Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Reflections on Corporal Punishment

We have uncovered a very important topic that I feel needs further examination, the topic of corporal punishment.  Here is the classic Old Testament prescription authored by Solomon:

He that spareth the rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him correcteth him betimes.

Withhold not correction from a child: for if thou strike him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and deliver his soul from hell.

Well, the Old Testament and indeed human history, has seen its stages of development.  Dare I say evolution.  As we well know, this has brought a beautiful peace and discipline to the entire Middle East, the very birthplace of these views.

My father, an excellent and respected educator and principal, one who maintained discipline beautifully his entire career, used corporal punishment in the earlier days of his career.  He had a variety of paddles and as I reached the Middle School years, by mutual agreement, he would try out the stroke, the weight of the paddle and the design of the instrument on me, his football playing son.

Yes, you heard me right.  He would give me swats in the basement and I would report on the results.  The thicker paddles basically warmed from the bottom on up.  The thinner paddles snapped in such a way that it really stung!  The holes in a paddle really didn’t seem to deliver that much extra bang for the buck except in anticipation of what was going to hit you.

Short of midway through his career, he hung the paddles up.  Relegated them to the museum of past educational philosophies.  He told me that he came to the realization that the only time a paddle was used was not really as path correction so much as compensation for educational failure.  In other words, he developed his own New Testament understanding, one that never lost discipline or its focus, but developed greater understanding and appreciation of good development and the development of good.

To give you another example, when I worked with children on a locked ward, we had a guy who was an acknowledged expert and legend on working with the most difficult and troubled children directly.  He called all of us together, the workers at the front of the room and the children sitting before us on chairs so that he could address them.

One of the children, a boy of about 16, decided he would stand.  When this guy asked him to sit like the other kids, the boy said he would prefer to stand.  The man asked him if he had a problem with authority.  The boy smiled and said that yes, he did.  The man then summarily said, “Well, I don’t.  Sit down.” and the boy sat.

Therein lies the key.  Are you thoroughly comfortable as an adult with your moral authority when with a child and willing to express it?  If you are not, the child will know.  If you are, the child will know.

I agree with my father, who spanked me only once as a child, that the rod or the paddle is not the answer.  The answer is knowing right and wrong within yourself with certainty and communicating this to the child with certainty.  If you spank the child, I don’t believe it to be the end of the world.  However, if you do so, I think it well to understand that it is a lesser substitute for personal authority that should be used rarely indeed.  In a measured manner it is better than letting the child transgress without consequence, but still a less than optimal response in most cases.

Next post, I will address the problem of the pendulum in the opposite extreme where nambie-pambies – as one of our respected group scholars puts it – come from.  I will show why I think that corporal punishment is NOT the solution to that need, either.


  1. I think for parents, one of the problems of using spanking as a punishment is when your children start to grow up. And often they grow bigger than the parent! That's when you realize that you have to come up with other ways of discipline, and that spanking was the easy way.

    1. Well, D, I agree that spanking definitely loses luster when a kid gets big!

  2. Fos I know you consider yourself one of the lucky ones. Neither I nor my children fall into that group.

    1. I know you consider yourself unlucky, shackman, but I am surprised to hear that about your kids. I never had a sense that they were abused in any way, if that is what you are angling toward. I'm not sure what you mean.

    2. Nah - they weren't abused - I just wasn't as clever as your dad.

  3. I suppose that we are all conditioned by our own backgrounds which would include the kind of disciplining that we received from our parents and school teachers and social norms as well. My belief is certainly conditioned by those factors.

    I would however add that the conditioning can result in different behaviours as well. For instance, I never spanked Ranjan ever though I personally got bashed around quite a bit in my child and boyhood. I however never objected to Ranjan's teachers punishing him in school though had any one went beyond acceptable levels, I would have objected.

    It is a complex subject and frankly, I see many opinions already being expressed by different types of people. If you go back to my post on Discipline you will find Barath's view and another young lady who has a different view on the subject.

    The nambie pambie problems however should be universal. I look forward to your take on that.

    1. Ramana, I read Barath's comment and I have no doubt whatsoever that you and he were in no way abusive to your children. That simply isn't the men you are.

      Like you, my first instinct is to back a teacher until I see significant reason to believe otherwise. Their authority in the classroom is essential and I know how the situation looks from both the teacher's perspective and the parent's perspective, having been in both roles. I also agree that one of the mistakes of our society is the movement toward doubting teachers and not backing them in the classroom and it is a very costly mistake.

      If my kid had earned it and a teacher gave him a swat, I would not be upset. We never saw anything from any teachers that gave us pause in any way and we found them able to maintain discipline without needing corporal punishment.

      The school system served our two children quite well and we are proud of their teachers and what they accomplished.


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