Spare the rod and spoil the school? OK, then I need spanking lessons

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.

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About 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 the Federal Flood he helped create the Rising Tide conference, which grew into an annual social media event dedicated to the future of New Orleans.

  • Wow. Thanks so much for the attention! Just trying to organize groups on record against CP now and to get finalized data from LDE on our corporal punishment data. I’ve seen it preliminarily from an initial preliminary collection and was horrified by some of the stats Isaw. Any help to promote this cause is much appreciated. Just because your district or charter school doesn’t employ it now doesn’t mean it can’t introduce it at any point and use it for any reason. All our children are at risk, as well as our humanity.

  • Tim

    Corporal punishment is outmoded and unnecessary. Glad you realize that. The cure to this is simply better education of parents.

    I had quite a debate with friends and co-workers who were graduates of St. Aug. recently when this was in the news. The only argument they had was, “tradition.” Well, some traditions need to stop.



  • Kim

    I don’t spank. I’ve had my kid on a behavioral plan since his was 2 1/2 and it works just fine. There are so many tools available to train kids to be well behaved. I don’t see the point of hitting them when I’d punish them for hitting someone else. If you’re interested, I currently use the behavioral plan at

  • Earl Richards
  • Julie Worley

    Perhaps you have heard of the controversial book “The Lash or the Prison Cell” by Professor Peter Markos. In A published interview by Julia Dahl the Professor he admitted he was having dinner in New Orleans with friends- New Yorker writer Dan Baum and his wife–when the talk turned to current events. Baum mentioned that he’d recently read that public schools in the Crescent City were paddling misbehaving students.

    See Shocking Brutally Violent U.S. Public School Spanking/Corporal Punishment (Sexual Assault) Injuries to students Kindergarten through Twelfth Grade at YouTube Video Trailer for Documentary “The Board of Education” by Jared Abrams

    Paddling Students is Prohibited in Schools in 31 U.S. States. Corporal Punishment is Prohibited by Federal Law for use against convicted Felons in ALL U.S. Prisons! See 2008 Report “A Violent Education” by Human Rights Watch and ACLU for disturbing facts such as 10yr old Tim paddled 2xs 3 days mom had to pull underwear off from dried blood genitals bruised & swollen

    School Corporal Punishment is Discriminatorily applied to boys, minority, disabled and low-income students.

    Many students hit in schools have disabilities like Autism

    “Teacher Immunity Laws” protect school employees (mandatory child abuse reporters) from criminal/civil action when students are injured by deliberate infliction of pain by school employees hitting them with wooden boards as punishment of minor infractions.

    223,190 Kids Legally Beaten in US Schools annually with Impunity, 20,000 students seek emergency medical treatment

    Contact U.S. Education Committee Chairman John Kline 202 225-6558 who has the power to End School Corporal Punishment to urge him to Co-Sponsor Federal Bill H.R. 3027 “The Ending Corporal Punishment in Schools Act” is languishing in U.S. Congress NOW, earlier version H.R. 5628 DIED in Congress last year! See

  • Julie Worley

    Correction to earlier comment, the controversial book by Professor Peter Moskos is titled “In Defense of Flogging” but he did get the idea from the practice of schools hitting students with wooden paddles.

  • Hillary Portier

    In the home, corporal punishment is at the discretion of the parents. The government needs to stay out of that. Unfortunately, there are idiots out there who abuse their children. Big brother in my living room won’t change that. At School is another story. These are strangers spanking your kids, thier motives and judgements will vary. We should keep the issues seperate.

  • MichaelF

    I’d guess a lot of people who were spanked/beaten as kids, whether strictly as corporal punishment or, god-forbid, actual abuse, end up thinking that the solution to many problems…is giving someone a good beating.

    Which, of course, isn’t the case…but, when you impress upon someone at, um, an impressionable age, that violence is acceptable…well, you end up with someone with a deep seated acceptance of violence…

  • Steve

    Hillary is correct: home and school are separate issues.

    Kim, there is no “one” perfect parenting technique, even for the same child. It varies as they mature. Raise a strong-willed child and check back (FTR, I am a firm believer in behavior management–yet it has limits).

    CP in the schools does not work. In fact, it should be renamed “corporal reinforcement”. Punishment is defined by future behavior, not intentions. If the behavior does not decrease, then you have not “punished”.

    The author erred by merging parenting and education in his argument.

  • Mark Moseley

    Thanks to everyone for commenting.

    Hillary and Steve, I have to disagree.

    Corporal punishment doesn’t seem to be a good idea either in the home or the school. And when corporal punishment overlaps with abuse and battery, then I do think society has an interest in its cessation. (That’s one of the reasons I chose a Foucault quote about society, rather than one of his many on punishment.)

    I think it’s too easy to say that the issues are separate, or that government should stay out of the home. Domestic violence and abuse may occur in the home, mostly, but it negatively affects the rest of society. That’s not to say that this is a simple issue devoid of grey borders. And I intend to explore some of those borders in a follow-up column next week.

    But if, say, a police officer notices a child with suspicious bruises, surely most of us would prefer an investigation into the matter, rather than have potential abuse ignored. Granted, it’s entirely possible that the parents are not at fault, or that an investigation would infringe upon their freedoms and cause embarrassment.

    But the alternative– doing nothing to stop “idiots” from battering their children– strikes me as hideous.

  • Hillary Portier

    Not only are we mixing parenting and education into the discussion, we are also blurring the issue by not differentiating between abuse and punishment. To imply that all forms of CP is abusive is either an ideological mis-step or an intellectually dishonest attempt to influence the electorate on this issue. That argument promotes the stereotype that all parents that use CP must be stained sleeveless t-shirt wearing wife beaters. When it comes to CP , not abuse, in the home it’s a moral issue. When folks start claiming the impact of it on society that’s usually a flag that indicates the coming argument for restrictions to your liberty for the benefit of the greater good. Let’s not forget that CP has been around forever, even in our judicial system, yet we live in the most advanced, freest, and most diverse society the world has ever seen. The correlation is weak. I don’t know Foucalt, but James Madison stated that “as long as the reason of man continues fallible, and he is at liberty to exercise it, different opinions will be formed.” We get ourselves into trouble when one group tries to push its moral ideology onto another through the force of government.

  • I prefer to keep the issues separate to try and achieve an outcome. There are actually more laws protecting children beaten at home by parents than those beaten at schools by strangers. Tackling that is a social moral issue, not one i think can or should be addressed by law except in the more eggregious cases.

    I don’t believe in using corporal punishment, but what is so abhorrent is strangers using it without restraint on your children, and against your wishes. Did you know that in Louisiana any private, public or charter school can decide to implement corporal punishment and can use it for any reason, as much as they want, even if you tell them you do not want them too? I found an appeals court decision on that very issue from Rapides parish yesterday. I’ll post it on my site later. If you don’t send your kids to schools you can go to jail based on the new truancy laws. Your only option for not having your kids beaten by strangers is to homeschool your children.

    The Louisiana Department of Education has a PBIS system, or positive behaviour support program that has a much higher success rate at handling school discipline issues, improving attendence, test scores, the whole gamut of good things. I don’t see why we can’t all agree to educate our teachers on the best practices for classroom management and ban the use of indiscriminate child beating by strangers? You’d think we could all at least agree on that. . .some of the pictures and situations DOE has had reported are very brutal.

  • Hillary Portier

    Stop the abuse at schools. Stop the abuse at home. Give parents the ability to opt out of CP at schools – absolutely. That’s a mission that anyone could get behind. The quicksand is the overreach into the parental choices. Encroaching one inch into that area will have parents defending their rights as much as they would defend their kids. Vilifying the paddle itself and careless use of terms like “beating” and “violence” to describe appropriate CP, smacks of a lack of respect for the choices that many hardworking, loving parents make in their own attempt to prepare their children for the wilderness of adulthood. Keep the focus on the abuse and you’ll have an army of supporters.

  • The paddle IS vile. A 2 foot wooden board used to smack 3 and 4 year olds and autistic children, especially against a parents approval, by an adult is what i would characterize as a beating both physically and psychologically to the child and his classmates and even the parents that don’t want the state to do that to their children. We should love and teach our children, not beat them. Children that are abused, molested or “paddled/beaten” as children are much more likely to grow up and do the same to their children and other children because that is what they’ve been taught. Conversly, if we can start teaching teachers, children and and thus future parents other ways to address bad behaviour it should largely vanish from our society without the need of a draconian state law and overseer. That sort of intervention rarely ends well and would not be well recieved in any event.

    I don’t need an army of supporters that are worried about properly categorizing state sanctioned child abuse in PC terms, Hillary. You would probably be happy if we designed a machine that measured delivered age appropriate wallops calibrated annually by the department of weights and measures and if we renamed it Attitude Adjusting or Sanctioned Parental Physical Oriented Redress Treatment, “SPPORT” for short.

  • concerned teacher

    I was a teacher in a rural parish north of Baton Rouge. I can attest to the frequent beatings of students that happened in the office. There were multiple paddles involved – one was about 3 feet long. The principal of the school walked around holding a paddle in her hand most of the time. The school was absolutely out of control – obviously paddling students, or the threat of being paddled, didn’t make any difference. The children were inquisitive, bright, and rambunctious – if anyone bothered to have a fair, clear, and consistent set of rules and punishments I could almost guarantee that the behavior issues would have mostly subsided.

    When I sent a student to the office for hitting another student, he/she was hit by the principal. It was quite the sickening cycle of violence.

  • Thanks for sharing your story Concerned Teacher. My wife had a very similiar one to tell me. Does anyone else have some stories to share?