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School CP - March 1988

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The Houston Post, Texas, 10 March 1988

Should we keep paddling students?

Yes: For some, nothing else works

By Doug Harlan

John Skelton, writing in 1525, put an old English proverb into rhyme: There is nothynge that more dyspleaseth God,
Than from theyr children to spare the rod.

Skelton's couplet and the English proverb it memorialized derive from the Bible - Proverbs XIII:24, which says, "He that spareth his rod hateth his son."

"Sparing the rod" from children has become an issue of public policy, one that demands our attention. Recently, San Antonio's Alamo Heights School District adopted a policy which goes beyond "sparing the rod." Corporal punishment was barred.

Dr. Charles Slater, Alamo Heights superintendent, downplays the significance of the policy.

"It merely reflects what our practice has been for several years," he said. "Our discipline techniques, which do not entail spankings, are more than adequate, and our abolition of corporal punishment is a statement about our respect for students."

Slater outlined the basic elements of the discipline policy. It works something like this: First, a student is reprimanded. Second, some of his privileges are taken away. Third, he is made to do something he doesn't want to do. And, as needed, he is counseled.

Keeping a student on campus during lunch hour is a "privilege" which can be denied him. Placing him on detention or keeping him after school are things he is made to do that he doesn't want to do. Counseling options include a "behavioral contract" in which the student agrees to improve his behavior.

Slater and the Alamo Heights trustees are satisfied their discipline policy works well without the need for corporal punishment. Formally abolishing it, though not necessary in an operational sense, is the philosophical topping to their "enlightened" policy.

There are practical reasons why a school board might abolish the use of corporal punishment, reasons which have nothing whatever to do with the high- minded philosophical objectives of the Alamo Heights school board: lawsuits and uncooperative parents. The litigiousness of modern society has made many school officials wary of discipline in general and corporal punishment in particular.

The San Antonio School District uses corporal punishment "as a last resort." In order to protect itself in the event of a lawsuit, the district requires a witness to be present when corporal punishment is used, a practice followed by virtually every school district which uses corporal punishment. Other districts fall in between, following parents' wishes.

The Alamo Heights policy barring corporal punishment puts it in a small minority of school districts around the country. I know most of the district's trustees personally and recognize that they are good people acting with the best of motivations. They honestly believe that school discipline can be maintained without the use of corporal punishment.

Most of the time, they are right. But not all the time. Their policy is based on the premise that corporal punishment is an unnecessary and inappropriate form of student discipline. I disagree. Barring it takes an important tool away from school administrators and, in some cases, does harm to a student.

Proverbs like "spare the rod and spoil the child" are often born of the innate wisdom of a society, reflecting certain fundamental realities that have been true throughout history. Discipline is essential to maturity, and spankings are sometimes an essential element of discipline. There is no inherent conflict between respecting a child and corporal punishment, as Slater believes. Indeed, corporal punishment may be necessary at times to show respect.

Some schools have misapplied corporal punishment, of that there is no doubt. But there is equally no doubt that any discipline policy can be misapplied, including the one adopted by the Alamo Heights.

The world will not fall apart because Alamo Heights banned corporal punishment. But that action is another little chip in the structures of society which, when operating properly, produce mature and fulfilled individuals -- good parents, good citizens.

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