Child corporal punishment: spanking
History of corporal punishment.
When we wrote the original version of this essay in 1995, it started with the prediction:
"... restriction of parents hitting their children is expected to become one of the main
topics of debate between religious conservatives and liberals during the next decade."
We were wrong. It seems that same-sex marriage came along instead.
However, concern about corporal punishment does seem to be increasing slowly as more people become aware of the
links between corporal punishment and youth rage, youth criminal acts, adult
alcoholism and abuse of other drugs, adult clinical depression, adult clinical
Looking at the broader picture of state-sanctioned violence, we see that it is gradually decreasing. In the past:
|Slave-owners could whip slaves. This was theoretically abolished in
the U.S. at the end of the Civil War. |
|Masters could whip indentured servants.|
|Husbands could beat wives with little chance of being arrested; this immunity has been
greatly reduced in recent years throughout North America.|
|The public could commit violence against people found guilty and held captive in a
pillory. This was abolished in most US states by 1839. In 1905. Delaware was the last
state to eliminate stocks.|
|Jail guards could cane or whip prisoners. The last flogging in Britain was in 1967; in
the U.S. it ended in 1952, again in Delaware.|
|Ship officers could flog sailors until the practice was abolished by the U.S. Senate in 1850;
and in Britain in 1957.|
|Boxers were and are expected to beat each other senseless to the point
that they can no longer function. Over time, this
still often causes brain damage.|
|School teachers could use corporal punishment on their students. Laws were passed to
abolished spanking in British state-run schools in 1986, and in privately funded schools
in 1998. The Supreme Court of Canada prohibited corporal punishment by
Canadian schools in 2004. Punishment in schools is still permitted in about
60% of the states.|
|Parents and guardians could -- and continue to -- use corporal punishment
on their children in the U.S. and Canada, subject to some restrictions.|
Currently, only the last three categories are still legal in North America. And the
degree of violence is in decline:
Corporal punishment in schools:
|The use of physical violence against students in US public schools dropped from 1.4 million
students in 1981 to 500,000 in 1991.|
|The Boston-based national Coalition of Advocates for Students
found that in the late 1980s, 5.2% black schoolchildren and 2.3% of
white students were spanked annually.
|In 1999-AUG, 27 states, the District
of Columbia and Puerto Rico banned corporal punishment in their school systems.
2 25 states permitted the hitting of students.|
|By the year 2000, 23 states -- mostly in the South -- continued to
allow their students to be beaten: AL, AZ, AR, CO, DE, FL, GA, ID,
IN, KS, KY, LA, MS, MO, NM, NC, OH, OK, PA, SC, TN, TX, WY. It is still
legal in Rhode Island, but is banned by each of the public school
districts in the state. 3 |
|By 2003-FEB, 23
"spanking" states still remained. A bill to ban corporal punishment
in Wyoming died in the Senate with a 15-15 tie vote. Bills to outlaw
the beating of students were active in four other states.|
|By 2003-APR-1, Bill SB15, which bans paddling and other forms of physical
punishment of students in public schools, passed by a healthy margin in
the Delaware Senate (14 to 7) and House (22 to 16). Governor Ruth Ann Minner signed the bill into law
in 2003-APR. 4,5|
|As of 2003-APR-15, there was active discussion in Pennsylvania and
Missouri about the banning of corporal punishment of students. 4|
|About 120 countries had prohibited corporal punishment in their schools
by 2008-MAY. 6|
|By the start of 2009, 21 U.S. states still allow corporal punishment in
|During the 1997-8 school year, 49,859 students (10.1%) were physically punished
in Mississippi; 40,811 (9.2) in Arkansas, and 45,811 (6.3%) in Alabama.
All of the other states punished fewer than 5% of their students.
Corporal punishment by parents:
|A 1993 survey of U.S. parents showed a drop in the use of spanking as the main disciplinary
method from 59% in 1962 to 19% in 1993. Parents now prefer using time-outs (38%) and
|Drs. T. Berry Brazelton, Penelope Leach, and Benjamin Spock, probably the most
influential child psychologists and pediatricians, all oppose spanking.
the American Psychological Association and the National Association of Social
Workers. The American Academy of Pediatrics seems to be having difficulty
reaching a consensus on a complete ban. However, 90% of their membership recommend either that
spanking never be used, or that it be used on only very rare occasions.
|The American Academy of Pediatrics conducted a survey in 1997-1998 of their membership.
9 They reported:
Some argue that if we are to promote a less violent culture, then we should
ban spanking. A few suggest that we criminalize all
interpersonal violence. Others believe that spanking children is a useful form of
discipline that does not harm the child if it is done carefully and with love.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- Jordan Riak, "Corporal Punishment in Schools Must End," New York
Times letters column, 1989-JAN-11. Online at:
- Project NoSpank maintains a list of states that still engage in
corporal punishment of students. See:
- Dennis Randall, "Corporal punishment in school," Learning Network,
- "Breaking News: Delaware becomes 28th state to ban school paddling,"
Press release from the National Coalition to Abolish Corporal Punishment in
Schools and the Center for Effective Discipline, 2003-APR-1 at:
- Joe Rogalsky, "Spanking bill signed," CorPun, 2003-APR-15, at:
- "Discipline and the Law: Legal Reforms, StopHitting, at:
- "21 to Go!," at:
- "Top ten pupil-battering states: 1997-98 school year," at:
- "AAP survey on corporal punishment reveals divergent views," AAP, at:
Copyright © 1995 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on
Latest update: 2009-MAY-17
Author: B.A. Robinson