The before and after of Corporal Punishment in School Classrooms

The accounts of children punished by the infamous strap throughout school history are many and for most the discipline has been devastating. The pain from unjust discipline for children leaves emotional scars far beyond the physical marks and welts left by such instruments as leather straps, wooden rulers and yardsticks.

Twentieth century grade school children who attended class in one room classrooms tell their stories of teachers controlling the classroom with the threat of and then follow up with aggression acts of corporal punishment. Yelling, insults, and humiliating punishments such as pulling of a student’s ears and lifting at the “scruff of the neck” were all forms of intimidation to control children’s behavior. Adults who have grown up as children in this kind of learning environment retell their stories now as seniors and the emotion in their voice still belies the reality of unhealed emotions. Their stories are our historic records proving the effect and consequences of corporal punishment, received as children, on the rest of their lives.

In more recent history, teachers are trained as part of their job to control the classroom without physically punishing children. Part of the job is to control their own emotions and know the processes to put into action to control disorderly children. Teachers need to be supported by process and procedure for treatment of a child that is out of control and disrupting the learning situation. Children do need to know that their own bad behavior cannot interrupt the environment in which other children are learning.

Children need encouragement and interest in who they are as individuals, to enable them to grow emotionally and develop in academic skills. Children are complex, each an individual uniquely growing toward adulthood. They need people to believe in them.

Physical abuse is unique because it is also emotional abuse. When children are physically punished, they have no power. When they are physically punished by people they do not know , they really don’t know whether this person cares about them or not; they feel completely alone and helpless.  Parents need to be completely responsible for handling their children’s behavior, in school and out. Parents who care are the people accountable for their children. Best case scenario is that they love their children and care deeply about their children’s behavior and learning experience.

All things considered, the best practice is to have creative ways to deal with poor behavior in the classroom that will allow children to learn that they themselves are responsible for their behavior and that there are consequences as a result – but outside corporal punishment. Bad behavior should not equal physical punishment.

Too many have lived painful lives as a result of corporal punishment they received in school. It is just not worth it – no one deserves it.

In 2004 in Canada, corporal punishment ceased to be allowed in classrooms. In the U.S., corporal punishment has not disappeared in schools in spite of the fact that many think it has. It is difficult to believe that it has taken this long for our societies to come to terms with the reality and devastating effect on lives.