CORPORAL PUNISHMENT OF CHILDREN:
LETTER TO PRESIDENT CLINTON ON CHILDREN'S RIGHTS
Dear Mr. President:
Throughout the developed, industrial world, and in many
developing nations, the use of corporal punishment against
schoolchildren is forbidden. No European country permits the
While the consensus of informed opinion in the United States
concurs with informed opinion worldwide on this subject, our
practices do not. There is a great gulf between what we know to
be correct treatment of schoolchildren and our schools' actual
practices. According to the best available statistics, more than
one million incidents of corporal punishment occur in our schools
annually. No credible argument has been raised that anything
other than harm is achieved by these acts.
Pediatrician and Clinical Professor of Pediatric Medicine at
Yale University School of Medicine, Dr. Morris Wessel has written:
"Beaten and battered children are more likely to become adults
who have inadequate control of their aggressive feelings, who
therefore strike out mercilessly against children, spouses,
friends and sometimes even other members of society. The
violence inflicted on children by their closest relatives and
caretakers has a long-lasting and horrifying effect. These
children grow up with the idea that, when another person's
behavior is displeasing to them, violent acts against that person
are appropriate ways to deal with feelings of displeasure. In
short, members of each adult generation tend to reproduce in
their interpersonal relationships the violence which they
experienced in their childhood."
The noted anthropologist, Ashley Montagu has written:
"Any form of corporal punishment or 'spanking' is a violent attack upon
another human being's integrity. The effect remains with the
victim forever and becomes an unforgiving part of his or her
personality - a massive frustration resulting in hostility which
will seek expression in later life in violent acts towards others.
The sooner we understand that love and gentleness are the only
kinds of called-for behavior towards children, the better. The
child, especially, learns to become the kind of human being that
he or she has experienced. This should be fully understood by
The distinguished Harvard psychologist, B.F. Skinner has written:
"Punitive measures whether administered by police, teachers,
spouses or parents have well-known standard effects:
The more violent the punishment, the more serious the by-products."
- escape - education has its own name for that: truancy,
- counterattack - vandalism on schools and attacks on teachers,
- apathy - a sullen do-nothing withdrawal.
Because of government's symbolic importance in influencing the
behavior of private citizens, it should set the highest possible
standard for the care of children in its charge. The legal right
of school personnel to beat schoolchildren sends a message to
child abusers in the community that their behavior is acceptable.
It demonstrates to children that violence is an appropriate way
to express disapproval or discharge anger.
Furthermore, corporal punishment in schools degrades the
teaching profession. It contributes to an atmosphere of confrontation
in schools that demoralizes many of our most capable teachers and
forces them to abandon their calling. It infuses many schoolchildren
with hostility towards formal learning as evidenced by
poor academic performance and dropout.
There is no restriction on government power more important in
distinguishing our constitutional democracy from tyranny than
that which forbids the agents of civil authority to inflict
battery as a routine administrative procedure. This protection
has been gained by agricultural workers, factory workers,
military recruits, apprentices, domestic servants, psychiatric
patients, convicts, suspects under interrogation, women, the
developmentally handicapped, persons of color, the elderly,
homosexuals - by every group except one.
Schoolchildren should be granted the same legal protection
against battery that is enjoyed by every other class of citizen.
Without this, all other educational reforms are hollow. For
surely we will fail to foster in future citizens a respect for
the rights of others if, in their formative years, we permit
their rights to be trampled.
Mr. President, you have committed yourself to genuine
educational reform. We, the undersigned, urge you to fulfill that commitment
by taking a leadership role in assuring the right of every child
to be safe from corporal punishment at school. We urge you to
instruct the Secretary of the US Department of Education to
take expeditious and forceful action to deny federal assistance
to any school, school district or other educational entity that
authorizes the use of corporal punishment.
National Committee for Prevention of Child Abuse
American Academy of Pediatrics
Children's National Medical Center
American Association of Retired Persons
National Congress of Parents and Teachers Association
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
National Mental Health Association
American Psychological Association
The Menninger Foundation
The National Exchange Club Foundation for the Prevention of
Parents Anonymous, Inc.
Association for Childhood Education International
National Council on Crime and Delinquency
National Association of Counsel for Children
National Parent Aide Association, Inc.
American Association of Physicians for Human Rights
Parent Effectiveness Training
EPOCH - USA (End Physical Punishment of Children)
National Association of School Psychologists
National Council of Teachers of English
American School Counselor Association
National Committee for Rights of the Child
Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, Inc.
Jefferson County (Alabama) Child Development Council, Inc.
California Association for Health, Physical Education,
Recreation and Dance
California Professional Society on the Abuse of Children
Greater Chicago Council for Prevention of Child Abuse
Coordinating Council for Children in Crisis, Inc. (A
Coalition for Children (A Connecticut organization)
Agenda for Children (An advocacy organization in Louisiana)
Massachusetts Committee for Children and Youth
Mental Health Associations of Illinois, Florida, Kentucky,
Louisiana, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Texas, West Virginia
Voices for Children in Nebraska
The Child Assault Prevention Project of Washoe County ( A
Child Abuse Prevention Committee of Greater Philadelphia
West Virginia Child Care Association
Northern Tier Youth Services of West Virginia
National Committee for Prevention of Child Abuse
in: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado,
Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii,
Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana,
Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi,
Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York,
North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon,
Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota,
Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington,
Parents Anonymous chapters in: Alabama, Arizona,
Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland,
Montana, Nevada, Vermont, Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming