Guest Blog: Corporal Punishment of Schoolchildren: Two Opposing Positions

Corporal Punishment of Schoolchildren: Two Opposing Positions
Georgia lawmaker rejects comparison to slavery

A letter of criticism from a member of the Georgia House of Representatives

January 23, 2012

Mr. Riak,

I take exception to your comparison of corporal punishment in schools to whippings given slaves in the United States. Slaves had no choice of being where they were where as students very much have the choice of behaving in the classroom. There is too much empowerment of students and not much accountability these days in a lot of areas. I would suggest that you look at your own schools in California and the violence taking place there, student on student, instead of worrying about whether or not a student gets a spanking in a public school in Georgia.

Rep. ______________
Georgia House of Representatives

Riak’s response

January 26, 2012

Dear Representative______________:

Thank you for your comments. Permit me to reply.

You say slaves didn’t freely choose slavery, but students can freely behave themselves in the classroom.

In fact, both slaves and schoolchildren are stuck where they’ve been put. As for students’ “behaving in the classroom,” or slaves’ obeying rules in the cotton field, their situations are essentially the same:

Come to class with your shirt tucked in. Do as I say, or get hit.,or

Pick your quota of cotton. Do as I say, or get hit.

Show any student in Georgia the illustration on our leaflet “The Origin and True Purpose of the Paddle” ( and ask that student what the man standing over the slave woman is holding in his hand, and you’ll hear the right answer.

In response to your suggestion that I should pay attention to violence-related problems in schools of my state rather than worry about students getting spanked in Georgia, make no mistake: as a Californian, I am deeply concerned about what happens to the children of my state. But as an American, I care about what happens to the children of your state. I firmly believe, moreover, that respect for human rights trumps territorial prerogatives.

When you say, “There is too much empowerment of students and not much accountability these days in a lot of areas,” are you suggesting that disempowerment of students enhances their accountability? It’s more likely, I suspect, to produce either abject submission or rebellion. Consider what happened at a middle school in Jonesboro, Arkansas on March 24, 1998. How might your theory have applied there? Though it’s impossible to prove a connection between the fatal shooting of, among others, a teacher who had paddled one of the shooters the previous day, it’s hard not to suspect a connection. I am convinced that any unbiased observer who compares paddling states with non-paddling states — with special attention to statistics on violent crime, school drop-out, illiteracy, teen pregnancy and venereal disease — will find no evidence of corporal punishment’s purported benefits. See these pages and decide for yourself: “Does a Lack of Paddling Contribute to School Shootings?” by Christopher Dugan, 2006 (, and “What Good is School Paddling?” by Jeff Charles, 1997 (

You cite the problem of student-on-student violence. I agree. That’s a serious problem wherever it occurs: California, Georgia, anywhere. If we are to effectively deal with it, we should start with the root causes. Inevitably, children behave as well (or as badly) as they are treated. If we want them to learn to resolve their differences nonviolently, we as adults must model that behavior. Schools have a special obligation in this regard. As trained, licensed professionals, educators set a standard not only for schoolchildren but for the whole community.

In 1985 California Assemblyman Sam Farr invited me to draft a bill that would ban paddling in California schools. I did; he introduced it; it became law. Today, you, as a member of the Georgia House of Representatives, are perfectly situated to do likewise. If you do, future generations will thank you.

Jordan Riak, Exec. Dir.