Legislation to ban corporal punishment in most public and private schools was introduced in Congress Tuesday.
Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY) introduced the "Ending Corporal Punishment in Schools Act," which would impose the ban on all public and private schools with students that receive federal services.
Though there is no evidence that corporal punishment has any beneficial effect on students, and much evidence that it harms kids, 20 states still allow it.
School districts generally have their own rules for administering corporal punishment, or, in layman's terms, whacking a kid. Sometimes the rules specify the number of times a kid can be hit, and usually they identify which part of the body can be struck (usually the buttocks but sometimes the hands, too). You can see some of the rules in a recent post here.
A congressional committee recently heard testimony about the subject and here are some of the facts members learned:
*School officials, including teachers, administered corporal punishment to 223,190 school children across the nation during the 2006-07 school year (according to conservative government estimates, the latest year for which national statistics were available).
*As a result of that punishment, 10,000 to 20,000 students requested medical treatment.
*Students are typically hit on their buttocks with a wooden paddle, approximately 15 inches long, between two- and four-inches wide, and one-half inch thick, with a six-inch handle at one end.
*Most students are paddled for minor infractions, violating a dress code, being late for school, talking in class or in the hallway, or being "disrespectful."
*Almost 40 percent of all the cases of corporal punishment occur in districts in Texas (though not Houston) and Mississippi. Those states, along with Arkansas, Alabama and Georgia, account for almost three-quarters of all the children receiving corporal punishment.
In Mississippi alone, there were 57,953 cases of corporal punishment in 110 of the state's 152 school districts during the 2008-09 school year, according to the state Department of Education. That was a drop from the 58,343 cases reported a year earlier, but more than the 47,727 cases reported in 2006-07.
The Temple school district in Texas had banned corporal punishment, but recently revived the practice. My colleague Michael Birnbaum wrote it in April.
Meanwhile, the Memphis School Board is considering introducing the practice in what one board commissioner described as "war zone" schools. The resolution was introduced at a board meeting this week, and the panel has agreed to discuss it next month.
*Current studies indicate that physical punishment is more common in kindergarten through eighth grade (versus high school), in rural schools (versus urban), in boys (versus girls), and in disadvantaged as well as non-white children (versus middle-class and upper-class whites).
*African American students comprise 17 percent of all public school students in the United States but are 36 percent of those who are victims of corporal punishment, more than twice the rate of white students.
It will be interesting to see who steps up in Congress to defend this kind of violence in the schools. Let's watch.
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