Thursday, November 12, 2009

Corporal Punishment (Paddling) in Schools: Economic, Liable, Practical, Ethical or Constitutional?

[3 second illustration:]

Corporal punishment in schools: economic, legal, practical, ethical or constitutional?

Economic: internet discussions on corporal punishment are replete with parents relating how they intended to move to a particular locale only to learn the school systems physically punished children there and switched to safer area.

In the now famous TV episode an otherwise progressive principal delivers gasp producing paddle blows to not especially disobedient kids; somewhere on line last summer I read an elementary school handbook (cannot to track it down now – changed under public attention?) that required younger children to carry demerit on their person and prescribed they would be paddled for even one lateness, as if they had gone over the limit, if they lost their card; a former Booneville, Mississippi special education teacher is now suing in federal court for not having her contract renewed over refusal to beat autistic children.

What educated, progressive parent (the kind every community works hard to attract) would move their children to a locality with such systematically callous school punishments? * And the more corporal punishment dies out the more objectionable it can seem to progressive parents wherever it is left.

[late note: ...all of which could affect teacher's salaries...]
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Legally liable: according to a Booneville school handbook that I also read on line a student will be advised in person that the next infraction may result in corporal punishment -- if they are about reach their quota. Arkansas state law (6-18-503) prescribes that schools must follow published rules for corporal punishment including, and I quote "
follow warnings that the misbehavior will not be tolerated."

As I see it statutes allowing corporal punishment are a an exception to normal prohibitions against assault with a weapon -- making any step outside the published rules a step into criminal assault culpability – in easy reach of law suits, even if not likely to see prosecution.

The boy in the TV episode made all his tardy infractions in one day (had a silly day escorting a girl too far to her class before trying to make it on time to his own class). There is no way he could have been warned before the last infraction because the administration could not have known in time.

The class president girl may not have been warned personally before her last tardy -- she was normal faced weekday detention for her next offense. She ended up with Saturday school with the half-day off corporal punishment option because she got sick at the end of the school day. Nobody might have expected she would need a warning – just speculation on both; but both illustrate easy legal slip up potential. ***

Beating younger kids for a lone infraction because they do not have their infraction card in their possession could plausibly be seen by a court as beating a child for no real infraction (normal expectation should be a number of lost cards a school year); even parents may not legally hit for nothing) – you never know how courts will see things until you get to court.
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Practical: concealed psychological trauma. Cops and psychiatrists can tell you there are a lot more damaged individuals around than psychologically naive school teachers and administrators might ever guess – cops because they deal with such folks and the problems they cause all day long. I don’t know how much shrinks really know about what goes on in patients’ heads or what to do about it but they see nothing but such problems all day long.

Paranoids (potential serious alcohol abusers and heroin addicts) fail to perform tasks because in their super-self conscious state they do everything to satisfy others – never for their own satisfaction; robbing them of the satisfaction of accomplishment. Substances liberate them from we “heavy supervisors" so they can normal gratifications (the real addiction). To use hold'em poker nomenclature: a kid who perpetually fails to do homework or show up on time may reasonably be put on a paranoid hand. Last thing in the world you want to give such is violent beatings.

Kids who don’t care about themselves because they perceive (about half the time incorrectly) that nobody adult cares about them is the classic description of a juvenile delinquent (talking robbery and burglary) -- more out of their own control than anything else. Boys are in the emotionally dependent stage until 18 1/2 and are very prone to this level of what I call hysterical alienation (dependence switch off seems to come over about a weeks time in my observation); girls mature a year or year and half earlier. More wrong candidates for adult beatings.

Girls who think take paddling as sexual abuse (maybe even with female paddlers and witnesses) are another no-no category (striped much more invasive stripped?). Kids who formerly lived where corporal punishment was out of the question often take it (subjectively) as the most violent of personal insults (parents too!) – even some kids who aren’t new to it (striped more outrageous than stripped? -- how many hate teachers all their grown lives for “over quick” punishments?"). **** In poker terms we are building up a lot of inside straight and three-flush draws; not one thousandth of one percent stuff -- and I do not even have professional training to make up a comprehensive list; just reporting what I have seen in my personal 65 years.

And we haven’t even gotten to teachers with bad motives. One out of 14 Catholic priests has been accused of molesting children (incurable molesting does not come from the strain of celibacy – it is better to marry than to molest – these guys brought their problems to the seminary with them). How many teachers have some interest in seeing their own or opposite sex children bend over? How many are just plain mean (“many are called but few are chosen” applies everywhere) – or just neurotic – or something else this nonprofessional cannot conjure up (or all of the above)? More gut shot draws adding up.

First to no harm: given all the potential serious harm of school beatings -- if they are optional to the student, therefore admittedly not needed by the school – there is no excuse to continue the practice. Even students who are never struck complain of “living their school years in fear”: yet another developmental risk.
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The same principal who smashes away on kids for being late (not usually an animal) might feel unable to beat an adult the same way for breaking into school, breaking into lockers and spray painting cars in the parking lot all at the same time. Something goes missing when we are not beating social equals or something (we are talking dumb social instinct here).

If the principal's boss paddled him for the above mentioned crimes the principal would not hate him. If the principal's boss paddled him for being late the principal would hate him -- a violent assault over efficiency, mere office management.

Let principals contemplate these contradictions (and why some kids hate them forever).

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Constitutional -- equal protection:
To justify use of what is ordinarily considered a violent felony beating to discipline students, several students would have to be acting up so disruptively -- in many classes; not just one -- that the school could no longer perform its function: a legitimate self-defense argument.

If just one student is acting up in just one classroom, that class may be protected -- may be able to continue performing its function -- by removing the student either by suspension or expulsion.  Whether beating is better for the student than suspension or expulsion is not the proper equal protection concern -- would at least be a completely different equal protection question than self-defense in the face of an immediate threat.

It should be obvious that beating kids for being late for school or not doing homework, etc. should be a complete equal protection non-starter.

Courts these days are mostly sacrificing individual rights in fear of harming bureaucratic interests.  Whether beating or suspending is better for the student (talking about one-student disruption) is not likely to be a motivating concern for them.  In any case how can legislatures -- in the light of equal protection concern -- legitimate violently beating one class of people for their own good?

There are two compelling motives that I know for exempting children at home from equal protection – neither of which has the slightest bearing on school administration:
First: keeping crackpot government rules and employees out of the familial sanctuary. Schools usually are the government – at least they are not the home.

Second – very esoteric psychological: children who get out of control of parents think nobody cares about them, don’t care about themselves (very strange, very true and very devastating) and become easy prey to every street temptation (talking robbery and burglary!). Boys remain fully in the emotionally dependent stage all the way until 18 1/2 (switches off over a week in my observation). Better for them to be beaten at home than to get totally out of (their own) control and end up behind bars – better for everyone else too. Teachers cannot have a supportive relationship with 25 or 500 kids.

Fundamental right to equal protection against unbearably painful beatings = compelling interest needed to override this right. Roe v. Wade established this balancing precedent – the compelling interest test -- for the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment. *

PS. If special education students receive corporal punishment disproportionately, as is widely reported -- even though most all administrations would probably want to go easier on them -- that just proves their misbehavior is related to their developmental difficulties and therefore they should never be be beaten for it.


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