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Domestic CP - January 1999

Boston Globe, Massachusetts, 22 January 1999

Oakland council mulls spanking ban

Foes say discipline is parents' business

By Lynda Gorov, Globe Staff

OAKLAND - First, no littering. Then, no smoking. Next on the agenda: no spanking.

On Tuesday, the City Council is slated to take up the age-old debate over how to raise children right. Under consideration: a resolution to make Oakland the nation's first official No Spanking Zone. If passed, stop signs with just that message will be hung in libraries and other public buildings around town.

Supporters of the no-spanking movement said the red signs might make parents think twice about swatting their toddlers' behinds, or worse. The nation's child and adolescent psychiatrists endorse the idea. So do many children's advocates. Even without the threat of jail time or even fines, they said the campaign could have moral sway with mom and dad.

"We don't want the spanking police to go into homes and arrest people," said Dr. Irwin Hyman, a psychologist who runs the National Center for the Study of Corporal Punishment and Alternatives at Philadelphia's Temple University. "We want people to know it's not a good idea to hit kids. And when the government takes a stand against it, it helps them realize they're not supposed to do it."

Opponents of the purely symbolic resolution counter that local government has no business telling parents how to discipline their children, and that laws already exist to protect youngsters from child abuse. They also worry that the definition of spanking is too vague, since it can be interpreted to include everything from a tap on the hand to a beating with a belt.

"Hitting is one issue; spanking is another," said Oakland City Council president Ignacio De La Fuente, who later noted that both his mother and grandmother spanked him as a boy. "A little spank on the rear is, in my opinion, not something that will damage the child. ... Telling people how to raise their families shouldn't be under the purview of local government. To be honest with you, this issue is a waste of our time."

Supporters and opponents of the measure do agree on one point: It will probably be voted down. The city that conducted a short-lived experiment with Ebonics - which would have taught students in black dialect - fears additional ridicule. As council aide Joseph Devries put it: "People worry they'll get criticized and be made fun of."

Even Jordan Riak, executive director of a California group called Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education and the man who got the council to consider the resolution - put the odds of passage at slim to nil. The idea of banning spanking is too new to parents to be widely accepted yet, he said, likening the movement to early efforts to outlaw smoking in offices.

"All this would be is something like a no littering sign, where people feel that they're good citizens when they abide by this request," Riak said. "We're not saying you can't do it. We're saying it's wrong to do it."

The number one reason not to spank, according to the No Spanking Zone poster, is that it teaches children that hitting is OK and violence succeeds. Advocates stressed that spanking can also lead to more severe beatings, however unintentional, if parents lose control.

"If you spank your kid, it does not mean your kid will end up in jail," said Dr. Richard Goldwasser, president of the Northern California chapter of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. "But the underlying message that aggression is OK lowers the threshhold for him to be aggressive with others or to be a victim later on."

Hyman, author of "The Case Against Spanking," said six countries, including Sweden, Norway, and Finland, have abolished the punishment. Germany is considering it. In the United States, few even know that various antispanking organizations are pushing a national "spank out" day on April 30.

Resistance to their antispanking efforts is based on tradition and religious ideolgy, advocates said. Adults who were spanked as children are more likely to spank their children. Certain interpretations of the Bible also allow for corporal punishment, and Hyman said studies show that spanking is a more common in southern states than in northern ones.

"People have really interesting reactions to the resolution," said Devries, a new father who handles public safety issues for councilman Nathan Miley, sponsor of the resolution. "It invokes guilt in some people because they spanked their kids or because they were spanked and they don't want to talk about the possibility of being messed up because of it."

Random conversations with Oakland residents seemed to bear out Devries's theory. Many people had not heard of the proposal, and more than a few of them laughed at it. Others said they abhor the idea of spanking. But most added that whatever a parent's personal views on child rearing, city government should have no say in it.

"I grew up with spankings. Their basic rule was never hit in the face, only on the behind or legs," said Jueleah Spencer, director of an Oakland preschool and the mother of two. "My children have been popped on the butt, yes, but I would never degrade them. ... I don't think government has any business getting involved unless a parent becomes abusive."

Added Rudy Hoffmann, a retired architect, "Of course you shouldn't be able to spank. It's not good parenting. On the other hand, the government shouldn't interfere so much in people's personal affairs. If we start with this, it could open up the way for prosecuting a parent because of a spanking."

As pessimistic as they are about the possibility of passage in Oakland, Riak and other no-spanking advocates plan to push similar resolutions in other cities around the country. At the same time, they said, parents must be taught alternatives to spanking and that their children can learn the necessary lessons without ever being spanked.

"There's a growing trend among civilized nations to give children the same rights as adults are accorded, and one of those rights is not to be assaulted physically," said Hyman. "It'll never pass in Oakland, but it's a very good service. The more we talk about it, the more people will discover that you really don't have to spank your children."

Copyright 1999 Globe Newspaper Company.

San Francisco Chronicle, California, 22 January 1999

Oakland Could Be Butt of More Jokes

By Phillip Matier and Andrew Ross

There were a host of issues on Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown's agenda when he ran for mayor, but spanking wasn't one of them.

But thanks to the tricky nature of East Bay politics, it's an issue that's threatening to hit Jerry smack dab in the . . . behind.

That's because a resolution is headed for the City Council next week to make Oakland the nation's first city to declare itself a "no spanking zone."

The resolution is the brainchild of Jordan Riak, who runs a nonprofit devoted to keeping violence out of schools.

Riak, who lives in suburban Danville, wants Oakland to put up signs proclaiming the city a "No Spanking Zone" -- with language in fine print that reads: "Spanking teaches children two dangerous lessons: that hitting people is OK, and that violence works."

Great sentiment, but you can almost hear the jokes on Leno and Letterman.

("First we had Ebonics -- now we have spankonics.")

Brown, who is trying to stay focused on crime, education and housing, does not want to be dragged into the path of an oncoming paddle.

Which may explain why he has quickly suggested that Riak first give the spank zone a try in Danville before bringing it to Oakland.

As for an official comment, Brown said: "Child-rearing practices are the prerogative of the family. Other than to vigorously enforce the laws against child abuse, government has no business passing resolutions favoring some discipline practices over others."

And if you do, we might spank you.

Los Angeles Times, California, 24 January 1999

No Spanking Zone Sought in Oakland

Activist wants council to pass resolution against corporal punishment anywhere in the city

Measure would be symbolic, but mayor and others oppose it

By Edward Wong, Special to the Times

OAKLAND -- Tired of hearing about punitive paddlings and bruised behinds, a retired college teacher is planning to urge the City Council this week to declare Oakland the nation's first "no-spanking zone."

On Tuesday, Jordan Riak, 65, is scheduled to bring his proposed resolution before the council's public safety committee. The measure carries no legal sanctions or other punishment for adults who spank children, but it is intended as a symbolic gesture to raise public awareness.

If approved by the full council, it would allow Riak to post anti-spanking posters in public buildings and spaces.

"I've never liked bullies," said Riak, who taught photography in New Jersey and Australia before moving to California 15 years ago. "And I don't think a child should live in fear, whether it's bullies on the street, bullies at school or bullies among their parents. Fear is disruptive, and spanking is particularly disruptive."

Riak, a resident of nearby Contra Costa County, said he brought the issue to Oakland because he wanted to set an example in a major American city. The traditionally liberal Oakland, which in 1996 toyed with the idea of using an African American vernacular called "Ebonics" as a teaching aid in public schools, is no stranger to controversial issues.

But reaction from council members has been mixed, even dismissive. Local politicians are already debating whether government has a right to dictate how parents discipline their children.

Although California is one of 23 states that ban corporal punishment in public schools, no U.S. state or city government has ever issued sanctions against such practices in the home. For precedents, one has to look to Europe, where six countries, beginning with Sweden in 1979, have banned spanking.

Views Vary Widely

Supporters of Riak argue that spanking is tantamount to child abuse, while critics see the proposed resolution as another instance of government encroachment into the private sphere.

"Child-rearing practices are the fundamental prerogative of the family," Oakland Mayor Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown Jr. said in a statement. "Other than to vigorously enforce laws against child abuse, governmental entities have no business passing resolutions restricting some disciplinary practices over others." The mayor could veto the measure, and a two-thirds council vote would be required to overturn that.

Some on the City Council are openly opposed to the resolution. Among them is council President Ignacio De La Fuente, who said he has thanked those adults who spanked him while he was growing up. Others have treated the proposal as a joke.

But Councilman Nate Miley, chairman of the public safety committee, said he would like to see Riak's resolution passed. If the committee approves the proposal Tuesday, the full City Council would probably vote on it two weeks later.

"I support it but need to ascertain from testimony and documentation what exactly constitutes spanking," Miley said. "Is it just a tap on the butt, or is it more than that?"

A definition of spanking remains elusive even among experts. But most clinical psychologists and social workers contend that such acts often reinforce violent behavior among both parents and children. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry has endorsed Riak's proposal.

Still, Riak and other supporters say they have often met with bruising hostility from parents.

Irwin Hyman, a psychology professor at Temple University and author of "The Case Against Spanking," said Riak's resolution is unlikely to pass because much of the American public believes in spanking despite what he describes as its detriments.

"There are no real positive benefits to spanking, except it does temporarily stop behavior," Hyman said. "It's got a lot of long-term negative consequences. It's often associated with depression, low self-esteem and conduct problems."

Riak, a New Jersey native and father of three grown children, said he was never spanked as a child. He calls the anti-spanking battle part of a 25-year quest to end corporal punishment in the home and the classroom.

He said he first became aware of the issue when he taught college in Sydney, Australia, for 10 years. There he and supporters started a campaign to end corporal punishment in schools after his sons told him about what he called "Dickensian practices," such as teachers whacking students' open palms with canes.

In 1985, after moving to California, Riak helped then-Assemblyman Sam Farr (D-Carmel), now a congressman, draft a bill to abolish corporal punishment in the state's public schools. The bill was voted into law in 1987.

Riak's ultimate goal is to turn the United States into a spanking- free nation. He already has several supporters across the country, including a group in Columbus, Ohio, that staged the first annual Spank Out Day U.S.A. last April 1. The event was intended to urge parents across the country to quit spanking.

Riak has also been in touch with David and Blythe Daniel, husband-and-wife psychologists who teach at Los Angeles City College. The Daniels said they plan to campaign for a similar resolution by the Los Angeles City Council.

"Spanking communicates to everyone that children have no rights, that they don't get the respect that other human beings get, and it's horrible," David Daniel said.

Copyright, The Times Mirror Company; Los Angeles Times, 1999

Oakland Tribune, California, 24 January 1999


No-spanking zone is a dumb idea

By Peggy Stinnett

A nice fellow from Danville wants Oakland to be the first city in the nation to declare itself a "No Spanking Zone."

Lots of people are asking, why Oakland? Some are even asking, why not Danville?

Could it be that child welfare activist Jordan Riak, who is proposing the idea, wants to put us on the map? I guess he doesn't know we're already the center of the universe.

To be fair, Riak seems to be a well-meaning person who is unclear on the concept of Oakland, a city of self-determination. If Oakland wanted to pass a silly proclamation declaring the city a no spanking zone, it would do so. We've done sillier things than that many times.

Riak said he wanted to discourage parents from "hitting their children." He told Reuters news service: "At the moment people are whipping and beating and hurting their children with nobody telling them what they are doing is wrong and dangerous."

Hey, Mr. Riak, that's not spanking, that's child abuse. And we're not only telling people it's wrong, we're arresting them and putting them in jails. In fact, this newspaper reported extensively just last week the starkly horrendous problem of child abuse.

Whipping, beating and hurting someone, especially a little child, is vastly different than spanking. There are tough laws that deal with that kind of violence. As we reported, there is parental violence against kids in Oakland, but probably there's no more than other places where parents are under extreme stress.

Most adults I know were spanked a few times, some of them many times, and still grew up to be nonviolent, well-adjusted folks. I've even heard of young people who approve of spanking as a means of discipline. Remember I'm talking about spanking, not beating and abusing.

Riak isn't talking about spanking, it's violence he really wants to ban in Oakland. Nothing wrong with that. But we are doing what we can to stop the violence. More should be done but I doubt if another sign on the street is going to do any good.

Why not post a "No Violence Zone" sign? That would do as little as the "No Drug Zone" signs we now have, but at least it would address the real issue.

Riak is a one-man, nonprofit organization he calls Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education. So if its schools he's concerned about he should research California school law. The state Education Code, a bundle of statutes that govern California school districts, forbid any form of corporal punishment in schools. That includes even gentle spanking, slaps and other disciplinary touching of students. Ask any teacher.

A draft resolution that goes before the Oakland City Council on Tuesday, says "spanking teaches children that violence is an acceptable way to resolve differences."

Every parent knows spanking is not used to resolve differences, it's used to punish bad behavior, and to vent parental anger about what their child has done. Even good parents feel angry enough to spank sometimes.

Resolving differences between an adult's judgment and a 3-year-old can test anyone's patience. Most parents understand that, and stay well within the bounds of, shall we say, a quick slap on the butt.

NOT too much later, loving hugs and kisses make everything right again between parent and child. I think more than anything else, that defines the relationship between a child and parent.

Somehow I don't think we need government telling Oakland parents where the line is between spanking and beating kids. There are many excellent books at the public library and book stores on how to raise children and discipline them effectively, without resorting to, or giving into, spanking. And counseling is available for parents who feel they need it.

It's difficult to take this proposal for a no spanking zone seriously. If this organization wants to make a difference, it should drop its campaign for a no spanking zone.

It sounds like a public relations scheme on child abuse gone cutesy. And child abuse is never cute.

Peggy Stinnett is editorial page editor of The Oakland Tribune.

Sacramento Bee, California, 26 January 1999

Oakland council to hear plea for ban on spanking

By Janie Har
Bee Correspondent

Convinced there's no such thing as a harmless whack on the behind, a children's rights advocate today will argue before City Council members why Oakland should declare itself the country's first "no spanking zone."

"There are these destructive myths that we can smack kids and make them good by hitting them," said Jordan Riak, executive director of Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education.

The Contra Costa County resident took up this particular battle after his colleague, an Oakland woman, wrote a letter asking the City Council to consider the proposal. Today Riak appears before the council's public safety committee in a bid to rid society of this age-old punishment as a disciplinary measure.

The symbolic ban would have no force of law, but the retired photography teacher believes it will encourage bystanders to speak up when disciplinary actions border on the abusive.

"When the city has declared this behavior undesirable, people will feel empowered to spread that message to others," said Riak, who in 1985 drafted a bill that led to a ban on corporal punishment in California public schools two years later. "People who hit their children will get the message that this is not OK behavior."

The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry endorses the proposal, contending that the smallest smudge of corporal punishment teaches children that violence is acceptable.

"If your no-spanking resolution is adopted, not only will your city enjoy the benefits, but other cities may follow your example," wrote Richard Goldwasser, president of the academy's Northern California chapter in a letter to Councilman Nathan Miley, who heads the public safety committee.

And indeed, a Houston man inspired by Riak's proposal addressed his City Council on Wednesday about considering their own spanking boycott.

Oakland parents and officials are by turns amused, dismissive and outraged over the proposed ban. But then, controversy is nothing new to this traditionally progressive city, which once considered using an African American vernacular called Ebonics as a teaching aid in its public schools.

"He's definitely taking it seriously," aide Joe DeVries said of Miley's attitude toward the spanking ban. "We wouldn't schedule it unless it was a serious issue."

But other city officials are chilly to the idea, refusing to label a swat to the bottom as anything more than a swat to the bottom.

"Sometimes when children don't listen, I think a little slap on the behind sends a message of what is right and what is wrong," said City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente, who opposes the resolution. He said that as a tot he was spanked by "my mother, my aunts and my grandmother" and he turned out "OK."

These officials point out that any paddling that crosses into child abuse is covered under existing laws. The city needs to spend its limited resources on more pressing concerns such as reducing crime and boosting jobs, said Gilda Gonzalez of the city manager's office.

And Mayor Jerry Brown issued a brief but firm statement on the state's role in family matters.

"Child rearing practices are the fundamental prerogative of the family," said Brown. "Other than to vigorously enforce laws against child abuse, governmental entities have no business passing resolutions favoring some disciplinary practices over others."

But Riak remains unbruised in the face of what he admits is inevitable defeat, grateful for the publicity his campaign has generated so far. And he's convinced that in 10 to 20 years, Americans will be appalled they ever applauded the merits of a spanking.

"I'm certain we won't be having this debate any more than we're debating now whether women should have a vote," he said.

Los Angeles Times, California, 27 January 1999

Oakland Panel Rejects No-Spanking Proposal

Several speakers make personal pleas for the largely symbolic measure

Full City Council will consider the idea in two weeks

By Edward Wong, Special to the Times

OAKLAND--After a debate that raised childhood memories, a City Council committee voted Tuesday to reject a proposal that would make Oakland the nation's first "no-spanking zone."

The 2-1 vote by the Public Safety Committee reduced the likelihood that the full City Council would approve the idea pushed by retired college photography teacher Jordan Riak.

Riak's proposal would carry no legal sanctions or punishment for adults who spank children. But the largely symbolic measure would allow Riak to post anti-spanking signs in public buildings and spaces.

"I expected the strong likelihood that they would make the decision they did, so I'm not surprised," Riak, 65, said after the vote. He pledged to push his idea again when the full council takes up the issue in two weeks.

On Tuesday, only committee Chairman Nate Miley seemed deeply interested in the proposal, holding up a Bible at one point and contending that an end to spanking would reduce overall violence. "It goes to the core of having a civilized, civil society," he said.

Committee member Larry Reid at first treated the matter as something of a joke. "All right, who spanked the child?" he said with a smile. Later, Reid said he has spanked his own son out of love, not malice. "I did get spanked when I was a child," he added, "and I appreciate the spanking that my grandparents gave me."

Nearly all the 11 speakers from the public urged passage of Riak's measure. Some barely held back tears as they recounted personal instances of childhood trauma.

Oakland resident Thordie Ashley, who strongly backed Riak's campaign, said she had been permanently scarred by early spankings. "It has buried my soul, and I will die with that hate and fear of people beating and spanking their children," she told the panel.

No U.S. state or city government has ever issued sanctions against corporal punishment in the home, although California is one of 23 states that outlaw the practice in public schools. Six European countries, beginning with Sweden in 1979, have banned all spanking.

Riak hopes that spanking will take a bruising nationwide.

"I think this issue is too important to be sugarcoated or to wait for convenient, politically correct times to introduce it," he said. "I think hitting a child is like a building that's on fire with people waiting on the top floor. You act now to save them."

Riak, a father of three grown children, said he was never spanked and never spanked his own youngsters.

In 1985, after moving to California, Riak helped then-Assemblyman Sam Farr draft a bill to abolish corporal punishment in the state's public schools. The bill was voted into law in 1987.

Copyright, The Times Mirror Company; Los Angeles Times, 1999

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