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Experts, advocates say corporal punishment in schools must end

Mississippi is one of 21 states that either still allow, or haven't officially banned, corporal punishment to discipline children in public schools.
Experts, advocates say corporal punishment in schools must end
Posted at 7:59 PM, Mar 06, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-06 22:00:16-05

Kameisha Smith says going to school in Mississippi was sometimes quite literally painful. Like that one day in fourth grade.

"I had to lay over a teacher's lap and was beaten with a paddle because we as a class did not make high enough on a test," Smith says. "She lined all of us up and paddled us one by one."

Getting "licks", as the kids called it, was so prevalent, Smith says the school principal even carried a paddle he named "Mr. Feelgood."

"A lot of times people lean toward corporal punishment because in their small minds there aren't any other effective alternatives," said Smith, now a 29-year-old lobbyist with the Mississippi Coalition to End Corporal Punishment.

Mississippi is one of 21 states that either still allow, or haven't officially banned, corporal punishment to discipline children in public schools. In the 2020-21 school year, the Department of Education says 19,000 were paddled, spanked, or slapped.

Critics, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, say hitting kids does far more bad than good — causing mental health and emotional problems, injuries, and negatively impacting academic achievement.

"The evidence is that corporal punishment is not an effective disciplinary technique. Kids are resentful. Kids are angry, emotionally upset. There's all kinds of problems that follow," says George Holden, professor emeritus of psychology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

Holden is a developmental psychologist who has studied parenting, corporal punishment and family violence-related topics for 36 years.

"Sometimes you read about medical problems that ensue. But much more common would be the trauma, the negative feelings about school administrators and schools in general," says Holden, who also served on the board of directors for the U.S. Alliance to End the Hitting of Children, an advocacy group.

Statistics compiled by the Department of Education also show punishments aren't equal: Compared to White students, Black students are more than twice as likely to be hit in school.

"Black students are seen less deserving of grace than less deserving of the mercy and the softness that other students are granted," Smith says.

Smith is now working to ban corporal punishment in Mississippi for good and teach lawmakers and educators that there are alternatives to hitting.

"I don't think they realize the power that they have in the safety that students feel in these schools," Smith says, "to make sure that there is an environment where all of their needs are met."

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