Teachers, Stop Spanking Your Students!

Black Lives Matter, but Black Bodies Get Beaten

I attended a Catholic pre-school; the teachers and the director were nuns. It was the 1980s, meaning that certain attitudes were very much normalized, like corporal punishment, albeit mildly.

One of our collective pastimes in pre-school was flickering the boys’ bathroom light. The light was located outside the bathroom, so there was a chance that you’d get in trouble for being seen near the light, let alone actually flickering it. But we did it anyway and had fun. Of course, on the occasion that I actually got the courage to flicker the light, I got caught and was promptly smacked on the hand with a ruler, followed by a hug.

As soon as my grandmother came to pick me up, I told her what happened. I never flickered those lights again. But, I can tell you, the school ceased from hitting children with rulers.

UNICEF defines corporal punishment as “any punishment in which physical force is used and intended to cause some degree of pain or discomfort, however light.” The Civil Rights Data Collection defines it as “paddling, spanking, or other forms of physical punishment imposed on a child.”

It typically involves hitting (“smacking”, “slapping”, “spanking”) children, with the hand or with an implement. Thankfully, I don’t live in a state where corporal punishment is allowed. However, 19 states allow corporal punishments in public school.

Corporal punishment is “outlawed” in prisons.

In 2016, then U.S. Secretary of Education Dr. John B. King Jr. called for an end to the practice of beating students. Plenty of states and districts ignored it.

Interesting of note is that 11 of these states were members of the enslaved holding Confederacy. More jarring than that, 55% of all Black students reside in the 19 states where corporal punishment is allowed. Although Black students only make up 19% of students in these states, they make up 38% of all students who have received corporal punishment.

Black girls disproportionately receive corporal punishment when compared to white girls, in addition to suspensions and arrests at school.

In Ingraham v. Wright, the Supreme Court ruled that corporal punishment in schools doesn’t violate a student’s eighth amendment or fourteenth amendment rights. Proponents of corporal punishment in school argue that a paddle or spanking is an immediate consequence that will deter students from misbehavior while at the same time, reducing student detentions and suspensions.

Perhaps fear of being assaulted is a deterrent for some children. However, it is more likely the deterrent is viewed as more suited for Black children. It is our Black children who are paying the price disproportionately; particularly in Mississippi, Georgia and Louisiana, where Black children not only receive corporal punishment disproportionately, but they’ve received more than white students.

The other elephant in the room is that the majority of teachers in the United States are white (8 out of every 10 teachers), meaning that more than likely white people are the educators physically harming Black children in the name of “discipline.”

The American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Medical Association strongly oppose the practice of corporal punishment.

Donald E. Greydanus, a pediatrician who has studied and written on corporal punishment for decades, testified to Congress that physical discipline makes the school environment “unproductive, nullifying, and punitive,” and teaches children that “violence is acceptable, especially against the weak, the defenseless, and the subordinate.”

I should note, there are examples of Black people who support corporal punishment in schools. It is possible that such support extends from the belief in corporal punishment at home.

A refrain often referenced by Black people is that of 17th century poet Samuel Butler who said, “Spare the rod and spoil the child.” Many believe think this is a verse from the Bible, however it is not. Proverbs 13:24, doesn’t say that. Consider the role of the rod in biblical literature; it is used by shepherds to protect and correct the flock. It wasn’t a tool beat the misbehavior out of sheep.

I’ve also heard Black people say it’s better to receive corporal punishment, specifically from a parent, to prevent a Black child from having the heavy hands of a white society put on them when they’re an adult. But as Dr. Stacy Patton, author of Spare the Child and a professor at Morgan State University, call that line of thinking trauma imposed upon them by a white supremacist society, passed down generationally from enslavement.

Dr. Patton shared in her New York Times opinion piece, that before Europeans enslaved millions of Africans in the Americas, there is no evidence that ritualistic physical punishment of children existed in West African cultures, where children were viewed as sacred, purer than adults, and sometimes even as reincarnated ancestors or deities.

Doug Baldwin and Demario Davis, two NFL players who also serve on the Players Commission Board wrote an opinion piece in the Hill last year.

According to the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection, more than 106,000 children received corporal punishment during the 2013-14 school year, and black students and students with disabilities are disproportionately affected by these practices. These are students who too often experience but don’t deserve the consequences of implicit bias and discrimination.

For students of color and students with disabilities — who are already dealing with unfair discipline practices that we know exist (excessive and unjust suspensions and expulsions, for example) — we’re also subjecting them to the harmful effects of corporal punishment.

Whether or not Black people should impart corporal punishment on their children is another discussion and a discussion worth having. However, what shouldn’t be up for discussion is corporal punishment in schools where Black children or any children are concerned.  Under no circumstance should any school official put their hands on any child.

More specifically, where Black children are concerned, considering the racist ideas had about Black children, in no way should teachers or administrators, the majority of whom are white, use physical violence against Black children as a means of discipline.

That goes for school resource officers, who don’t belong in schools, as well.

A 2014 study published by the American Psychological Association found that black boys as young as 10  more likely to be mistaken as older and be perceived as guilty and face police violence if accused of a crime. There is even published research indicating that white people are more likely to attribute supernatural or magical powers to Black people, even to the extent that they believe Black people feel less pain.

The statistics are such that the likelihood of there being white teachers, and even non-Black teachers, existing who both believe that nonsense and execute corporal punishment against Black children. If Black lives matter as many folks are now saying, forbidding corporal punishment, particularly in the former confederate states where many Black students attend school, would be a priority.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be.

What are we to make of that? That Black lives only matter when under control and when Black children are considered “out of control”, regardless of research around developmentally appropriate childhood misbehavior, some educators are keen to beat them?

Corporal punishment isn’t a strategy that puts Black children on the straight and narrow. It’s actually an excuse and a mindset to physically harm Black children.

Black lives matter may be in chic, but physically harming Black people is a fad that has yet to go out of style.

What do you think?

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Rann Miller

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