Better paddles have holes that whistle. photo: Wesley Fryer, Flickr creative commons
Better paddles have holes that whistle. photo: Wesley Fryer, Flickr creative commons

“Justice must always question itself, just as society can exist only by means of the work it does on itself and on its institutions.”  — Michel Foucault

I need some fatherly advice on how to spank my children. See, the other day my two little darling daughters morphed into wild, uncontrollable beasts. They acted up and fought and screamed. They refused to listen, even when I screamed back at them. The little hellions were totally unmanageable. So clearly, at some point very soon, I’ll be compelled to beat the misbehaving devil out of them.

Problem is, it’s been a long time since I’ve found myself on the business end of a paddle. I can’t remember the procedural basics, so I have a lot of questions.

What’s the recommended spanking position these days? Is “over the knee” considered too old-fashioned, or should they take their hits while upright? Should you use a stick, or do psychologists recommend striking them with an open hand? Should their butts be clothed or bare?

And how do I decide how many spanks to administer? I’m new at this, and don’t know the latest disciplinary calculus. What are the current “best practices” when it comes to beating one’s pre- adolescent offspring?

Once the number of spanks is decided, do I announce the total before the strikes commence? That seems only fair. But aren’t there risks to declaring a number? What if, say, the designated 10 strokes aren’t enough? Conversely, what if 10 strokes are specified but the child has clearly “learned his lesson” after five good hits? Surely you can’t cease prematurely and risk losing face. How will your child ever respect your judgment, if he knows that sometimes you lose your nerve?

What about the intensity of the strikes? That’s an important variable. Does one full-strength swat equate to two medium-strength hits? What’s the proper conversion ratio?

And don’t I need to practice regularly to develop a consistent stroke and be a fair punisher? And what if, during a beating, fatigue weakened my strokes? Surely you can’t inculcate discipline with an unsteady swing.

Do health professionals recommend that parents “warm up” before they beat their kids? Do they advise swinging extra paddles to loosen up, like a baseball player on deck to bat? After all, you don’t want to strain a shoulder muscle. That’s no fun the next morning. A sore shoulder can sour your mood and degrade your job performance. When it comes to beating your kids, I think safety should come first. Perhaps I’ll hire a personal trainer to help me practice proper whipping technique, so I don’t risk an injury.

The rule of thumb seems to be: hit the hellions hard enough to “send a message.” But does that mean I should hit my older daughter very hard and my younger daughter medium hard?  And what if, during the whipping, the child shrieks at a volume that alarms the neighborhood? Should I give my kids a rag to bite on, to muffle their screams?

And where do they sell a good paddle these days? I’d like a heavy one that’s built to last. I’ve heard that the Peacemaker 5000 series can’t be, um, beat. But the Peacemaker 5000’s don’t have holes in them. And I like the paddles with holes and how they whistle in mid-swing.

I never imagined something as simple as beating one’s kids would involve so many perplexing considerations…

Actually, I don’t spank my kids. I think it hurts more than it helps, and the latest studies support that (now widely held) position.

However, like many readers, I attended schools that administered corporal punishment. Most are in southern states, which, like Louisiana, top the national rankings in homicides, violent crime, incarcerations, etc.

I still remember the day I saw our school headmaster’s legendary paddle. It was terrifying. He took it out of a drawer and slammed it on his desk, prompting me and the other two students in his office to literally jump in fright. We were allowed to leave without getting licked. On other occasions the less well-behaved students in my class weren’t as lucky.

But I wasn’t “scared straight.” And some years later I remembered the incident and thought: “What a jerk.” I realized that if an adult has to resort to hitting a child with a stick, they probably don’t deserve to be a principal — or a teacher or a coach. There are always hundreds of other much more creative approaches to behavioral problems, beyond physical assault. When an authority figure hits a child, doesn’t it perpetuate an elemental “lesson” — that it’s OK for adults to hit children?

Last year, St. Augustine High School’s corporal punishment policy became a major controversy here in New Orleans when Archbishop Gregory Aymond called on St. Aug to abandon their venerable tradition. Protestors held signs that read, “Spare the rod, spoil the child.” But the issue quickly widened into a debate about local control and preserving school history. St. Aug finally relented in January, and amended their punishment policy.

In 2010, the Louisiana Department of Education began to collect data on corporal punishment in the state’s public schools. Their initial surveys used to gather data are incomplete, but show that at least 54 parish school districts still allow corporal punishment. (Orleans and Jefferson do not.)  Of these 54, 80 percent said they had used corporal punishment in the 2009-10 school year, for a total of 11,520 instances. Some school districts report having no published guidelines or information about their corporal punishment policies. And I suspect a school-by-school breakdown would show wide variation in corporal punishment policy (and practice) within school districts, as well as among them.

I’m not going to wade into the parenting minefield. But I assume my tongue-in-cheek musings at the beginning of this post were sufficient to make the point that the line between abuse and discipline is a blurry one. It’s not enough to say, “I know abuse when I see it,” because different people — including mandated reporters such as police officers — see different things. Heck, I’m sure a two-hour stretch of Wal-Mart security footage would yield all kinds of parental beatings. And I think most of us would want a teacher to report suspicious bruises on a child’s arm. But, does that mean that unseen bruises on a child’s backside are somehow OK?

A proud Louisiana blogger by the name of Crazy Crawfish wants to end corporal punishment in schools, a policy which Crazy Crawfish describes as “state sanctioned child abuse.”

And perhaps, if the Crazy Crawfish is successful, and more schools districts are pressured to re-think their flawed corporal punishment policies, perhaps more parents will decide to “spare the rod” at home, as well.

That doesn’t sound crazy to me at all.

Mark Moseley

Mark Moseley blogs at Your Right Hand Thief. Until mid 2014, Mark Moseley was The Lens' opinion writer, engagement specialist and coordinator for the Charter Schools Reporting Corps. After Katrina and...