Many people assume that the practice of disciplinary paddling in school disappeared years ago, even decades. But polls and anecdotal evidence show it is still alive in many schools across the country. In the United States, 19 states still allow corporal punishment at schools.
Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama are among those states that allow paddling. In Tennessee, Hamilton County is the only one of the four largest school systems that uses paddling. Orchard Knob Middle School in Tennessee is an example, and the school’s principal Crystal Sorrells said the simple reason for using the wooden paddle is that “it works,” Kevin Hardy writes in the Times Free Press.
According to Sorrells, paddling is not for all kids and not for all situations. Unlike suspension, Sorrells said paddling keeps kids in school where teachers know they are safe and on task.
Sorrells said the practice only works there because of the deep relationships administrators have worked to build with students. Often, kids become emotional while being paddled. But Sorrells said the feeling that they have disappointed school leaders is more painful than the licks.
Arizona, Colorado and Wyoming still technically allow paddling, but do not use it, according to a report by the Center for Effective Discipline. Ohio, New Mexico and Pennsylvania have approved statewide bans on corporal punishment since the 2005-06 school year. In 2011, North Carolina and Texas legislation allowed parents to opt out.
From 1994 to 2004, the U.S Department of Education reported that the number of students across the country struck at school in the name of discipline declined from nearly half a million to fewer than 300,000, though some have questioned the validity of the reporting system.
In Hamilton County, individual principals have the authority to use paddling. Orchard Knob Elementary Principal LaFrederick Thirkill said paddling is used to maintain order and discipline. Thirkill said paddling is reserved for more serious offenses such as fighting that would otherwise result in suspension.
“I wouldn’t say that it happens often,” Thirkill said. “I think just the fact that the kids know it’s an option has been psychologically effective for some students.”
Benjamin McGowan, a local attorney with a child in the public school system, is concerned about Hamilton County’s paddling practice. McGowan questioned the county’s policy of leaving paddling decisions up to individual schools.
“The whole idea of decentralizing it and sort of making it a fluke based on where you happen to live, what school you happen to be in and what grade level you are in, seems contrary to the idea of it being an effective deterrent,” McGowan said.
The research found that physical punishment can lead to emotional problems later in life, according to Victor Vieth, executive director of the National Child Protection Training Center — but many still believe spanking or paddling is important to manage behavior.