Bottom Line: Spanking Laws Are a Bad Idea

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By Bethany Mandel | 10:19 am, December 4, 2016

If you’ve ever brought an outsider to a family gathering—Thanksgiving, for example —you may have experienced the following: After warning them at length that your family is crazy, your family lives up to all of the hype. If your guest dares engage in the trash talk with you afterwards, however, you may become reflexively defensive, over a family you were just dissing yourself. They’re your family—and only yours to handle.

A teacher might spank the same way as a parent, but parents might only be ok doing it themselves. While parents like myself might be against corporal punishment in schools, it isn’t because we view it as totally negative. It’s because that form of punishment is only appropriate in the home.

Despite the fact that a smack on the bottom from a parent was once commonplace, the practice (like countless others our parents employed) is now unspeakable in most parenting circles. All of that makes a new proposal from Secretary of Education John King that much more interesting. The Denver Post reports,

Education Secretary John B. King Jr. is urging governors and school leaders in states that allow student paddling to end a practice he said would be considered “criminal assault or battery” against an adult.

King released a letter Tuesday asking leaders to replace corporal punishment with less punitive, more supportive disciplinary practices that he said work better against bad behavior.

More than 110,000 students, including disproportionate numbers of black and disabled students, were subjected to paddling or a similar punishment in the 2013-14 school year, said King, citing the Education Department’s Civil Rights Data Collection.

Corporal punishment is legal in 22 states.

In a world where a man sitting at a park bench next to a playground can set off warning alarms across entire an entire ZIP code and send police into action, it’s somewhat incredible that corporal punishment by non-parents in schools is still legal in almost half the country.

For those supporting this measure, however, it’s not about ensuring that only parents are making these kinds of decisions; no, no, that would be too nuanced of a position. The use of any corporal punishment is instead, of course, universally condemned by those opposing it in schools as assault and battery. Of the proposal, Secretary King said: “Corporal punishment teaches students that physical force is an acceptable means of solving problems, undermining efforts to promote nonviolent techniques for conflict resolution.”

This isn’t a condemnation of corporal punishment in schools—but against its use in any other settings as well, even at home. Which leaves parents who sometimes dole out a smack to the bottom on occasion to wonder: Might they come for parents next?

In Denver, where the proposal was announced, there is support among Democratic lawmakers, including Susan Loutine, a Representative in the state legislature. Of a pending 2017 bill in the legislature banning the practice, Loutine said, “There seems to be a pretty clear consensus about it. I think people recognize corporal punishment in any fashion doesn’t work well with kids.”

As with any child-rearing topic, however, there is nary a position that can boast anything resembling a “pretty clear consensus.” In its story on the Colorado bill, the Denver Post reported that “school administrators say [corporal punishment] has broad support from parents and preserves learning time that would be lost to a suspension.”

Even in its efforts to ban a practice parents like myself might be uncomfortable with, the Department of Education has managed to warp its proposal into something fewer parents might support because of the blanket condemnation of all physical forms of punishment—not just in school settings.

As the saying goes, the road to hell is lined with good intentions; and when the government is concerned, those bricks to hell are laid with perfection. With cause, one of President Ronald Reagan’s most-famous quotes remains: “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’”