It defies logic, but Alabama law explicitly allows adults to administer corporal punishment to kids, according to AL.com, making it just one of 15 states to just say "yes" to paddling. The "Heart of Dixie" is also one of 21 states to report using paddling as a form of discipline in public schools. And unfortunately, according to new data, it seems administrators use this painful form of punishment a lot.
According to AL.com, the Education Department's Office for Civil Rights reports nearly 19,000 kids, which account for 2.5 percent of students in Alabama, were paddled in public schools during the 2013-2014 school year. Ouch.
Digging into the data reveals some ugly truths, including that boys are paddled more than girls, and minorities are also paddled more often than white students.
It's worth noting that we don't know if certain kids were paddled repeatedly. But can you believe that even in the face of this disturbing data, there's no indication that the law that allows paddling to help teachers maintain order in their classrooms, and teach kids that creating disruptions will not be tolerated, will change? Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, told AL.com, "As a child paddled, and as a parent who paddled, I've not experienced the negative side of corporal punishment personally, only the positive side."
Hmm. Okay. Except research finds that spanking kids can actually do more harm than good. In fact, kids who are spanked are more likely to defy their parents and experience increased anti-social behavior, aggression, mental health problems, and cognitive difficulties, and these issues may even persist into adulthood. What's more, AL.com reports that several advocacy groups and healthcare experts are pushing for a ban on paddling in Alabama and other states where the practice exists, including the American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, and the American Civil Liberties Union.
But Rep. Collins is certainly not alone in perpetuating the notion that paddling is not only effective, but morally appropriate. Mary Scott Hunter, a member of the state Board of Education in Alabama, also told AL.com implicitly that, "Proper corporal punishment isn't abuse, and we should be clear about that." She even went so far as to say, "We often see misbehavior in children that comes straight from the home, and I'd like to see some parents lined up and paddled for that. Habitual tardiness and truancy comes to mind."
Both Collins and Hunter deny ever being challenged by parents or fellow educators about the state's paddling policy.
The good news is that, according to AL.com, the Alabama Board of Education recently hired a new state superintendent who hails from Massachusetts, where corporal punishment was banned in 1971. And, that despite the alarming number of kids who are still paddled in the state, this number actually represents a downward trend from years past.
What's your take on paddling in public schools?
Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and a mom. Follow her on Twitter (@Spitupnsuburbs), where she chronicles her love of exercising and drinking coffee, but never simultaneously.