Corporal punishment in schools harms children and damages their education. The practice almost always causes immediate pain, and can result in lasting physical injury. It humiliates and degrades students, and may leave them depressed or withdrawn. Corporal punishment teaches students that violence is acceptable: it can make students aggressive, angry, and more likely to lash out against their peers or educators, and it can teach them that domestic violence is permissible. Furthermore, as a result of being physically punished, students can become less engaged in school, less motivated to succeed, and may become more likely to drop out.
Many victims of corporal punishment in schools sustain serious injuries, as noted by the Society for Adolescent Medicine, including severe muscle injury, extensive bruising, and whiplash damage.213 A girl in Mississippi was paddled in sixth grade: [The coach] hit me so hard I felt nauseous at my stomach. I was mad because I remember I came home to take a shower, and I was like, Im going to look and see if I have bruises. And I looked in the mirror and I had bruises all over, and I said, Mama, come look.214 Her mother took her immediately to the local hospitals emergency department for medical care,215 and also reported the incident to the sheriffs office.216 The same girl was paddled in twelfth grade: [The principal] reared back and paddled me you could see where the paddle hit and it was really red . That was first period and I had bruises by third period.217 Once again, her mother took her to receive medical care,218 and filed a sheriffs report.219
A middle school student in rural Mississippi was severely bruised when his beatings escalated. He was sent to the office for paddling, and [w]hen I came back, [the teacher] said I was laughing so she sent me back and I got three more licks . The principal was like, youre in here again already? He said, Do you realize that every time you come in here Im going to hit you harder and harder?220 When his mother met him after school, she noticed he was in pain. She found his buttocks were black from bruising.221 It took more than a week for the bruises to heal, and during this period he couldnt sit down.222
One very young student in Texas, a three-year-old boy attending a public pre-kindergarten program, was beaten and bruised during paddling. The program was run at the local elementary school and governed by the school district policy on discipline.223 The boy, who has diagnosed Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), was paddled for taking off his shoes and for playing with an air conditioner. He became reluctant to go to school: his mother reported that all he would say is that she [the principal] hit him with a board.224 The child sustained bruises to his hips that reached around to his belly button.225 While this case may seem exceptional, it is a direct byproduct of the climate created in school districts by the regular use of corporal punishment.
Some students sustain injuries to other body parts. An 18-year-old San Antonio, Texas, girl sued her school district when she was hit on her buttocks and her hand. Her hand was injured when she tried to block one of the blows. She went to the emergency room with a severely swollen hand that was put into a cast.226 An injury to a hand is not unique to this case; many students use their hands or arms to protect themselves. Among our interviewees, a Mississippi high school junior reported that she reached back when the principal was swinging and was hit on her arm,227 and a Mississippi middle school boy reported that when the principal was about to paddle him, the boy put his hand back and the principal hit his thumb with the paddle.228
In one case the student paddled was visibly pregnant, as a Mississippi teacher described:
Nearly all students we spoke with had vivid memories of the immediate physical pain caused by corporal punishment. A recent graduate in Texas recalled of her sixth-grade paddling: [I]t hurt. Oh yes. It stings, and I remember it brought tears to my eyes.230 A former teacher in Mississippi reported that [y]ou could hear it wooshing through the air and hitting an object. Some kids would say No, No, NO, and then Owww!231 A fifth-grade girl remembered being beaten when she was in kindergarten: they hit me on my bottom. It feeled like it burned and burned it hurt.232
Students describe the paddling as stinging or burning. They report that the effect can last for hours, and upon return to class, it is painful to sit. A female recent graduate remembered, It hurt very much. There were definitely red markings and then swelling. I remember it being red on my buttocks. Almost welt-like markings. It didnt last for more than a couple days. It was painful to sit down immediately after.233 One 19-year-old girl described why it was difficult to sit: You know how when you bite your lip it swells up a little bit? Well, thats how my butt felt.234
The risk of serious physical injury makes corporal punishment impossible to regulate, or administer in appropriate amounts. A former teacher in Texas argued, Theres always a risk of a teacher hitting too hard. How can you control how hard a kid is hit?235 A superintendent of a major Mississippi school district noted corporal punishment is not worth the risk. If you paddle a child, you cant pull their pants down and make sure theres not a bruise there. You have to wonder and worry that if I administer corporal punishment, will I leave a mark and bruise?236 Some students may receive more serious physical injuries from the same levels of paddling, perhaps because they bruise more easily, or because they have an underlying medical condition of which the school was not aware.A former president of the Dallas School Board emphasized that this was one reason for that districts decision to prohibit corporal punishment: Its hard to know if someone is being too forceful, or if theres a physical condition that theyre unaware of.237
Some school districts have policies dictating that a child cannot be hit in anger, but these policies are virtually impossible to enforce. For instance, the Pontotoc County School District (Mississippi) states that all corporal punishment shall be reasonable and moderate and not administered maliciously or for the purpose of revenge.238 Gentry High School in the Indianola School District (Mississippi) asserts that action may not be motivated by malice or anger.239 It is next to impossible to assess the paddlers state of mind at the time of paddling, since an educator can be angry or motivated by revenge, thus hitting with extra force, without revealing these emotions to others.240 None of the regulations related to the state of mind of the paddler or the degree of paddling that we have seen can be enforced in a way that would eliminate the risk of serious injury.
Corporal punishment is humiliating and degrading, may make students angry and ready to lash out at their peers or at educators, and may make them less inclined to engage in learning. The American Academy of Pediatrics, in taking a position against corporal punishment, observes that corporal punishment may adversely affect a students self-image and school achievement and that it may contribute to disruptive and violent behavior.241
Research suggests that children who are physically punished at home or at school may become less likely than other children to internalize moral values, and may become depressed or aggressive.242 A 2005 UNESCO study notes that [c]orporal punishment has been found to be consistently related to poor mental health; including depression, unhappiness, anxiety, and feelings of hopelessness in children and youth.243
There have been fewer studies on the effects of corporal punishment in schools, as opposed to in the home. Nonetheless, studies suggest that school corporal punishment legitimates violence.244 According to the Society for Adolescent Medicine, victims of corporal punishment may endure psychological harm, including: difficulty sleeping, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, increased anger, feelings of resentment, outbursts of aggression, deteriorating peer relationships, and a tendency for school avoidance and school drop out.245
Students interviewed by Human Rights Watch spoke of the psychological degradation caused by the punishment. Sean D., an 18-year-old boy, reported that in his school district in the Mississippi Delta, you could get a paddling for almost anything. I hated it. It was used as a way to degrade, embarrass students. Sean received paddlings himself in middle school: After [location withheld] Middle School, I said Id never take another paddling. Its humiliating, its degrading. Some teachers like to paddle students . Paddling causes you to lose respect for a person, stop listening to them.246 Dr. Ollye B. Shirley, a former member of the school board in Jackson, Mississippi, asked, What kind of classroom can you have once youve stopped the learning to beat somebody? I just thought kids shouldnt be treated that way. They needed to be treated with dignity.247 A current school board member in another district agreed, Think about the mental capacity that this kind of treatment leaves our children with. We are telling them we dont respect them. They leave that principals office and they think, they dont consider me as a human being.248
Research suggests that corporal punishment is linked to increased rates of bullying and aggression in school in the months and years following the punishment.249 Some studies suggest that children who are physically punished may be inclined to engage in aggressive conduct toward their siblings, parents, teachers, and schoolmates.250 There are no definitive studies separating the effects of corporal punishment in the home and in schools on the aggressiveness of the child, but researchers believe corporal punishment in the schools has deleterious effects.251
Dr. Shirley, the former member of the school board in Jackson, Mississippi, a district that has abolished corporal punishment, noted:
Both students and teachers we interviewed saw links between corporal punishment and bullying or peer aggression. One middle school boy said, The other kids were watching and laughing. It made me want to fight them . When you get a paddling and you see everyone laugh at you, it makes you mad and you want to do something about it.253 A nine-year-old girl observed, If they lay hands on me, I'll lay hands back.254 Students rarely think they did anything wrong, commented one teacher. Couple that with physical [punishment], that will elicit anger [from the student]. I have seen students acting out their aggression for receiving corporal punishment.255 A former high school teacher in Mississippi agreed that as a result, they [students] are violent with each other.256
Corporal punishment erodes students trust in their teachers and their schools. In the United Nations Secretary-Generals worldwide Study on Violence against Children, physical punishment in schools is noted as one factor that contributes to absenteeism, dropping out, and lack of motivation for academic achievement.257 According to Dr. Daniel F. Whiteside, assistant surgeon general to President Ronald Reagan, corporal punishment of children actually interferes with the process of learning and with their optimal development as socially responsible adults.258
Corporal punishment can lead to students feeling disrespectful and angry toward their educators. A middle school boy stated that corporal punishment made him feel violent toward the staff: I wanted to fight [the principal] just for doing it to me. And the teacher who sent me to the office.259 One teacher said, As soon as they were paddled, they got sent back to the classroom, and the kid would be angry and say Oh you just got me paddled. And it was like, Well, that certainly didnt solve anything. [I would imagine sarcastically saying to the principal,] Thank you, I really want that child back right now. So I thought it was terrible.260
An eleventh-grade boy whose friend was paddled told us that [h]e won't say anything else to the teacher, even a friendly conversation. Hes mad at the teacher now.261 Corporal punishment doesnt create respect for teachers, said one recent graduate in Texas. I wasnt going to let her put her hands on me.262
Corporal punishment can leave students disengaged in school, less likely to succeed, and more likely to drop out. A Save the Children survey of children in South Asia found that regular beatings resulted in a loss of interest in studies and a drop in academic performance.263 A statistical study of public education in Alabama found a correlation linking corporal punishment in schools to drop-out rates.264
Corporal punishment teaches both boys and girls that violence is acceptable when used against a weaker person. Psychologists argue there is a connection between corporal punishment and accepting or perpetrating domestic violence later in life.265 A Mississippi teacher and mother asked, What are we teaching our young women when a school principal can swat a young woman on the behind? Were saying that its okay for a man to beat a woman. I just dont get that at all. Its a little too close to something that we dont want in our familiesmen beating on women.266
Parents of both girls and boys were concerned about the messages their children received in school. A Texas mother explained her reasons for opting out of corporal punishment for her now 19-year-old daughter: I tell the principal one of the reasons that Im not going to let you hit my daughter is that I dont want you conditioning her to accept abuse later. I mean domestic violence.267 A Mississippi father was concerned about his son, after the father went to school and observed a 12-year-old girl being beaten by a male teacher: I didnt want my own son to see, to know it was okay to hit little girls.268
Nevertheless, some parents and students support corporal punishment because they see it as an expression of concern for the child, through which the paddler is acting like family. A Mississippi teacher said, Some teachers may just hit the kids . There is an understanding that the teachers are almost like a part of the kids family. They know the kids family, and they give swats almost as a parent would.269 The Society for Adolescent Medicine takes the position that this is particularly risky behavior: Children who are spanked or subjected to other corporal punishment means in the home may arrive at school already programmed to be aggressive; corporal punishment in the schools only perpetuates this cycle of violence.270 The notion that teachers are like family does not change the fact that corporal punishment remains destructive and degrading, and that children should be taught to counteract, not perpetuate, the violence that surrounds them.
213 Corporal Punishment in Schools: Position Paper of the Society for Adolescent Medicine, Journal of Adolescent Health, p. 389 (Medical complications may prevent students from returning to school for days, weeks, or even longer. Reported medical findings include abrasions, severe muscle injury, extensive hematomas, whiplash damage, life-threatening fat hemorrhage, and others.).
214 Human Rights Watch interview with Brittany Y., who recently left high school, rural Mississippi, December 11, 2007.
215 Human Rights Watch interview with Janet Y., rural Mississippi, December 11, 2007; Emergency Department Physician Report, February 12, 2001, on file with Human Rights Watch (noting symmetrical bruises and welts on the buttocks, each 2 inches wide and 2 ¼ inches long).
216 Human Rights Watch interview with Janet Y., rural Mississippi, December 11, 2007 (the mother did not keep a record of the sheriffs report at the time).
217 Human Rights Watch interview with Brittany Y., who recently left high school, rural Mississippi, December 11, 2007.
218 Chart Document, The Womens Group of [name of location withheld], March 22, 2007, on file with Human Rights Watch (noting, Large area of bruising on both hips consistent with paddle trauma. Tender to touch.).
219 [Name of location withheld] County Sheriff Department, Statements from Mother and Daughter, March 20, 2007, on file with Human Rights Watch.
220 Human Rights Watch interview with Robert H., seventh-grade boy, rural east Mississippi, December 11, 2007.
221 Human Rights Watch interview with Rhonda H., rural east Mississippi, December 11, 2007.
223 Early Childhood Center, Student-Parent Handbook, 2007-2008 [name of location withheld], on file with Human Rights Watch (referring to the [name withheld] School District Student Code of Conduct, on file with Human Rights Watch).
224 Human Rights Watch interview with an attorney in private practice representing Rose T. (mother of the three-year-old boy), rural Texas, February 26, 2008.
226 18-year-old student sues over paddling, Associated Press, January 31, 2005.
227 Human Rights Watch interview with LaShell M., Mississippi Delta, December 4, 2007.
228 Human Rights Watch interview with Jake G., north Mississippi, December 14, 2007 (interviewed in the presence of his guardian).
229 Human Rights Watch interview with Tiffany Bartlett (real name used with consent), Austin, Texas, February 22, 2008.
230 Human Rights Watch interview with Chelsea S., recent high school graduate, Houston, Texas, February 18, 2008 (referring to events in the Midland Independent School District).
231 Human Rights Watch interview with Lisa P., a former teacher in the Mississippi Delta, Austin, Texas, February 22, 2008.
232 Human Rights Watch interview with Tamika C., rural Mississippi, December 10, 2007.
233 Human Rights Watch interview with Allison Guthrie (real name used with consent), Houston, Texas, February 18, 2008 (referring to events in a Dallas suburb).
234 Human Rights Watch interview with Brittany Y., who recently left high school, rural Mississippi, December 11, 2007.
235 Human Rights Watch interview with Jimmy Dunne (real name used with consent), Houston, Texas, February 19, 2008.
236 Human Rights Watch interview with a superintendent of a mid-sized urban district in the Mississippi Delta, December 12, 2007.
237 Human Rights Watch interview with Ken Zornes, former Dallas school board president, Austin, Texas, February 22, 2008.
238 Pontotoc County School District, Teacher Handbook, http://www.pcsd.k12.ms.us/Resources/Teacherhb.pdf (accessed July 18, 2008).
239 Gentry High School, Indianola School District, Procedures, on file with Human Rights Watch, p. 43.
240 Irwin A. Hyman and Donna C. Perone, The Other Side of School Violence: Educator Policies and Practices that May Contribute to Student Misbehavior, Journal of School Psychology, vol. 36, no. 1 (1998), p. 18 (discussing how aggression and victimization of students by teachers can lead to student misbehavior, aggression, and alienation).
241 American Academy of Pediatrics, Committee on School Health, Corporal Punishment in Schools, Pediatrics, vol. 106, no. 2 (August 2000), http://aappolicy.aappublications.org/cgi/content/full/pediatrics%3b106/2/343 (accessed August 8, 2008), p. 343.
242 Pinheiro, World Report on Violence against Children, p.129-130 (discussing studies from many different countries on the social impact of corporal punishment and other forms of violence against children in schools).
243 United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, Eliminating Corporal Punishment The Way Forward to Constructive Child Discipline (UNESCO, 2005), Executive Summary, p. 2 (discussing corporal punishment both at home and in schools).
244 Stephen S. Owen, The Relationship Between Social Capital and Corporal Punishment in Schools: A Theoretical Inquiry, Youth and Society, vol. 37, no. 1 (2005), p. 88; Hyman and Perone, The Other Side of School Violence, Journal of School Psychology, p. 18 (arguing that while there is not yet a definitive body of work proving a connection between school paddling and school violence, based on social learning and modeling theory one would expect increasing aggression as a function of the frequency, intensity, and duration of the paddlings).
245 Corporal Punishment in Schools: Position Paper of the Society for Adolescent Medicine, Journal of Adolescent Health, p. 388.
246 Human Rights Watch interview with Sean D., Oxford, Mississippi, December 14, 2007.
247 Human Rights Watch interview with Ollye B. Shirley (real name used with consent), Jackson, Mississippi, December 5, 2007.
248 Human Rights Watch interview with Doreen W., Mississippi Delta, December 4, 2007.
249 Corporal Punishment in Schools: Position Paper of the Society for Adolescent Medicine, Journal of Adolescent Health, p. 388 (punished children become more rebellious and are more likely to demonstrate vindictive behavior); Pinheiro, World Report on Violence against Children, p.132 (reviewing North American studies that have found a direct correlation between abusive behavior from educators and the prevalence of violence or bullying among children).
250 Pinheiro, World Report on Violence against Children, p. 130 (noting that children who are physically punished may be less inclined to resist temptation, to empathize with others, or to exercise moral judgment, and more inclined to engage in disorderly conduct against their peers).
251 Hyman and Perone, The Other Side of School Violence, Journal of School Psychology, p. 19 (stating that almost all violent delinquents have a history of corporal punishment, often at home, in school, and not infrequently, in correctional institutions[,] and noting that many school psychologists will attest to the anger, rage, and desire for revenge that corporal punishment of any type instills in recipients, especially those who have a history of abuse at home.).
252 Human Rights Watch interview with Ollye B. Shirley (real name used with consent), Jackson, Mississippi, December 5, 2007.
253 Human Rights Watch interview with Matthew S., middle school student in the Mississippi Delta, December 12, 2007.
254 Human Rights Watch interview with Corinne J., rural Mississippi, December 10, 2007.
255 Human Rights Watch interview with Brad G., middle school teacher in Marks, Mississippi, December 12, 2007.
256 Human Rights Watch interview with Elizabeth Savage (real name used with consent), former teacher in the Mississippi Delta, New Orleans, Louisiana, December 9, 2007.
257 Pinheiro, World Report on Violence against Children, p. 130 (In the Regional Consultations for this study, physical and psychological punishment were repeatedly reported as reasons for absenteeism, dropping-out, and lack of motivation for academic achievement.).
258 End Physical Punishment of Children (EPOCH), Newsletter, vol. 1, issue 11 (Fall 2007), http://www.stophitting.com/disathome/newsletter/EPOCH_Newsletter_2007v1Iss11.pdf (accessed August 8, 2008). Whiteside continues, We feel it is important for public health workers, teachers, and others concerned for the emotional and physical health of children and youth to support the adoption of alternative methods for the achievement of self-control and responsible behavior in children and adolescents.
259 Human Rights Watch interview with Matthew S., Mississippi Delta, December 12, 2007.
260 Human Rights Watch interview with Tiffany Bartlett (real name used with consent), Austin, Texas, February 22, 2008 (referring to events at a rural junior high school in the Mississippi Delta).
261 Human Rights Watch interview with Wade M., high school student, Mississippi Delta, December 12, 2007.
262 Human Rights Watch interview with Haley K., recent high school graduate, Beaumont, Texas, February 20, 2008.
263 International Save the Children Alliance, Ending Physical and Humiliating Punishment of Children Making it Happen, Submission to the United Nations Secretary-Generals Study on Violence against Children, Stockholm, Sweden, 2005.
264 Sandra de Hotman, Dissertation: A Comparison of School Systems in Alabama Using Corporal Punishment and Not Using Corporal Punishment on Selected Demographic Variables, unpublished document on file with Human Rights Watch (1997) (finding a statistically significant correlation between districts that use corporal punishment and districts with higher drop-out rates).
265 Elizabeth Thompson Gershoff, Corporal Punishment by Parents and Associated Child Behaviors and Experiences: A Meta-Analytic and Theoretical Review, Psychological Bulletin, vol. 128, no.4 (2002), p. 541 (summarizing academic studies suggesting a link between corporal punishment and domestic violence, and finding that if corporal punishment is associated with a general aggressive tendency in adulthood, this aggression also may manifest in relationships with family members, particularly with a child or spouse.). For additional commentary, including arguments on the other side of this point, see: Diana Baumrind, Robert E. Lazerlere, and Philip A. Cowan, Ordinary Physical Punishment: Is it Harmful? Comment on Gershoff, Psychological Bulletin, vol. 128, no. 4 (2002), http://www.apa.org/journals/releases/bul1284580.pdf (accessed August 8, 2008) (stressing that Gershoffs review may be skewed by overreliance on severe violence, and that it does not prove a causal relationship between corporal punishment and domestic violence, only a correlation between the two); Corporal Punishment in Schools: Position Paper of the Society for Adolescent Medicine, Journal of Adolescent Health, p. 389 (reviewing Gershoffs analysis and stating that the best evidence indicates that children and adolescents subjected to corporal punishment are also more likely to utilize violence in their own families in the future).
266 Human Rights Watch interview with Sharrie L., Indianola, Mississippi, December 4, 2007 (referring to events in a nearby school district).
267 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Libby Dunagan (real name used with consent), Paris, Texas, March 5, 2008.
268 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Johnny McPhail (real name used with consent), parent, Oxford, Mississippi, November 14, 2007.
269 Human Rights Watch interview with Sharrie L., Mississippi, December 4, 2007.
270Corporal Punishment in Schools: Position Paper of the Society for Adolescent Medicine, Journal of Adolescent Health, p. 388.