Thursday, March 12, 2009

Some thoughts on corporal punishment in schools -- working on a comprehensive anti position

For a more comprehensive treatment click on: Corporal Punishment in Schools: Economic, Liable, Practical, Ethical, Constitutional?

If corporal punishment is "optional" as it is in many institutions, then, by definition there must be no COMPELLING need -- overriding equal protection rights (if not humane policy). If there is no compelling need in one constitution there is no compelling need in others.

Optional above was in quotes because (outside) circumstances can coerce a student into taking a beating they never would otherwise agree to. In a Tru video a girl reportedly asks for a break because she is sick and cannot do detention Friday afternoon and cannot do it Saturday or she will miss her Junior (I believe) prom -- and opts to take a beating she may never have been willing to otherwise. A boy needs to go to work and so takes a beating instead of Saturday detention.

Her reported "offense": being caught with a cigarette pack -- his: being barely late for class for the sixth time; on a large campus he took a little too long because he dallied to talk to a girl (notify Congress!). I read somewhere that she became class president the next year -- that doesn't sound like an infant terrible.

Don't believe that a beating does less damage than a suspension. Ten years from now, a three day suspension will not have any effect on your life. Spending four years in an institution in which you may be beaten for what amounts to "office management" purposes may plausibly permanently affect your outlook on life for the worse. Paddling supporters love to cite how it did permanently affect them -- usually amounting to adopting a more obsequious attitude towards authority; which can be read as being less confident and assertive about their place in the adult world, which is not where we want our precious children to go these days.


Under my notion of constitutional equal protection, before legislatures are free to exempt school discipline from conventional assault prohibitions -- to allow corporal punishment -- they ought, first, to be able to identify a compelling state interest in deterring certain misbehaviors and, second, attest to an absence of workable alternatives -- the institutional equivalent of rules of engagement.

Practical example: if Oliver were leading a charge of kids on the lunch counter day after day and no other punishment restrained him -- the institutional equivalent of self-defense.

How much offense can be caused the great commonweal – as opposed to the likes and dislikes of deans of discipline -- if, for a practical example, occasionally disorganized students arrive a few minutes late for class every couple of weeks (20 times a year! -- as I did in high school; not in my shorter stay in college)? Many colleges do even not require students to show up for classes, so long as they master course materiel. Employers of the New York City of my youth would have been happy if employees only showed up a couple of minutes late for work only every couple of weeks given the state of rush hour commuting there.

The excuse most offered for exempting schools from normal assault prosecutions – in carrying out the equivalent of everyday office management – is that school teachers act “in loco parentis”, in place of parents. And everyone knows that parents may – as long as state law does not proscribe it – legally paddle children for even minor infractions.

However, so called “parental sovereignty” itself is less a natural verity and more a legal device to insulating sacrosanct family life from potentially crackpot state interference (parents may not legally strike children for no reason)...
…which compelling family privacy interest has absolutely zero application to school administration and in no way should exempt schools from conventional criminal prohibitions. Acting “in loco parentis” may constitutionally require student obedience; it does not confer any “parental sacrament” to disobey criminal law.

Whatever about instinctive human nature teaches us – sensibly -- to treat minor children as subordinates – may less sensibly – magnify their transgressions in our (bureaucratic?) eyes, especially repeated transgressions and -- even less sensibly -- put us on the (bureaucratic?) path to discipline for its own sake: the war on the student!

Legislatures should not feel free to suspend constitutional equal protection -- against assault with an instrument designed to deliver to slaves maximum pain but with minimum injury (same physics still delivers; same biology receives) -- in carrying out our sometimes too thoughtlessly applied genetic code of child deference.


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