then, may be defined as violence that causes pain to control victims
behavior. Hall (in press) explains that violence is sanctioned by
a specific social order as a means of social control.
use of corporal punishment in schools. The practice has been well
documented in the history of Western civilization (deMause, 1974;
Scott, 1938; Welsh, 1978). American norms of corporal punishment
originated in the New England colonies where strict discipline was
intended to break children's wills and assure obedience. Corporal
punishment was necessary and useful
an act of love"
(Spring, 1997, p. 36). The New England Primer (1805), a textbook
with multiple editions widely used from 1690 to 1900, reflected
the legitimated violence of early American schools: F The
Idle Fool Is Whipt at School (p. 13).
Ravitch (1974) documented severe discipline in New York City schools
continuing through the 19th and into the 20th century. The U.S.
Department of Education
Office of Civil Rights (1999) reported that corporal punishment
persisted in American schools throughout the 20th century although
frequency began to decline in the 1970s. In 1976, for example, states
submitted reports to the Office of Civil Rights indicating that
more than 1.5 million children were paddled at school. In 1998,
just over 365 thousand incidences were reported. Hyman, Zelikoff,
and Clarke (1988) warned of underreporting and estimated that actual
numbers might be twice those reported. This study of Principal Haines
provides evidence to support their hypothesis.
The U.S. Department
of Education Office of Civil Rights (1999) and Shaw and Braden (1990)
reported that corporal punishment was applied in a discriminatory
manner: victims were usually male, poor, ethnic or language minorities,
or students with disabilities. Again, results of this study were
consistent with those findings.
Law and Corporal
Since the colonial
period, common law held that educators could use reasonable force
against students to maintain order. At that time, corporal punishment
in schools was embedded in a larger context of state-sanctioned
violence: masters whipped slaves and indentured servants; husbands
beat wives; guards caned prisoners; officers flogged soldiers and
sailors; mental asylums beat and caged the mentally ill; parents
spanked children; and educators paddled students. Today, only the
last two, violence against children, are legal in the U.S.
corporal punishment has been approved in 27 states, primarily in
the north and east (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2000). Similar
legislation proposed in other states was opposed by the Bush Administration.
(see Table 1). President Bush supported
a 2001 proposal in Congress to protect educators from liability
when corporal punishment was used (Sealey, 2001).
The U.S. Supreme
Court upheld use of corporal punishment in schools in Ingraham v.
Wright (1977). In essence, the Court found that the Eighth Amendment's
Cruel and Unusual Treatment Clause provided protection for criminals
but not schoolchildren. The Court deferred decisions about student
discipline to local school authorities, a pattern perpetuated by
lower federal and state courts (Imbrogno, 2002). In general, U.S.
courts emphasize the rights of school officials to maintain control
rather than the rights of the child (Roy, 2001).
Respect for the
rights of children is growing worldwide. Every industrialized nation
in the world, except the U.S., has abolished corporal punishment
in schools. Adopted in 1989 by the United Nations General Assembly,
191 nations have ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Only the U.S. and Somalia have failed to approve the convention
which calls for a worldwide ban on corporal punishment (Imbrogno,
Religion and Corporal
that Protestant Fundamentalists are more likely than members of
other religious groups to use corporal punishment (Grasmick, Bursik,
& Kimpel, 1991; Grasmick, Morgan, & Kennedy, 1992; Oosterhuis,1993;
Wiehe, 1990). The admonition, "Spare the rod and spoil the
child," commonly quoted as scripture, is actually from a poem
by Samuel Butler, a 17th century English writer. The biblical verse
most similar to this is Proverbs 13:24, "He who spares the
rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline
him." The Hebrew word translated "rod" in this verse
is the same word used in Psalms 23:4, "thy rod and thy staff
they comfort me." The shepherd's rod, Popcak and Popcak (2000)
explain, was used to guide, not beat, the sheep. They maintain that
the rod of comfort would not be used to hurt children.
The words discipline
and punish are not synonymous. The Latin root of the word discipline
is discipuli meaning "student" or "disciple."
Discipline therefore implies a teacher-student or Rabbi-disciple
relationship. The purpose is literally to teach childen about loving,
respectful relationships. The term punishment is derived
from the Greek poine and its Latin derivative poena meaning revenge,
the roots of the words pain, penalty, penitentiary, and penance.
Punishment involves inflicting pain as revenge. The relationship
is punisher-victim; the goal is compliance and control.
a continuing source of controversy and division among religious
groups, offers contrasting interpretations of biblical events and
themes. Some writers (Brock, 1988; Brown & Parker, 1989; Heyward,
1999; Hopkins, 1995; Williams, 1993) contend that the Bible not
only allows corporal punishment, but actually encourages child abuse.
To illustrate, they cite the patriarch Abraham's willingness to
sacrifice his son and Jesus' crucifixion which, they contend, portrays
God as a "divine child abuser." Greven (1992) warns that
the religious and authoritarian nature of corporal punishment leads
children to believe that they are evil and accept violence as natural
and normal. Browning, Bunge, and Wall (2001) condemn Christianity's
"poisonous pedagogy" that emphasizes original sin, adult
ownership of children, the need for absolute obedience, and physical
punishment to break their wills.
Popcak and Popcak
(2000) and Grasmick, Bursik, and Kimpel (1991) argue against corporal
punishment citing the New Testament's gentle, loving portrait of
the adult-child relationship. In Jesus story of the prodigal
son, for example, the father responded with forgiveness to his sons
disobedience. Jesus blessed and embraced children and encouraged
adults to be more child-like. From this perspective, Jesus was non-violent,
challenging the brutality of the existing social order, defending
the poor, healing the sick, and raising the status of Samaritans,
slaves, women, and children. Deacon (2000) maintains that:
is essentially a history of love -- divine love, reaching out to
ever broadening circles of humanity as one category of prejudice
and exclusion after another is overcome by love, the cohesive force
that draws all God's creation together into one whole. Jesus preached
and practiced an inclusive, universal Gospel that set aside cheap
moralisms in favor of love. (p.292)
masculinity" (Blackmore & Kenway, 1993) also legitimates
corporal punishment. Schools, as gendered organizations, structure
unequal power relationships between females and males. Teaching
is considered a feminine activity, an extension of the nurturing
and child-rearing function of women in the home and family. Educational
administration has been constituted as a masculinist enterprise
(Blackmore & Kenway, 1993). Leadership functions, including
paddling, are associated with masculine authority, control, violence,
and virility (Eisenstein,1993).
James Gilligan (2001) argues that men often view "violence
as proof of masculinity." Zoologist Desmond Morris (1967) raised
the dark image of corporal punishment as a sado-masochistic ritual:
of the female sexual rump-presentation posture as an appeasement
. is largely confined now to a form of schoolboy punishment,
with rhythmic whipping replacing the pelvic thrusts of the dominant
were performing an ancient primate
form of ritual copulation with their pupils. They could just as
well inflict pain on their victims without forcing them to adopt
the bent-over submissive posture. (It is significant that schoolgirls
are rarely, if ever, beaten this way -- the sexual origins of the
act would then become obvious.) (pp. 167-178) [parens in original]
According to psychologist
Carol Gilligan (1982), masculinist conceptions of justice are based
on an ethic of rights. From this perspective, men may
feel they have the right to paddle children. Tradition, common law,
the U.S. Supreme Court, and state and district policies sanction
this "administrative assault" (Diamond, 1997) on children.
Women tend to choose
non-violent, humane approaches to help children develop self discipline.
Feminist understandings of justice emanate from an ethic of
care and responsibility for others (Gilligan, 1982; Lyons,
1983; Noddings, 1984). Feminine ethics emphasize relationships,
interdependence, empathy, and compassion.
(1982) cited two biblical passages to explain masculine and feminine
conceptions of justice. Significantly, her exemplars also reveal
how males and females tend to regard children. When God directed
him to sacrifice his son, Abraham obeyed without question. Clearly,
the patriarch valued obedience more than the life of his child.
Centuries later, two women appeared before King Solomon, both claiming
to be the mother of the same infant. Solomon ordered the boy cut
in two to give each woman half. To save the life of her child, the
true mother lied, saying the boy belonged to the other woman. Obviously,
she valued the life of her child more than her rights, more than
Not as spectacular
or newsworthy as guns or knives in schools, American society does
not count corporal punishment as real violence
(Stein, 2001). Bandman (1977) argues, however, that children have
rights to dignity, respect, self-respect and the "right to
one's body" (p. 176). Justice, he contends, requires that children
have the right to "a decent and fulfilling life
in care and resources to the most advantaged members of society"
(p.178). Because children cannot claim their rights, Bandman maintains
that adults are ethically and morally obligated to act on their
better to live in a world with
obnoxious students than to
live in a world of quiet, docile, and obedient students whom one
drugs or beats into submission like donkeys. To have rights
is to be free of a master-slave, authoritarian relation. (p.170)
This paper has
argued that sanctioned violence in schools dehumanizes both child
and adult, abused and abuser. Paddling threatens the safety of schools
and assaults the dignity of the human spirit.
protecting adult rights, certain religious beliefs, and masculine
views of justice legitimate adult violence on American schoolchildren.
Laws that defend the rights of the child, Jesus model of valuing
and embracing children, and female ethics of care and compassion
offer hope of transformed schools where principals and teachers
protect and nurture childrens lives and dreams.
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Dr. Sharon Shockley Lee is an Associate Professor in the
Department of Educational Leadership at Southern Illinois University,