Corporal Punishment: Prudent or Prehistoric?


When Oxford High School laid out the school’s prom dress code this year, the standards were identical to last year’s…with one glaring exception.  This time around, dress code violators were given their choice of punishment.  Students could either accept 3 days of suspension of school or they be paddled instead.

352 Oxford High School students went to their prom.  Of the 18 who violated the policy, 17 chose to be paddled.

Ten days later, on April 15, a subcommittee of the Senate’s House Education and Labor Committee commenced hearings on banning school corporal punishment.  If successful, the amendment will most likely be added to the ESEA (formerly “Leave No Child Behind”) reauthorization measure.

Although the chronology of the incidents is purely coincidental, the interlinking issue has been a subject of national debate since the United States Supreme Court first legalized the disciplinary measure in October 1975. 

The Court ruling, prompted by the appeal of North Carolina’s Baker v. Owen, allowed states, “if they so choose, to permit teachers to spank students as long as due process is maintained.”

Of course, America is neither the first nor the only country to tentatively adopt the practice. 

But just five years after corporal punishment became legal in the US, however, Sweden became the first of the 25 nations who have passed an explicit ban on physical punishment of minors.   

Nowadays, Sweden is considered a leader in what is fast becoming an international crusade.

As a way to measure the progress of the movement, the Center for Effective Discipline (CED) keeps track of the status of corporal punishment throughout the world.  Yet, while the CED is based in Columbus, Ohio, the United States is still among the list of nations who have not abolished corporal punishment, either in homes or in schools.

In fact, with the small exception of one province in Australia, America is the only developed nation that allows corporal punishment. 

Oddly enough, Queensland, although Australia was actually the first region to establish a ban against the practice as a form of school discipline for girls in 1934, but currently, it is still legal for boys in private schools. 

Australia’s is not the only government suffering from the indecision. 

Although the Czech Republic and France are the only European countries where corporal punishment is still legal, just 17 of Europe’s 50 governments have banned the practice altogether. 

Meanwhile, in the last 35 years, 29 states in America have banned corporal punishment in from their school systems.

Despite its legality in the remaining states, there is no comprehensive definition of corporal punishment in United States’ national or federal laws.  Under human rights law, however, the measure is defined as “any punishment in which physical force is used and intended to cause some degree of pain or discomfort.”

Speakers at the senatorial hearings, on the other hand, provided a far more graphic description than the law divulges.

“It’s not just paddling,” said Dr. Donald Greydanus, a professor of pediatrics and human development at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine. “It includes hitting, slapping, spanking, paddling, use of belts, use of sticks, pins, placing kids in painful body postures, not letting them move, not letting them urinate, not… applying electrical shock, a whole variety of ingenious methods.”

Understandably, the past has shown that it is usually those very “ingenious” methods that cause a legislative body to reassess corporal punishment, though doing so does not always garner change. 

For example, in 1994, the controversy over the practice reopened on a global scale when American teenage Michael P. Fay, 18 (at the time), was caned for vandalism in Singapore, a country that retains corporal punishment as a judicial measure in addition to a prison term.


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