Apparently, it’s still legal for Maine public schools to use corporal punishment on children, and there seems to be a lot of confusion about this. Many people, including myself, thought corporal punishment was no longer legal in Maine. I actually thought it must be illegal everywhere. I was wrong!
During our state’s current legislative session, our representatives are considering a bill to make corporal punishment illegal. The summary of the bill reads as follows:
“This bill prohibits the imposition of corporal punishment in elementary and secondary schools and preschool programs. ‘Corporal punishment’ means any form of discipline or punishment involving offensive physical contact with or inflicting physical pain or discomfort on a student. ‘Corporal punishment’ does not include the use of physical restraint to protect the student or others from immediate harm.”
You can read more about the proposed bill here.
Last week, my youngest son and I were reading a children’s biography of Henry David Thoreau. We learned about how Thoreau worked for a time as a school teacher but didn’t like the job. He refused to use corporal punishment on children, and this didn’t go over well. After just two weeks working as a teacher in the public schools, Thoreau resigned.
Upon learning the information about Thoreau, my son asked what “corporal punishment” was, and when I told him that when mama was in school teachers and principals would sometimes “paddle” kids with a wooden board, my son was horrified. I told him not to worry, that this was not even legal anymore. Of course, I was wrong.
So, in 1837, Thoreau saw the problems with corporal punishment in schools, yet, here we are in 2017, and our lawmakers are just now considering this legislation?
If you think about it, corporal punishment in schools really just sounds and feels wrong. It’s no wonder my little boy was horrified. We should probably all be horrified. When I was in elementary school, our principal had his paddle or “the board” on display. It was long, wooden, and had holes. The kids said the holes were there so there wouldn’t be too much resistance when the principal was hitting your backside. Other rumors circulated amongst the kids in school that there was another paddle, this one even more dangerous, this one with “nails” in it.
Of course, this wasn’t true, but the stories show you the impact that paddle had on us. We were scared. I was scared. I never “got the paddle,” but many little boys I knew did. And, looking back, I realize that those boys were 6, 7, and 8 years old, and that feels so wrong to me. I mean, of course children who are 6 years old are going to act up sometimes. They’re 6!
I’m glad this is illegal in many places and not common here in Maine, though, apparently, it’s more common nationally than many of us might think.
I would argue that it’s about time for this legislation to make it official here in Maine, as physical punishment has been proven ineffective and has no place in our school systems.
Research shows that physical punishment does more harm than good. In an analysis of 62 years of data, the American Psychological Association found that children who are hit as punishment are more likely to exhibit aggressive and antisocial behaviors. This piece from Housewife Plus summarizes some of the general problems with corporal punishment very well.
We try to teach children that hitting is wrong, and then we hit them? Do we want children associating teachers and principals with such negative feelings? If we truly value equal opportunities in education for children, I believe we have to do everything we can to keep school a positive experience for children.
There’s always a reason for children who are “misbehaving,” something behind the behavior that the child needs some help with. As I wrote in an earlier blog post “There’s always a reason,” it could be hunger, not getting enough sleep at night, stress, learning struggles, or a wide variety of issues at play. Instead of punishing children for acting out, shouldn’t we try to discover why children are acting out?
When I was telling my son about corporal punishment, I just assumed it was illegal here in Maine; since it’s not yet, we should encourage our legislature to make this a reality. Corporal punishment just has no place in our schools.