Putting away the paddle

7/23/2009

TUCKED into the biennial budget bill signed recently by Gov. Ted Strickland was a provision that brought Ohio out of the Middle Ages and into the 21st century in regard to the types of punishment public schools, including charters, may inflict on students.

Banned in the law are paddling and all other forms of corporal punishment, vestiges of a time when the prevailing philosophy was "spare the rod and spoil the child."

The new law, proposed by Governor Strickland, does not ban - nor should it - the ability of educators and other school employees to use reasonable force and restraint under certain circumstances, such as self defense. Nor does the ban impinge on the parental right to use a swat on the backside to discipline a misbehaving child.

The ban is limited to public schools, although we hope that private and religious schools are paying attention to the growing body of research showing that corporal punishment in schools is not only inappropriate but also less effective than other, nonviolent forms of behavioral modification.

For centuries, physical punishment was seen as an essential educational tool. Students and apprentices were regularly beaten for even minor infractions. But while educational theorists gradually began to question and then oppose that approach more than a century ago, old habits died hard.

As recently as 25 years ago, Ohio law actually prevented schools from banning corporal punishment. Mercifully, that was changed in 1985, when the General Assembly passed a bill allowing local school boards to say no to hitting children. Since 1993, schools wishing to use physical punishment have had to follow stringent procedures and parents have had the option of saying "not my child."

As a result, while about 68,000 Ohio schoolchildren were paddled in 1984, some multiple times, a survey by the Center for Effective Discipline found that in 2008 only six school districts were still using corporal punishment, hitting 110 students a total of 131 times.

Ohio becoming the 30th state to ban paddling in schools is no surprise. What is surprising is that 20 states, including Indiana, either allow or have taken no legislative stance on the educational use of hitting children.

It is long past time the paddle was expelled from every school, everywhere.