Queinnise Miller & Dr. W.A. Kritsonis, student discipline
“Corporal Punishment” is it the key missing component to
successful student discipline for the present generation?
PhD Student in Educational Leadership
Whitlowe R. Green College of Education
Prairie View A&M University
Alief Independent School District
William Allan Kritsonis, PhD
PhD Program in Educational Leadership
Hall of Honor (2008)
William H. Parker Leadership Academy
Whitlowe R. Green College of Education
Prairie View A&M University
Member of the Texas A&M University System
Prairie View, Texas
Visiting Lecturer (2005)
Oxford Round Table
University of Oxford, Oxford England
Distinguished Alumnus (2004)
College of Education and Professional Studies
Central Washington University
While many view corporal punishment as a ridiculous, unnecessary, and unruly act
toward children, it is believed by some that corporal punishment if handled
correctly can be an effective tool in student discipline. If rooted in true love and a
heart of good intentions, corporal punishment can be just as effective if not more as
many of the consequences given in schools all across the nation. Evidence of this
belief is proven with the fact that currently over 20 states to date currently practice
corporal punishment in their schools as a discipline option for students. Ultimately,
it becomes a matter of individual morals and principles whether or not one views
corporal punishment as an acceptable means of discipline. I for one say, where is
Child rearing traditionally has varied by cultures, families, as well as
geographically. There is no difference with student discipline that occurs in schools
across the nation. Depending on personal views on discipline or personal traditions the
idea of corporal punishment could be an outlandish thought, or could very well be a
possible and preferred form of discipline. The debate on corporal punishment has been
one that yields feelings of anger, sadness, fear, and helplessness.
While many would like for the subject to be a thing of the past, still currently
more than twenty of our fifty fine states believe that corporal punishment is not unlawful
and support it as a form of discipline in schools. The mere words “corporal punishment”
often sends the message that it is brutal “sans” love. There is, although, a continuum of
corporal punishment ranging from a loving and correcting spank to tragic child abuse. It
is this continuum along with varying controversial viewpoints on the subject of corporal
punishment that forces it to remain a subject matter of debate.
Purpose of the Article
The purpose of this article is to examine the practice of corporal punishment as an
effective discipline technique for students. This article will address the history of
corporal punishment and how the thought process addressing corporal punishment has
evolved over time. The article will also discuss facts about corporal punishment, what it
is and what it is not. The article will take a look at significant legal actions for or against
corporal punishment. The article will examine traditional forms and present methods of
student discipline in schools across the country. Finally, the article will discuss the
author’s perspective concerning corporal punishment and the impact it has had in my life.
History and Background of Corporal Punishment
The Victorian Era marked the inception of the idea of corporal punishment in the
public school system with the ideal of the “loco parentis”. The loco parentis was the
belief that teachers and administrators have the educational and moral responsibility for
children and are to step in as the acting parent when children are in school. This loco
parentis doctrine legally protected teachers who felt the need to administer corporal
punishment to students (Dupper, 2008). It was the year 1867 when New Jersey was the
first state to ban and abolish corporal or physical punishment from their school system. It
was not until 100 years later that Massachusetts was the second state to abolish corporal
punishment (Grasmick, H., Morgan, C., & Kennedy, M., 1992).
Corporal punishment in many cases is equally supported as it is unsupported.
Depending on an individual’s personal views on what is effective discipline look like,
will determine the stance taken on the use of corporal punishment. Approximately 15
years ago, more than 2/3 of all pediatricians and family practitioners supported the use of
corporal punishment as a means of discipline, yet in the last 5 years family and children
organizations have released reports that are strongly discouraging the use of corporal
punishment as a discipline technique (Fritz, 2008).
Culture and religion is also a major factor in how corporal punishment is viewed
among society. Many people believe that corporal punishment is the will of God and a
discipline technique that was used in the time of Christ and should be continued even
now. Scripture supports this belief Proverbs 13:24 states, “He that spareth his rod hateth
his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes. Proverbs 22:15 states,
“Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far
from him. Proverbs 23:13-14 says, “Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou
beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt
deliver his soul from hell.
Despite the religious or cultural beliefs toward corporal punishment, many are
totally against the idea and cringe at the mention of it. There is an overwhelming belief
that we should join the 24 countries that have banned corporal punishment of children.
The overwhelming majority of studies done to date show that spanking increases
problems both long term as well as short term in children and also increases aggressive
behaviors in children especially toward other people (Jenny, 2009).
Facts concerning corporal punishment
Corporal punishment is as old as the education system itself. The receiving of
“licks” was always a possible consequence to infractions committed in schools all across
the nation. Corporal punishment is defined as physical pain inflicted on the body of a
child as a penalty for disapproved behavior. This pain can be inflicted through
spankings, paddlings, hitting, punching, shaking, excessive exercise, etc. (Dupper, 2008).
It was not until around the late 1970’s’s that society began to question its usage in the
American public school system. According Dupper (2008) corporal punishment,
currently corporal punishment in public schools is legal in 21 of our U.S. states and is
most frequently used in the southeast and southwest regions of the country. These states
include: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana,
Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio,
Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wyoming.
According to estimates from the federal Department of Education, one third of all
the cases of Corporal punishment occur in just two states: Texas and Mississippi---add
Arkansas, Alabama, and Tennessee, these five states account for almost three quarters of
all the nation’s school paddlings. Corporal punishment is used much more often on poor
children, minorities, children with disabilities, and boys---the U. S. Department of
Education, Office for Civil Rights, reported that African-American students comprise
17% of all public school students in the U.S.; yet, statistics show Black students are at
38% when it comes to having CP inflicted on them, which is more than twice the rate of
Relevant and Related Court Cases
Fee v. Herndon
In this situation, the parents “authorized” appropriate personnel to punish their
emotionally disturbed child with three paddle swats; and even though these parents
consented, they filed suit against the principal for this beating, claimed their child spent
six months in a psychiatric hospital which costs them $90,000, and brought action against
the special education teacher who allegedly failed to intervene in the spanking. The
District Court for the Southern District of Texas, dismissed the case for failure to state a
claim, and the parents appealed. The Court of Appeals dismissed the case as well and
stated that: 1) Texas law afforded adequate post punishment civil and criminal remedies,
and 2) Texas law did not impose upon the teacher a duty to intervene in the corporal
Cunningham v. Beavers
Two kindergartners were caught “snickering” and were given swats with a wooden
paddle by both the teacher and the principal. The paddling even left bruises on the two
young girls, but the Fifth Circuit Court concluded there was no constitutional violation of
either due process or equal protection and if there were a violation of law, it was a matter
for the state courts, not the federal ones.
Ingraham v. Wright
“The Court ruled that corporal punishment of public school students “did not require any
formal due process measures, such as notice and a hearing and under no circumstances
could be considered “cruel and unusual punishment” as that term is used in the Eighth
Amendment. Thus, in effect, the Supreme Court (by a 5-4 margin) left the regulation of
corporal punishment to state and local officials (Walsh, Kemerer, and Maniotis, p. 322).”
Each individual school or district has its own policy concerning student discipline.
Overall, the process is somewhat standard in the consequences that are faced by students
for school infractions. These consequences normally begin with phone calls home to
parents or guardians with a possible parent teacher conference, loss of privileges, teacher
detentions, or referral to an administrator. Once referred to an administrator
consequences differ dependent on the level of the infraction. These consequences range
from extended detentions, placement into a in school suspension for a certain period of
time, suspension from school, placement into a alternative learning center, or school
expulsion. The question that I propose, is how effective are these discipline techniques
being in school discipline for the present generation?
Author’s perspective on corporal punishment
Growing up I have seen as well as experienced differing forms of discipline some
effective as well as ineffective. I attended schools that supported corporal punishment
which aligned with the values and beliefs supported by my disciplinarians at home, mom,
dad, aunt, uncles, grandmothers, and the list continues. Discipline would be had, by any
means necessary, and what was the most effective manner of discipline would be the
manner in which discipline would be carried out each time. Traditionally, my family
believed that without discipline, I would not poses the tools necessary to be a successful
and well functioning citizen in society. Due to this tragic and unfortunate possibility,
discipline would be a lesson that was required to be learned.
The process of discipline for me was quite simple and easy to understand. The
first infraction would generally yield a firm warning with an explanation of the reasoning
behind why something should or should not be done. Next, if that form of discipline was
not successful, I would be given again the explanation of why I should alter my behavior
accompanied with a very firm and emphatic demand to never make the same choice
again. Generally, this demand would also yield the taking away of a special privilege
that was previously available to me with a warning that the next time, I would find
myself experiencing “corporal punishment” or what we called a whipping. Ultimately, if
I decide to make the same decision again, I was told how not being obedient would one
day find me in places or situations that could potentially be harmful. I would then
receive a spanking that did indeed hurt and cause pain, which was the point of the
spanking to hurt as a representation of the possible pain that can be experienced by the
act of not being disciplined or making bad choices. Each spanking was concluded with a
heartfelt quote which I never understood at that moment, but have grown to understand
the insight having a son of my own, “I spank you because I love you, and spanking you
hurts me more than it hurts you.” This simple quote was repeated often, so to help me
understand the difference between a spanking from love with good intentions and just
As an educator for the last ten years, I have seen a shift in the level and lack of
discipline owned by students of every race, sex, and age group. I believe that it is due to
the shift in discipline given to students in classrooms and with school administrators
moving further away from corporal punishment. Students have become less respectful,
more engaged in trouble making activities, truant, tardy to class, classroom distractions,
along with a host of other negative behaviors that have seemed to escalate over the past
ten years. It seems that the more lax society has become toward discipline, the worse the
state of student discipline has become. Students are no longer concerned or fearful of the
consequences that they must face for their actions. More importantly, they are no longer
fearful of their elder adults and view their disciplinarians in school as people who are
against them rather than for them. Unfortunately, unlike past times, teachers and school
administrators are not viewed as part of the community responsible for rearing the child
in the way in which he or she should go.
In conclusion corporal punishment misused can be a horrible act, but to label it
completely unlawful would be unreasonable. The African proverb “It takes a village to
raise a child” is the value that has produced the most positive results in past generations.
This is the same principle that I hope will be evident and applied to my son as well as his
children. Students need and want to be disciplined regardless of what may seem.
Surprisingly, children are accepting of corporal punishment having the expectation to
receive proper consequences for their behavior (Middleton, 2008). Discipline whether by
the loving rod or any other means is essential in the rearing of any child and is the
responsibility of the entire community to parents, teachers, administrators, family, and
neighbors. I share the belief that when there is no evidence that infrequent, non-abusive
spanking by caring parents damages children, I’m in favor of keeping governmental rules
away from child rearing and protecting parental autonomy, cultural traditions and family
privacy (Fritz, 2008). I have a firm belief that no matter school, institution, disciplinary,
child, or culture, without discipline there can be no education!
Dupper, D., & Montgomery Dingus, A. (2008). Corporal Punishment in U.S. Public
Schools: A Continuing Challenge for School Social Workers. Children &
Schools, 30(4), 243-250. Retrieved from ERIC database.
Fritz, G. (2008, November). Should spanking a child be unlawful?. Brown University
Child & Adolescent Behavior Letter, p. 8. Retrieved from Professional
Development Collection database.
Grasmick, H., Morgan, C., & Kennedy, M. (1992). Support for Corporal Punishment in
the Schools: A Comparison of the Effects of Socioeconomic Status and Religion*.
Social Science Quarterly (University of Texas Press), 73(1), 177-187. Retrieved
from Professional Development Collection database.
Jenny, C. (2009). Spanking should not be lawful. Brown University Child & Adolescent
Behavior Letter, 25(5), 8. Retrieved from Professional Development Collection
Middleton, J. (2008). The Experience of Corporal Punishment in Schools, 1890-1940.
History of Education, 37(2), 253-275. doi:10.1080/00467600701607882.
Walsh, J., Kemerer, F., & Maniotis, L. (2005). The educator’s guide to Texas school
law. Austin: University of Texas Press.