Corporal Punishment in Secondary Schools

Written by michael brent
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Corporal Punishment in Secondary Schools
Although still legal in 20 states, corporal punishment has become a thing of the past in American secondary schools. (Ableimages/Lifesize/Getty Images)

Corporal punishment has been a common form of discipline in both elementary and secondary schools for generations, with such literary classics as "Tom Brown's Schooldays" depicting the horrific punishment inflicted on students during the mid-1800s. Only within the past few decades, however, has corporal punishment fallen out of favour with parents and educators alike.

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Corporal Punishment Defined

Within a high school, corporal punishment is defined as essentially any physical punishment inflicted on a student by a teacher. According to the National Association of School Nurses, corporal punishment is "the intentional infliction of physical pain as a method of changing behaviour. It may include methods such as hitting, slapping, punching, kicking, pinching, shaking, use of various objects (paddles, belts, sticks, or others), or painful body postures." Through this definition, it's clear that corporal punishment can take on many varied forms.

Historical Perspective

Corporal punishment in the classroom is certainly not a recent phenomenon, and has been part of the educational disciplinary process for centuries. Some ancient cultures, however, held a fairly dim view of corporal punishment; there was a feeling among some citizens of ancient Rome, for example, that it was appropriate to beat slaves but not children. On the other hand, the Old Testament passage in Proverbs 13:24 that states "spare the rod and spoil the child" has been used by some as Biblical endorsement of corporal punishment.

Banned in Schools

Private schools in the U.S. banned corporal punishment in all forms during the 1960s, with state schools following suit, although spanking and hitting students is technically still permitted in state schools in 20 states. Corporal punishment in schools has been banned in the other states, and has also been banned in Canada (which outlawed corporal punishment in 2004) and Europe; no European nation, in fact, allows students to be physically punished in a school.

Corporal Punishment Today

According to Anthony Adams, founder of the education news website, in a 2010 article for the Huffington Post, the use of corporal punishment has little or no long-term effect when it comes to altering the behaviour of a misbehaving student. In fact, physical punishment inflicted on a student can decrease the effectiveness of other non-physical forms of discipline, and can be linked to increased dropout rates for high-school students who have been physically punished by a teacher. As a result, most psychologists and educators decry corporal punishment as both harmful and ineffective.

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