This post originally appeared as an op-ed in the Courier Journal and Kentucky Today on February 28, 2020.
By Terry Brooks, executive director Kentucky Youth Advocates
Folk wisdom versus folk myths always intrigue me. For instance, which of these statements are true?
- Toilet flushes spin in a different direction in the Southern Hemisphere.
- Dogs’ mouths are cleaner than human mouths.
- Lightning never strikes the same place twice.
- Salty water boils more quickly.
- Bats are blind.
- The Great Wall of China is the only man-made object visible from space.
- Cracking your knuckles can cause arthritis.
- Ostriches stick their heads in the sand when frightened.
- Corporal punishment improves student behavior and strengthens discipline within a school.
So, how’d you do?
ALL TEN ARE FALSE!
We can smile at the first nine. The 10th is a more serious matter, and that debunked myth carries serious consequences for Kentucky’s children.
The good news is that 2020 has brought us within a whisper of ending that corrosive discipline practice and bringing a commitment to kids around smarter and more effective student management policies. Sponsored by Representative Steve Riley, the Kentucky House passed House Bill 22 with overwhelming support to eliminate corporal punishment in public schools. That piece of legislation now sits waiting for action in the Kentucky Senate. Knowing the track record of Senate President Robert Stivers and Senate leadership when it comes to kids, we stand confident that HB 22 will become law by the final gavel.
To say that a myriad of misconceptions afflicts this issue is an understatement. As an example, many Kentuckians – and, frankly, lawmakers – were unaware that we even still allowed this antiquated practice. The good news is that 60 percent of Kentucky’s school districts are student-centric enough to explicitly prohibit the use of paddling. And that number just grew last week as the Whitley County Superintendent and Board of Education stood up for kids and banned the use of the paddle. Of Kentucky’s remaining districts that allow corporal punishment, only thirteen employed the practice of hitting kids last school year.
Those trendlines are testaments to people caring about kids and paying attention to documented research around what works. And while the number of incidents is declining, I would assert that even one incident is one too many.
And that one incident is one too many on so many levels.
First, corporal punishment simply does not work. I don’t really want to hear this story or that one about, “in my day.” Research is clear and decisive. Hitting kids does not improve individual behavior nor does it create a more orderly school environment – it instead reinforces physical aggression.
Knowing that data tells us there is a slight disproportionate use among students with disabilities, corporal punishment also creates a discriminatory climate.
Knowing that violent punishment can and does traumatize kids – especially those who have already experienced violence and other traumatic experiences – corporal punishment carries immediate and long-lasting impacts on the child’s physical and mental health, behavior, and educational outcomes.
That kind of impact is especially important in Kentucky where, according to the latest Children’s Bureau Child Maltreatment report, there were more than 23,000 child victims of maltreatment in the Commonwealth in 2018. Perhaps even more notable is that the same report shows Kentucky has the highest child maltreatment rate in the nation – more than double the national rate – for two years running. The negative impact of corporal punishment is even more wrong-headed (and wrong-hearted) because the problem of child trauma is particularly profound in Kentucky, where 22 percent of children have experienced one Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) and 18 percent have experienced two or more – among the highest in the nation. In other words, the kids who are getting hit at home are likely some of the same kids getting hit at schools.
Corporal punishment is not how we build resilient students.
Educational leaders and the medical community oppose corporal punishment. The diverse partners who comprise both the Blueprint for Kentucky’s Children coalition and the Kosair Charities® Face It® Movement oppose corporal punishment. The best of academic research and the most pervasive of common sense thinking oppose corporal punishment. I hope that the Kentucky Senate joins these forces, as well as its colleagues in the Kentucky House to end corporal punishment in schools.
A game-changing win for Kentucky’s children was 2019’s Senate Bill 1, the School Safety and Resiliency Act. That was a bold move by our General Assembly to deepen safety and reduce trauma for our boys and girls in schoolhouses across the commonwealth. To fail to act to end corporal punishment in public schools would be a move in the exact opposite direction – corporal punishment reduces safety in schools and deepens trauma for those same boys and girls.
Just like ostriches, we should keep our heads out of the sand and face the facts. Kentucky must not be in the crowd of Iran, North Korea, and other countries who allow corporal punishment in schools.
Stay up-to-date on House Bill 22 and other Blueprint for Kentucky’s Children priorities on our Kentucky General Assembly Bill Tracker.
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