19 U.S. States Still Allow Corporal Punishment, While One Baltimore School Takes an Alternative Approach to Student Discipline

Although many see wooden paddles as antiquated emblems of schoolhouses of the past, thousands of schools in the U.S. today allow corporal punishment as a way to discipline students. Yet while many schools still allow paddling and spanking to rule the school yards, others are taking peaceful alternative measures that, although unusual, just might work.

Exhibit A: Corporal Punishment Still Used in 19 States

A report published by Science Daily in early October found that in the 2013–2014 school year, over 160,000 students in the United States were disciplined using corporal punishment, as reported in Science Daily. The data was collected from figures made public by the U.S. Department of Education, spanning 37,000 public schools where physical discipline—potentially to the point of bruising—is still legal.

By law, hitting, spanking, and paddling with a wooden board are all acceptable forms of physical discipline in schools, as founded by the Supreme Court case, Ingraham v. Wright. The 1977 case ruled that physical discipline, in this case spanking, does not violate students’ rights. Now, physical discipline in schools is left to the state’s discretion.

As a result, at least 19 states still allow physical punishment as a way to subdue students.

By 2016, 31 states have made corporal punishment illegal. 15 states including Tennessee, Arkansas, and Wyoming, support corporal punishment by law, but leave the decision of whether to use it in classrooms up to local school boards. Parental consent is not required in all states—some states require permission, but other states, such as Texas, require a written, signed waiver from parents for a student to opt out of corporal punishment, if it is mandated by the school’s policy.

While the practice is increasingly controversial, many still believe it to be an effective form of student discipline. Daryl Scoggin, a Mississippi school-district superintendent, explained in Education Week, “It’s kind of like, I had it done to me, and so I knew what I needed to do. I guess it’s more that you learn by watching.”

Generally, public schools practicing corporal punishment lacked a standard set of policies or training to instruct staff on how to safely punish kids based on size or age of the child. Some schools have a standard paddle size or an allowable number of strikes, but there is no general consensus or guidebook.

The Science Daily report also found that boys, children with disabilities, and black children were disproportionately punished compared to their peers. Children with disabilities in Southern states are twice as likely to be punished than their peers. Black students, while making up 22% of the population of states allowing corporal punishment, make up 38% of students physically disciplined.

The states no longer allowing physical punishment have not reported an increase in crime, showing the possibility that there could be more beneficial ways to discipline children that do not inflict emotional or physical trauma.


Exhibit B: Meditation In Lieu of Corporal Punishment

On the other hand, one West Baltimore elementary school has replaced more traditional methods of discipline with meditation.

Each day at Robert W. Coleman Elementary starts with 15 minutes of guided meditation with intermittent mediation and yoga breaks throughout the day. Instead of detention, children who disrupt class are sent to the Mindful Moment Room where a trained staff member conducts breathing exercises to teach mindfulness and help the students to self regulate emotions.

Holistic Life Foundation, a Chicago based non-profit, worked with principal Carlillan Thompson to bring the meditation program to the school. Thompson wanted to create an alternative to suspension, one that would be beneficial long term to the students. Co-Founder, Andres Gonzalez, explains how your heart rate increases in situations of anger, stress, and frustration. If children don’t know how to properly respond they can lash out with bad behavior that would result in detention or suspension. Teaching the students how to stop and slow down their breathing teaches them to not be reactionary and impulsive.

Overall, the school has reported fewer behavioral issues and hasn’t had a suspension since the meditation program began. A nearby Baltimore high school, Patterson park, which has a Mindful Moment program, reported decreased suspension rates and an increase in daily attendance.

While many believe physical discipline is immediate and allows the child to associate negative behavior with pain, the American Psychological Association warns that the practice could have long-term psychological effects on children, providing negative reinforcement and teaching students that hitting is acceptable.

Those who argue against corporal punishment believe that teaching children how to behave well by teaching and reinforcing good behavior, similar to the meditation program at Robert W. Coleman Elementary, motivates the child to learn better, and shows more positive long-term results.

Certainly, as more schools develop alternative student discipline programs, we will be able to analyze these results over time.

Courtney Major

Courtney Major

Courtney Major is a Senior Writing, Literature, and Publishing student at Emerson College, where she has written for multiple on-campus publications. Her work has also been published on multiple online diabetes magazines. When she isn’t working, she’s probably trying to find the best espresso with whipped cream in Boston.