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Corporal Punishment in Schools: Definition & Consequences

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Gary Gilles

Gary has a Master's degree in Counseling Psychology and has been teaching and developing courses in higher education since 1988.

Corporal punishment in schools has declined in recent years but still continues to be practiced in many states. Learn how prevalent corporal punishment is, the arguments for and against it and test your knowledge with quiz questions.

What is Corporal Punishment in Schools?

Corporal punishment in school refers to disciplinary action that is physical in nature and delivered by teachers or school administrators as punishment for some type of student misbehavior.

Corporal punishment in school

Examples of corporal punishment include:

  • spanking (usually with an object such as a paddle or stick)
  • slapping (on the face or hands is most common)
  • pinching (anywhere on the body)

The corporal punishment might be applied in the classroom in front of other students or privately in the principal's office. Though some abhor the use of corporal punishment in schools, there are still many people who believe that corporal punishment has a rightful place in the educational system.

How Prevalent is Corporal Punishment in Schools?

The first state to ban corporal punishment in the United States was New Jersey in 1867. But it took 104 years for a second state to follow suit. Currently there are 31 states that have banned the use of corporal punishment in publicly-funded schools. Of the 19 states (states colored red) that do still permit corporal punishment, most are geographically located in the southern U.S.

States allowing corporal punishment (red)

Private schools are exempt from the ban on corporal punishment, except in New Jersey and Iowa. However, the majority of private schools choose not to employ corporal punishment. The private schools that do tend to use corporal punishment are also mostly located in the southern states of the U.S.

The Practice of Corporal Punishment

Where corporal punishment is practiced, whether in public or private schools, the specific type of punishment allowed is usually written out in some form of official document. The information in this document could include the type of punishment allowed (e.g., paddling), the number of strokes that can be given, who among the school staff are authorized to deliver the punishment and whether parents must first give their permission before punishment can be delivered to their child. These guidelines help school personnel to keep their punishment consistent and in line with school policy and also informs parents of what their child might incur if their actions merit discipline.

Many schools with corporal punishment guidelines also offer parents the option to 'opt-out' of the corporal system. Some schools even offer the student a choice of whether to submit to corporal punishment or receive an alternate form of discipline, such as suspension or detention.

Pros and Cons of Corporal Punishment in Schools

Arguments in Favor of Corporal Punishment

Those who advocate for corporal punishment in schools believe that it is an effective and immediate way to curb discipline problems in the classroom. It also sends a strong message to the other children that there are swift and uncomfortable consequences for misbehavior in the school environment.

A second argument in favor of corporal punishment is that it enables the student to receive the punishment and then get on with the task of learning. When alternate forms of discipline are used, such as suspension or detention, the learning process can be disrupted for a prolonged period of time. Suspensions or detentions can also require a significant amount of staff time to supervise and manage.

Arguments Against Corporal Punishment

Those who are against corporal punishment in school point to research that shows an association between this disciplinary approach and several negative outcomes such as poor school performance, increased drop-out rate, low self-esteem, aggressive behavior and bullying.

Most who are opposed to corporal punishment in the schools would agree that discipline in the classroom is necessary but that other forms, such as loss of privileges, extra assignments and individual counseling are more effective and less disruptive to the learning process.

Lesson Summary

Corporal punishment in school refers to disciplinary action taken by teachers or school administrators in response to some type of student misbehavior. Corporal punishment might include spanking, slapping or pinching, although it is most commonly applied by hitting the buttocks with a paddle. Currently, 31 states have banned corporal punishment and of the ones that do allow it, most are located in the southern U.S. Private schools are exempt from the ban, except in New Jersey and Iowa. Most schools that practice corporal punishment provide guidelines as to how the physical discipline will be administered. Advocates of corporal punishment believe that it provides a quick consequence for misbehavior and enhances the learning process. Those against corporal punishment point to research that associates it with poor academic performance and higher rates of aggression and suggest less punitive forms of discipline.

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