By Bertram Harris

Corporal Punishment Defined/Overview

Corporal punishment in relation to its use in schools has been defined as "the use of physical force with the intention of causing a child to experience bodily pain or discomfort so as to correct or punish the child's behavior" (Gershoff 2008, p. 9). This definition is based on the research of one Elizabeth Gershoff, PhD, who is a Columbia University psychologist who conducted research on corporal punishment that involved 88 studies of 36,309 children. Corporal punishment in schools has long been a heavily debated topic which engenders either support or criticism depending on what side of the spectrum you fall on. Also, the implementation and support of corporal punishment often depends on a myriad of factors related to both cultural and regional issues.

Regional and Cultural Issues affecting Corporal Punishment

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Culturally speaking, corporal punishment is far more likely to be employed as a disciplinary tactic when applied to minorities in comparison to other races and cultures. For example, according to (Skiba, Michael, Nardo, & Peterson, 2002, 34, pp 317-342) “Black students are consistently suspended at rates two to three times higher than those for other students, and they are overrepresented in office referrals, expulsions, and corporal punishment”. As it pertains to regional issues, according to the Center for Effective Discipline, in Ohio an organization that strives to bring awareness to the perils of corporal punishment “most of the country has banned corporal punishment in schools. Georgia is among 19 states, most of them in the South, which still allow it” (McCaffrey, Tagami, & Mehrotra, 2013, 10). Many believe that the South’s affinity for corporal punishment relates directly to its position and inclusion in the so called “bible belt” states. Traditionally, these states which are primarily rooted in the southern part of the nation subscribe to the precept in the bible that states” He who spares his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him promptly” (Proverbs 13:24 New King James). Consequently, it is believed by those who support corporal punishment based on the aforementioned premise that to refuse to discipline your child physically is to hinder their ability to properly mature and contribute positively to society. Lance Anthony, is both a parent and he has also had experience in working with children through the Department of Corrections and substitute teaching. Mr. Anthony states, “I fully believe in spare the rod and spoil the child, the permissive society is a breeding ground for trouble with a capital T” (Rice, 2013,62). On the other hand, there are those who argue that corporal punishment is ineffective as a deterrent for negative behavior and that it actually re-enforces negative behavior patterns among children. Katherine Raczynski, director of the Safe and Welcoming Schools project at the University of Georgia, said “literature indicates that corporal punishment is no more effective than any other form of discipline yet detracts from learning (McCaffrey, Tagami, & Mehrotra, 2013, 9). Similarly, Gershoff states that “corporal punishment was significantly associated with all 11 endpoints, including poorer moral internalization, quality of relationship with parent and mental health--as well as increased rates of abuse by a parent in childhood aggression, criminal or antisocial behavior, and abuse of own child or spouse in adulthood. It is also associated with aggression, depression and lower cognitive performance”(Gershoff, 2002,p 590-595).

Educators and Parents weigh in on the pros and cons of Corporal Punishment

The opinions and perspectives of educators and parents on this issue are not uniformly on one side or the other as one might think they should or would be. Many believe that corporal punishment is a vital tool when used correctly in ensuring proper behavior patterns and maintaining order in the school environment. According to Jim Buntin, who was the person responsible for bringing corporal punishment to Muscogee County School district in his role as a former superintendent in 1995-96 “corporal punishment changed behavior faster than any other punishment”. He also stated that it was a common misconception that the intent of corporal punishment was to abuse the offender. On the contrary he stated, “I am not here to abuse you. I am here to educate you.” (McCaffrey, Tagami, & Mehrotra, 2013, 14).

However, there are just as many who believe that the day and time for corporal punishment has passed and must be replaced with new and more innovative behavior strategies. John Phillips, the Interim-Superintendent for Muscogee County School District last year and also the main voice behind the decision for MCSD to ban corporal punishment is one of those people. According to John Phillips, corporal punishment “teaches kids the very thing that we do not want to teach them, violence. If I am bigger than you I can handle it in a barbaric way” (Rice, 2013,7). Similarly, Keith Miller, a parent from the Atlanta area says he prefers using the method of restriction in relation to negative behavior instead of corporal punishment (McCaffrey, Tagami, & Mehrotra, 2013). The decision to ban corporal punishment locally was met with mixed reviews from across the county. There were many who championed the decision by the school board as a move toward making MCSD a more progressive district. Conversely, some teachers and parents in favor of corporal punishment cite and believe that its removal was ill timed by the district. Due to the new pressures that many teachers are under in regard to student achievement and performance it was thought that more resources should be given to teachers to deal with behavior as opposed to them being taken away.

Furthermore, many teachers cite increases in office referrals and discipline related issues since corporal punishments removal from the district. It is assured that the debate on the issue of corporal punishment will continue both on the local and national level for some time to come with many who are in favor and those who are against it. Is corporal punishment in schools and beyond effective or ineffective? You decide!

Corporal Punishment Trend or Issue?
Whether the topic of corporal punishment is viewed as a trend or issue depends largely on the vantage point from which it is being examined. Traditionally, states have reserved the right to decide on the topic of corporal punishment, but in recent years many states have delegated that right to the individual school districts and in some cases individual schools. However, for the purpose of this project and based on the analysis of the terms, it is believed that the research will show that the declining use of corporal punishment on the national, state, and local levels is reflective of a trend in middle and/or secondary education rather than an issue.
Origins of Corporal Punishment in Schools

One of the first cases involving corporal punishment was Ingraham vs Wright. This case involved a 14 year old Florida boy who was paddled by his middle school principal for failing to leave an assembly in a timely manner. During the course of the paddling, the boy was held down by two adults while he was struck on the bottom some twenty times. The result of the paddling was a trip to the hospital where he was described as having suffered a hematoma. The boy’s parents sued the school district citing that the aforementioned punishment was cruel and unusual. In 1977, the Supreme Court ruled that the hitting of children by school personnel did not violate children’s constitutional guarantees to due process or to protection from cruel and unusual punishment

Explanation of the declining use of Corporal Punishment in Schools

Historically speaking, since corporal punishment inception both nationally and statewide the trend has been that more and more states have moved away from this form of discipline. For example, according to the Center for Effective Discipline, as of 2006 more than 31 states had enacted policies to ban the use of corporal punishment in schools (

Corporal punishment numbers in the state of Georgia also are reflective of this trend as well as having dropped by 50 percent since 2007 (McCaffrey, Tagami, & Mehrotra, 2013). Shockingly, these numbers tell an interesting story as to the viewpoints of many states legislators, educators, and school districts in relation to corporal punishment effectiveness and safety. Seemingly, there are various reasons for this trend but most of them fall into one category. Increasingly various problems have emerged with the improper use of corporal punishment dealing with the liability of individual school employees and whole school districts which has resulted in lawsuits and criminal prosecution of school officials. One case in the state of Tennessee involved an 8 year old boy who was struck eight times with a paddle for throwing rocks and crayons in school. It is reported that the boy sustained bruising to his bottom as a result of the paddling. His parents, after hearing the report from the school, felt that it was unjust and have since filed suit against the district for 1.7 million dollars (McCaffrey, Tagami, & Mehrotra, 2013).
In many of these types of cases the list of injuries has ranged from minor lacerations and bruising to, in some severe cases, broken bones. The following video details a similar incident to the aforementioned one in which a boy was paddled for failing a test in class.

Those who are against corporal punishment cite these incidents as examples and state that often there are no proper guidelines that show educators how to properly strike the students, so much of it is left to chance. Deborah Sendek, program director for the Center for Effective Discipline in Ohio states, “How do you know how to paddle?” Sendek said. “How hard do you hit? How far back do you bring the paddle? How do you make sure you get it on the bottom? Do you know about your weight and strength? That’s a lot of risk to take” ( McCaffrey, Tagami, & Mehrotra, 2013,11). As a result, many states and school districts have decided that the risk and liability is not worth the reward and instead have adopted less controversial behavior modification methods. The emphasis of these new behavior modification techniques focus less on the punishing of negative behavior and more on fostering positive behavior.

Local effects of the current trend in Corporal Punishment
It is unsure but seemingly these trends were taken into account locally last year when the Muscogee County School District (MCSD) Board of Education met and decided unanimously to ban the use of corporal punishment in the district. A 2013 local news headline involving a corporal punishment case within the district is believed to have been one of the deciding factors in this decision. The case involved a middle school girl who was paddled by an assistant principal and it was alleged that excessive force was used resulting in visible bruising to the child’s bottom. The child’s mother was instrumental in taking the information to the paper and the school board in an effort to correct what she perceived as an injustice. This case brought unwanted negative attention to the district and it gave those in opposition to corporal punishment added fuel to the fire (Rice, 2013).
In relation to today’s society, one thing is certain, if the current trend continues more and more states and districts will move away from the use of corporal punishment in schools. What is uncertain is if the society that remains, after this trend is realized will be one for the better or on the contrary one for the worse?

To read a proposal regarding a school-wide behavioral management initiative, please download the document below:

Annotated Bibliography

Ecko, M. (2011, March 8). Unlimited Justice Interviews Victim of Excessive Paddling [Video file]. Retrieved from
This video featured a case involving corporal punishment highlighted many of the concerns that people who are against corporal punish have which is it’s unfair application.

Gershoff, E. (2002). Perspectives on the Effects of Corporal Punishment. Psychological Bulletin, 128(4), 590-595. This article featured evidence in the form of stats and research detailing some of the pitfalls for corporal punishment.

Gershoff, E. (2008). Report on Physical Punishment in the United States: What Research Tells Us About Its Effects on Children. Columbus, OH: Center for Effective Discipline. This article detailed many of the issues and problems with coporal punishment and its potential lasting affects.

Ingraham v. Wright. (n.d.). In Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved June 1, 2014, from This case detailed on of the first known cases involving corporal punishment in schools in which it was deemed not cruel and unusual punishment.

McCaffrey, S., Tagami, T., & Mehrotra, K. (2013, October 26). Paddling still common outside metro Atlanta. Atlanta Journal & Constution. This article simply looked at the notion of corporal punishment and how common it still is in the southern part of the country and many of the issues that are related to its examination.

Rice, M. (2013, April 13). Mom says daughter was bruised by school paddling; Muscogee County considers banning corporal punishment Read more here: Columbus Ledger Enquirer. This article went into detail about local corporal punishment case here in Columbus that many think played a role in corporal punishment being banned here in the county. It also provided views on both sides of the issue.

Skiba, R., Michael, R., Nardo, A., & Peterson, R. (2002). The Color of discipline:Sources of Racial and Gender disproportionality in school punishment. Urban Review, 34, 317-342. This article focus attention on the racial and gender disparity that often is present with the implementation of corporal punishment. (n.d.). Retrieved June 2, from ( This organization is one that is trying to bring awareness to the issue of corporal punishment.