A new NASW Action Alert asks members to urge their congressional representatives to support the Ending Corporal Punishment in Schools Act, HR 5628, recently introduced by Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., who chairs the House Education and Labor Subcommittee on Healthy Families and Communities.
The National Alliance of Pupil Services Organizations, of which NASW is a member, helped draft the legislation that would strip federal funding from academic institutions that allow personnel to punish students by hitting, often with a paddle. Corporal punishment can also mean pinching, shaking, shoving, choking, and excessive exercise drills, among other things.
McCarthy’s subcommittee held a hearing earlier this year about corporal punishment in schools and its effect on academic success. In her opening statement she noted that 20 states still allow the practice, and that hundreds of thousands of students are paddled each year. She also observed that minority and disabled students are paddled at higher rates.
In testimony before the subcommittee, Dr. Donald Greydanus, professor of pediatrics and human development at Michigan State University, said corporal punishment has major deleterious effects on the physical and mental health of students, noting that as many as 20,000 students each year request medical treatment following corporal punishment.
“Reported medical findings include abrasions, severe muscle injury, extensive hematomas, whiplash damage, life-threatening fat hemorrhage and others, including death,” Greydanus said.
He concluded: “The use of corporal punishment in the school environment falsely and perfidiously reinforces physical aggression as an acceptable and effective means of eliminating unwanted behavior in our society. Corporal punishment in schools is an ineffective, dangerous and unacceptable method of discipline.”
Jana Frieler, a high school principal in Aurora, Colo., and president-elect of the National Association of Secondary School Principals, testified, “If we focus on punishing our students through threats, coercion or physical punishment they may simply learn to avoid getting caught in order to escape the consequences, and, therefore, may become doomed to repeat, not change, their behavior. If we focus on using the situation as a learning opportunity, however, we teach them instead to learn from their mistakes and how to better handle future situations in a more positive manner.”
NASW’s policy statement says, “The focus of school discipline should be to help students accept responsibility for their own behavior, rather than punishment, through a shared problem-solving process with parents and guardians.”
The association advocates increasing the workforce of school social workers, who are skilled in conflict resolution and developing preventive and remedial behavioral interventions. The distribution of school social workers remains uneven and inequitable.
At the hearing, Wynell Gilbert, a science teacher in Center Point, Ala., credited her school’s full-time social worker with helping repeated misbehavers through a strengths-based approach. “By using this approach, he is able to build a relationship with the student, which in turn builds trust and gives the student an opportunity to be a part of the process,” she said.
NASW Senior Government Relations Associate Nancy McFall told NASW News, “We urge NASW members to join us in passing this much-needed legislation.”
To read NASW’s policy statement on corporal punishment and other school issues, vist the School Social Work Practice section.