U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. has called on states to stop allowing schools to use corporal punishment to discipline students, arguing that it is a “harmful practice.”
In his letter to governors and chief state school officers Nov. 22, King said that the corporal punishment practiced in some states’ schools could also be classified as criminal assault or battery under separate laws in those same states. Corporal punishment is often used disproportionately on certain groups of students, such as students of color, King said. And he argued that the practice undermines efforts to teach students nonviolent methods of resolving conflicts and negatively affects their long-term behavior and academic outcomes.
“The use of corporal punishment can hinder the creation of a positive school climate by focusing on punitive measures to address student misbehavior rather than positive behavioral interventions and supports,” King wrote. “Corporal punishment also teaches students that physical force is an acceptable means of solving problems, undermining efforts to promote nonviolent techniques for conflict resolution.”
In a call with reporters, King stressed that schools are entrusted with providing a safe learning environment for students, and that it has “no place in the schools of a modern nation.”
“The continued use of corporal punishment in schools across the country violates that trust,” King said, adding that groups, including teachers’ unions and parent organizations oppose the practice. (The letter provides no legal guidance on the issue, the secretary noted.)
‘Tradition’ an Obstacle
When asked the biggest obstacle to changing the practice, King cited the adherence to “tradition” in some states and concerns about “how schools can ensure safe and orderly environments.”
On the same call, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten called ending corporal punishment “a moral matter” that transcends party politics. She also said a strong alliance of parents and educators would be especially important in efforts to end the practice in schools.
“It should have been banned in all 50 states years ago,” Weingarten said.
King’s recommendation comes a few months after Education Week published the results of an investigation into corporal punishment in American schools.
That investigation found, that more than 109,000 students in 21 states were paddled, swatted, or otherwise physically punished in U.S. schools in 2013-14, based on an analysis of federal civil rights data.