Hot Topic: Corporal Punishment in the Classroom
Earlier this month a Kansas lawmaker proposed a bill (1) that would allow corporal punishment, or in this case spanking to the point of bruising, in schools. If you’re anything like me you probably are thinking, “Um, what?” Sadly enough, this is not a new issue in terms of discipline at schools across the nation.
Corporal punishment is currently allowed in 19 states, most of them coincidentally in the southern part of the country. I grew up, studied to become a fully-licensed teacher, and currently live and teach in one of those states. I have never heard of corporal punishment being proposed by a teacher, an administrator, or a parent as an appropriate means of dealing with a child’s behavioral issues while at school. I find it very upsetting, both as a teacher and as a parent, that a supposedly safe place like a school would be given the option to lay their hands on a child.
As I continued reading further into the bill proposed in Kansas, I found some other unconventional methods schools are using to discipline children. Many schools in several states have what they call a “scream room.” (2) This is an isolated, padded room where teachers and/or administrators will place unruly children in order to help them calm down. In some cases these rooms are used for students with diagnosed behavioral and emotional problems, or those with autism who sometimes cannot readily control their actions. The schools suggest that their use is to keep both the student and those around the student safe in otherwise dangerous situations.
If you are a teacher or a parent (or both) you know that there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to children- not in academics and not in discipline. What works for one child may not work for the next, and it most certainly won’t work for all the children in your classroom or family. I think the Kansas bill to allow corporal punishment is absurd, and any school district that allows this kind of “discipline” should lose their accreditation. To me it is the lazy way out of teaching children how to behave properly. Spanking is often done in anger and does nothing except instill fear in a young child.
The key to discipling a child is to find their motivating factor and to run with it. Catch them being good, and reinforce that behavior. When a child does do something wrong, whether it is tossing their milk on the floor or pushing another child, catch YOUR breath and calmly explain what they did was wrong and allow them to rectify the situation (i.e., clean up the milk or have them offer the victim of the incident something to help them feel better).
However, I do understand that there are situations in which the child’s behavioral issues are more than a simple reprimand. Children with emotional, behavioral, and sensory issues often do not have the means to control their behavior. Sometimes they can become a threat to themselves or to those around them. That is why I don’t think the ill-titled “scream rooms” are a bad idea. Sometimes children do need an isolated place in which they can safely and effectively use techniques taught to them by their teacher or therapist to calm their bodies. I do not advocate the use of rooms like this for children who are simply difficult at times, but rather for those who are presenting a danger of hurting themselves or others.
Discipling children is an exhausting and stressful situation. Every parent and teacher wants to do the right thing for the child. As a home-school teacher of four two year-olds, I understand the feeling of being frustrated when a child’s behavior is getting out of control. However, there is no reason corporal punishment should be used by any person other than that child’s parents if they deem it fit for their son or daughter. The bill in Kansas will more than likely not be passed, but I can only hope the coverage on the story brings to light other states that allow this disciplinary action in their schools.