Corporal punishment a big issue again

Two words assured of spiking controversy: corporal punishment.

There is much discussion today in public education about that topic — spanking children to discipline.

Up front, I don't have an answer. I concede that I grew up in an era where spanking was an accepted practice at home and in the schools.

In a home with four boys, spanking was an everyday thing that was considered necessary. As my 93-year-old mother would say, "I had four boys and they had answers," meaning she had to have a counter to the defenses offered by rambunctious, sometimes-smartmouthed youngsters for unacceptable behavior.

In the time in which I grew up, mothers stayed at home to raise children (including discipline) and to do all the household work. My mother spanked me with a belt several times a week. My father was gone from sunup to late evening and often to late night. He spanked me twice in my life but, as you'll note, I remember both very well.

One other example of that day's discipline could occur with some frequency in church. If I was particularly active on a given Sunday, I had to sit by my mother. That enabled her to control my behavior by crossing her arms and reaching for the soft skin on my ribs with a thumb and forefinger, giving it a significant twist. If that didn't work, it was out of church for a switch.

For her, and for me, physical discipline worked. As I grew older, I never resented it and I understood what I was supposed to learn from it because she always explained the reasons to me. I was never in enough trouble in school to get a spanking nor was I ever in trouble with law enforcement. These statements could and would be easily made by my three younger brothers.

Over the last 40 or so years, our country has generally moved away from spanking, particularly in public schools. Some schools in Texas are reinstituting corporal punishment as a last resort discipline.

Whichever side someone is on, the topic is going to have to be addressed again and probably more seriously and in more depth than it ever has.

Society has become increasingly relaxed, if not permissive, with regard to disciplining children both at home and in public schools. The departure from spanking/corporal punishment has its roots in several things:

(1) The growth, understanding and acceptance of psychological maladies and a resulting belief in alternative discipline;

(2) In Texas and the South, public school integration brought about feelings of discrimination as to the application of corporal punishment resulting in litigious conflicts and, in many cases, discontinuance of spanking as discipline;

(3) The profusion of two-income and single-parent homes; and

(4) The heretofore stated "relaxed" society that wishes for its children better things (including less harsh discipline) than the parents had.

Psychological maladies include afflictions, emotional and physical, that require more detailed study of the resulting behavior and "discipline plans." There's attention deficit disorder (ADD) with a couple of variations, autism, bipolar and a myriad of other psychological disorders. Add to that the mainstreaming of physically and mentally challenged youngsters into the public schools. Discipline had to change.

With integration, there were no doubt discriminatory applications of corporal punishment as well as the opposite effect — the reluctance and sometimes downright refusal of one race applying that discipline to someone of another race.

Items (3) and (4) have, in my estimation, vaulted us into several generations of absentee and/or absolutely poor parenting. Again, that doesn't justify corporal punishment.

Texas is facing a long list of problems in education. Some can be solved with more equitable financing and better planning. The combination of poor parenting and a lack of effective discipline both at home and in the schools affect the overall academic performance of our children and teachers' ability to teach.

Corporal punishment is not, in and of itself, the solution to public school discipline problems. It runs much deeper than that. And, it calls for the ideas and opinions of everyone because having appropriate, effective discipline in our schools is one major key to improving education in Texas.

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2009-07-23 digital edition

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