I love Georgia. I was born here. I attended school here for 17 years (Go Dawgs!), and I’ve taught here for 14. But it seems like every time my beloved home state makes the news, it’s for some backwoods nonsense that rivals headlines from The Onion.
The latest is a charter school sending home letters asking parents to opt in for corporal punishment. Kids who misbehave would either be paddled or suspended for five days. Honestly, I was a little surprised that this made the news. Paddling students is not that uncommon. But it is worth talking about.
Here’s the thing: Paddling doesn’t work.
Maybe you’ve got an anecdote about how it worked for you or for your kids, and that’s great. But for the majority of kids, it’s dangerously counterproductive, according to, well, everyone. Just ask the American Academy of Pediatrics. Or the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Or the National Institutes of Health. So is paddling a practice that should be lauded? No.
But before we vilify this school, let’s look at what schools across the country are doing instead. Yes, there’s in-school suspension and detention and a variety of other consequences. But for major behavior issues, they’re suspending students in truly appalling numbers—nearly 20% of secondary students in some areas.
But suspension is also dangerously counterproductive.
Students who are suspended are more likely to drop out of school. And, just like corporal punishment, suspensions are much more likely to fall on students of color and kids with special needs, regardless of the severity of the offense.
So the vast majority of schools are relying on antiquated punishments that are proven to be ineffective. At least this school in question is giving parents the chance to choose the least worst strategy for their child. And this is one that won’t risk their job if they have to stay home to supervise their little miscreant.
Vilifying this school takes our focus away from where it needs to be—on ourselves. How do we discipline students? Chances are, we’re not using the strategies that are proven to reduce the number and severity of disciplinary incidents: restorative justice and counseling services.
If we want to help our kids, we need to do the hard work.
It’s time to rethink the way we handle behavior issues. This is likely going to take reflection, time, and, yes, money.
Every school needs to take a long look at the research and then apply it. But we need the financial support to do so. Bringing back the paddle won’t save our kids, as this charter school seems to think, but neither will the status quo.
What’s your take on the discussion around paddling students and how we discipline and motivate students? We’d love to hear your thoughts in our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook.