It’s past time to end corporal punishment in Kentucky

Published 5:36 pm Tuesday, December 11, 2018


The Advocate-Messenger

When the Kentucky legislature convenes for its 2019 general session, it will have the opportunity — again — to end the barbaric practice of corporal punishment in schools. Rep. Steve Riley (R-Glasgow) has filed a bill, like he did last year, that would ban the practice of physically disciplining children in all Kentucky schools.

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Yes, you read that right — in 2018, it’s still legal for educators to strike a child as a form of “punishment.”

Fortunately, the practice is not widespread and it’s dying an overdue death: In the 2016-17 school year, 17 of Kentucky’s 173 school districts reported the use of corporal punishment, according to the most recent annual Safe Schools statistical report from the Kentucky Department of Education. A total of 334 corporal punishments were meted out during the 2016-17 school year, down from 517 in the 2015-16 school year, which was also down from 574 in the 2014-15 school year, according to the report.

But 334 instances of quasi-abuse of children (nearly twice every school day) is 334 too many.

Physically punishing a child creates a lot of negative consequences all at once. For starters, children are at school to learn and grow. Corporal punishment shuts down their ability to learn in a positive manner and teaches them instead that school is a place where they may feel pain and fear.

Corporal punishment also embarrasses the victim, promoting a culture of bullying among students, where those who have been punished are either mocked by the other students or become the bullies as they seek to regain their pride.

Corporal punishment risks further harming children with abusive parents. In fact, kids who are victims of abuse are more likely to act out, making them more likely to be subject to corporal punishment in the few dark corners of the state where it remains in use.

There may be some who argue corporal punishment in schools was necessary at some point in the past. Although we could not disagree more given what decades of research has shown us about human behavior and learning, we’re also not interested in arguing that point. Corporal punishment is useless today.

Most teachers working today don’t want to use it and don’t need it — their training has given them all kinds of tools for dealing with problematic behavior in positive ways that don’t create further problems and don’t harm children.

Unfortunately, there will be defenders of corporal punishment, even today. Whenever a relic of the past faces elimination, there will be people who argue that it should be kept around. These apologists for lost causes always fall back on the same old tricks, no matter what the issue is:

• Othering: They will argue the children being punished aren’t like you or me, that they are some other group of people who need harsh treatment to bring them in line.

• Scapegoating: They will blame the victims or some other entity, attempting to redirect conversations away from the actual topic of educators striking children and toward someone else’s behavior.

• Nostalgia: They will romanticize the past and allege that doing away with the harmful practice would somehow mean doing away with history.

• Equalization: They will frame the issue as a disagreement of opinion only and minimize the research and evidence that says they’re wrong, in order to make it seem like both sides have equal legitimacy.

None of these tricks hold an ounce of logical water — they are snake oil, plain and simple. When the snake oil salesmen show up, we should ignore them and think about our children instead.

It’s time for Kentucky to move on from corporal punishment. It’s time that our kids can go to school knowing for sure that their teachers are there to teach them, not hit them. It’s time to tell our legislators we want them to end corporal punishment in Kentucky’s schools in 2019.