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Corporal punishment not a subject for school

Published August 17, 2003

In my house, we have a children's book called Hands Are Not For Hitting. It is meant to show that when hands hit, they hurt and humiliate, and that better ways exist to deal with the anger and frustration that can easily overwhelm small children.

Sometimes when I read this book, I am amazed by how much the advice also applies to me. Being a parent is hard. You can get to the raggedy edge of your temper fast.

Multiply the scenario, one parent and one child, to one teacher and many children, and getting children to behave would seem impossible. You can't help but sympathize with the teachers.

But my sympathy has its limits. They end when Hillsborough County School Board member Jennifer Faliero issues an enthusiastic bravo for spanking misbehaving school children and asks the rest of the board to do the same.

The school district's own policies permit striking students.

But officials, fearful of lawsuits over child abuse, regard the policy with as much enthusiasm as for a dead, stinking fish. In the past four years, in a district with more than 170,000 students, the paddle has been used 41 times.

The policy is narrow and precise. There is no wiggle room for interpretation. Only a principal can authorize spanking. You can only strike a child on the backside, no more than three times, and always in the presence of a witness. The policy details the size of the paddle - or should I say weapon? - to be used.

"The instrument must be of wood and be no more than two feet long, one-half inch thick, and four inches wide. It should be smooth with no sharp edges or holes. A handle must be provided just large enough for a normal one-hand grip."

In other words, this instrument would be big enough to have some effect. But only some.

It would scare and humiliate a smaller child, in elementary school.

But once a kid hits middle or high school, no ruler - which is essentially what the paddle imitates - would work. It would be too small to inflict pain on a bigger kid.

There is a question of proportion here. It's not elementary kids who cause the most trouble in school. Yet elementary children would bear the brunt of Faliero's proposal.

As for the bigger kids, what would be left? Wrestling them and seeing who wins?

This issue, to paddle or not to paddle, is one of the great divides among parents.

For every Jennifer Faliero, there's a Doris Ross Reddick.

Reddick, also a member of the School Board, told me that after Faliero raised the question of corporal punishment, Reddick had people approach her left and right, at the drug store, at a furniture store. Even her neighbors next door spoke up. All were against spanking. So is Reddick.

"I think there are other ways to reach a child," she said.

Reddick was a teacher and is a parent. Her own son explained when he was young why striking didn't work.

"Paddling," he told her, "only hurts a little while."

Reddick has come to favor gentler measures - time outs, the taking away of privileges, counseling, reaching an understanding of what the consequences will be if the misbehavior continues.

Her suggestions sound benign and useless when it comes to wildly out of control children. But with the most badly behaved middle schoolers or high schoolers, the ultimate punishment is not physical. It's suspension or expulsion from school.

I'm one of those people, as you can tell, like Reddick, opposed to teachers and principals hitting kids to get them in line. I can't endorse in school what I don't do in my home. Why else would I have a book around called Hands Are Not For Hitting?

I don't want to preach violence to my child. I don't want to raise her using fear as a weapon. And finally, I don't want to teach her this spectacular contradiction - that, although I don't want her to hit her playmates, I approve of grownups hitting her.

- Mary Jo Melone can be reached at or 813 226-3402.

[Last modified August 17, 2003, 01:32:33]

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