Corporal punishment once was an inescapable fact of life in childhood, at home and at school. Children who got a “whupping” because they misbehaved in class could anticipate a worse one later, at parental hands.
It’s legal for American parents to spank their offspring, but 32 countries around the world ban the practice, according to the Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children. Most states in the U.S. forbid corporal punishment in schools. Kentucky isn’t one of them, but subtle changes are afoot here, too.
Public education is taking on ever more of the responsibilities formerly reserved for parents, and yet most teachers and school administrators probably prefer not lay a hand on children for fear of a public relations backlash, or worse. School discipline is less likely to get physical than in years past, and that isn’t altogether bad. It’s tempting to romanticize the days of yore when parents believed that sparing the rod spoiled the child. Some who grew up in that era are convinced that strict punishment made them better adults. But there were times in the “good old days” when punishment degenerated into flagrant child abuse. Those old-time disciplinarians could wind up in serious trouble nowadays, and some should have in their own time. Let’s not sugar-coat Dickensian cruelty to children.
That said, unruly juveniles do pose problems in public education. “Restraint and seclusion” is a defensive tactic designed to protect troubled kids as well as their classmates and teachers. The Kentucky Department of Education held a public hearing this week on a proposed regulation that sets guidelines on how it should and should not be practiced. Attorney Lucy Heskins of the Protection and Advocacy agency, representing disabled Kentuckians, said there are too many instances in which restrained or confined young people have suffered injuries and/or psychological trauma.
“We have found that in many cases, restraint and seclusion are not isolated incidents for these children but that they are often restrained multiple times a day,” she said.
That’s unacceptable. Equally unacceptable is an instructional regime in which chaos and violence prevail. Franklin County Schools Superintendent Chrissy Jones worries about the welfare of all students – including those creating disturbances – and of the adults who supervise them. Rich Crowe, Frankfort Independent superintendent, said his schools rarely resort to restraint but he cautions against tying educators’ hands when they do.
Today’s teachers have a tough enough job trying to motivate learners who may lack the advantages of parental guidance. They’re also asked to enforce a modicum of decorum in their classrooms and hallways.
Last year, state Rep. Dewayne Bunch, in his day job as a math and science teacher at Whitley County High School, stepped in to break up a fight between two teenage boys in the cafeteria. A punch sent him to the tile floor, inflicting a serious head injury. He was 50 when he died in rehabilitation a year later.
Teachers in a perfect world would concentrate on the ample challenges of stimulating young minds to learn and grow. If intervention of a more physical nature becomes necessary, common sense should be the guiding principle, and the safety of everyone involved should be the paramount concern.