Texas city revives paddling as it takes a swat at misbehavior
Friday, April 16, 2010
TEMPLE, TEX. -- In an era when students talk back to teachers, skip class and wear ever-more-risque clothing to school, one central Texas city has hit upon a deceptively simple solution: Bring back the paddle.
Most school districts across the country banned paddling of students long ago. Texas sat that trend out. Nearly a quarter of the estimated 225,000 students who received corporal punishment nationwide in 2006, the latest figures available, were from the Lone Star State.
But even by Texas standards, Temple is unusual. The city, a compact railroad hub of 60,000 people, banned the practice and then revived it at the demand of parents who longed for the orderly schools of yesteryear. Without paddling, "there were no consequences for kids," said Steve Wright, who runs a construction business and is Temple's school board president.
Since paddling was brought back to the city's 14 schools by a unanimous board vote in May, behavior at Temple's single high school has changed dramatically, Wright said, even though only one student in the school system has been paddled.
"The discipline problem is much better than it's been in years," Wright said, something he attributed to the new punishment and to other discipline programs schools are trying. Residents of the city's comfortable homes, most of which sport neighborly, worn chairs out front, praise the change.
"There are times when maybe a good crack might not be a bad idea," said Robert Pippin, a custom home builder who sports a goatee and cowboy boots. His son graduated from Temple schools several years ago.
Corporal punishment remains legal in 20 states, mostly in the South, but its use is diminishing. Ohio ended it last year, and a movement for a federal ban is afoot. A House subcommittee held a hearing on the practice Thursday, and its chairman, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.), is gearing up for a push to end the practice once and for all. She plans to introduce legislation within weeks.
"When you look that the federal government has outlawed physical punishment in prisons, I think the time has come that we should do it in schools," she said.
A joint American Civil Liberties Union-Human Rights Watch report last year found that students with disabilities were disproportionately subjected to corporal punishment, sometimes in direct response to behavioral problems that were a result of their disabilities. Many educators and psychologists say that positive tools, such as giving praise for good behavior and withholding it for bad, are far more effective for discouraging misbehavior.
Those techniques "encourage them to behave well in the future," said report author Alice Farmer. Paddling "makes students lose respect for their teachers."
Rules about paddling vary from district to district, but typically only administrators, not teachers, can mete out the punishment, which is done in private. Usually, a long, flat wooden paddle is used to give as many as three blows across the student's clothed rear end, although Farmer found students who had been hit many more times. Boys are overwhelmingly the target.
Not everybody in Texas is gung-ho about paddling. The practice has been banned in the state's big cities, and its use varies from campus to campus in districts that allow it.