Randy Cox and I were in the First Methodist Church's Boy Scout Troop 5 in Lake Charles, La. In a happy coincidence, we both wound up working in Little Rock.
Randy is a licensed social worker and a one-man Arkansas army for stopping corporal punishment in schools. See his website, neverhitachild.org, for research and informed opinion.
Randy wrote me last week with good news. U.S. Rep. Carolyn McCarthy of New York introduced legislation to end corporal punishment in schools by refusing federal money to schools that continue to whack kids. Thirty states have outlawed the practice, not including Arkansas and other gun-worshipping, Republican-leaning Southern states. (The largest school districts in Arkansas, including all in Pulaski County, have sworn off pounding kids.)
McCarthy is joined by the PTA, secondary principals and a host of other organizations in the effort. I'm afraid to ask our congressional delegation and current candidates where they stand, the answers are so likely to be dispiriting. (Surprise me, Mike Ross.)
The research is extensive. Corporal punishment leads to increased negative behavior and dropout rates, McCarthy said. Punishment is discriminatorily applied. Racial minorities and poor kids are whipped more often than white kids and the well-to-do.
News coverage of the legislation (largely ignored in Arkansas) included a mention that Memphis was thinking of reinstating corporal punishment in a "war zone" school. Yes, that's the ticket. Show students that the proper response to violence is more violence. Think about it. Will a 16-year-old from a Memphis ghetto where shootings, stabbings and drug dealing are daily occurrences be encouraged to better behavior by a butt-whipping?
If you hit a kid with a board for sassing you at a McDonald's restaurant, you'd be charged with assault. But, in Arkansas and 19 other states, a coach can pound a smart alec kid with a board and they call it sound discipline.
Randy dug up an interesting piece of history. The state Board of Education in 1993, packed with progressive Clinton appointees, had a discussion about ending corporal punishment. An Arkadelphia elementary principal told the board her school chose alternatives to corporal punishment, preferring "discipline with dignity." Ultimately, the Board approved a resolution by Elaine Scott encouraging districts to use alternative punishment. It said: "Corporal punishment serves as a model for aggressive behavior and teaches violence as a permissible solution to problems ... It causes students to withdraw from the punishing situation and is linked to absenteeism, truancy and the resulting lowering of academic achievement."
Board chairman Nancy Wood appointed a committee to report on the extent to which corporal punishment was used in Arkansas and to work with school groups on building consensus on banning it.
Education Department records today reflect no further reports, meetings or discussions. Nancy Wood told me the other day that her board term ended shortly after this action. She said the board knew from the first that historic feelings on the topic argued against a Board edict. Absent a vigorous continuing advocate – and with Mike Huckabee appointees in time taking control of the Board of Education – attention moved to other topics. The resolution was forgotten. Butts continued to be whipped.
School districts in Texas, Mississippi, Arkansas, Alabama and Georgia account for almost three-fourths of the reported whippings in U.S. schools, even though huge numbers of kids in these states are in urban districts that don't use corporal punishment.
Randy's simple mantra: Never hit a child, except in self defense. No harm has ever come from following that sound advice.