For years, young people — especially young people of color, those with disabilities and those identifying as LGBTQIA+ — have been subjected to over-policing, unfair surveillance, and punitive and exclusionary discipline in schools. This has led to some of them moving out of school and into the criminal justice system. It is now known as the school–to-prison pipeline. Missouri joins 19 other states in making corporal punishment legal in schools. This means that young people are at greater risk of being subject to violence at home as well as at school.
We know that because of the U.S.’s legacy of slavery, racism and sexism, certain students — especially Black and Brown children — are disproportionately impacted by corporal punishment and physical violence. Black and Brown children are more likely to be physically assaulted by police in schoolsThey are also more likely to experience corporal punishment inside their homes. We also know that it is legal in Southern states. children with disabilities are 50 percent more likely to be corporally punished. Hitting has been a long-standing norm for teachers and parents. But that doesn’t make it right.
The U.S. was founded on an ideology that subordinated Indigenous people and Black people. Our history was marked by laws and policies that maintained a racial hierarchy. They prevented enslaved persons from being educated and erased Indigenous and Black cultures. Historically, state-sanctioned violence — through the use of lynching, whippings, paddling and hog-tying — was an important tool for maintaining control over and disciplining of Black and Brown children in schools.
By instituting corporal punishment, school districts are exposing children — sometimes as young as 4 years old — to violence. This violence causes long-term problems for the young peoplewho are being hit, and it may impact young people who hear or see their peers being hit (because it is impossible to stop it and they fear it could happen) and the entire school.
After many years of being a community educator, village mom, and advocate, I am disappointed to see that this issue persists in places that were previously hostile to hitting. I hoped that attitudes and norms around hitting children would change. The dataIt is evident that hitting does not bring about positive results. We wouldn’t tell a child to work out their problems with another child by hitting them, so it shouldn’t be acceptable for an adult to resolve issues with children by hitting or spanking them. What is more, children who are hit — whether in the home or at school — go into “fight or flight mode,” making it harder for them to learn. Children cannot learn in a violent and unpredictable environment.
It is important to remember that hitting can be conflated and associated with discipline. Discipline can be used as a teaching tool. It became synonymous with physical punishment. However, physical punishment can put children in fear. Fear can make it difficult for anyone to learn valuable lessons about right or wrong. Children may even be exposed to harmful information about how to handle conflict if they are surrounded by violence.
Additionally, spanking can cause problems in the relationships between children and adults or between the person hitting and the one causing harm. According to the American Psychological Association spanking can cause mental health problems later on in life. Stacey Patton is a journalist who has long advocated for parenting that doesn’t reinforce old slavery-era discipline practices. grooms themFor the criminal justice system sexual abuse, mental health issues, and a host of other issues.
The evidence is clear. The U.S. must have a serious movement to create and embrace children’s conventional rights. The U.S. has yet to ratify a position statement regarding these rights. If we accepted these rights as the norm, it would set a standard in how we treat children. Although there is federal legislation aimed at stemming the tide of corporal punishment by offering grants for alternatives such as restorative justice, peace circles, dispute resolution etc., there isn’t a national position statement around the dangers of hitting children. We should however be supporting the work of people like Stacey Patton and also supporting organization’s like mine, the Nollie Jenkins Family Center, Inc.
Hitting children teaches them that “might makes right.” To put it another way, when policies and practices permit adults to hit children, our society is sending the message: “Because I’m bigger or have more power than you, I can hit you and get away with it.” If we send that message in childhood, we will find it harder to tell the domestic violence victim that they do not have to endure abuse that can kill them physically and psychologically. No school district should be encouraging young people to believe that those who are more powerful than them can abuse and control them. Schools should instead teach children and adults that conflict is normal and can be resolved peacefully.
The question school districts should be asking is: “What tools should we give young people, and what tools do adults need?” We must first embrace painless parenting and painless teaching. Restorative justice offers alternatives to corporal punishment. Restorative Justice focuses on learning from and making amends for past mistakes. It also creates a safe space for the school community and teaches communication skills which will be beneficial throughout a person’s life.
We need a new vision for our schools and children. This vision must include safe spaces that are accessible to young people. Additionally, the vision for our children’s well-being must include — indeed, start with — what young people want and what the research says is good for them. Children don’t want to be hit. They don’t want to live in fear of being hit. They want other models. We should and can offer it to them.