Imagine you’re a student in high school. One morning, your alarm doesn’t go off. Your mother shakes you awake urgently. You rush out the door, panicked, and run to school. You go to class, and your teacher watches you sit down with narrowed eyes. Asks for your homework. You reach into your backpack eagerly, hoping to redeem yourself. You come up empty.
Your teacher nods slowly and walks to the door. She opens it and points in the direction of the principal’s office. When you arrive, you are presented with two options: missing a week of class due to in-school suspension, or being paddled. Valuing your education and not wishing to miss class, you choose the latter.
As a high school student myself, I can attest to the fact that the pressure to succeed in school is already stifling at times. I can’t fathom how it would feel to be afraid of getting physically punished on top of it all.
The use of corporal punishment is not uncommon in the United States. According to the US Department of Education, hundreds of thousands of students across the country experience corporal punishment annually. The preponderance of this punishment makes the United States somewhat unique among the West: we are one of a handful of developed countries that allows the practice. 19 states in the US — including North Carolina — still allow paddling as an acceptable form of punishment in schools.
Once widespread in the 1950s, corporal punishment has declined immensely, due to educators and policymakers realizing its ineffectiveness. But there remain bastions of it throughout the South and Midwest. The archaic practice is becoming more concentrated in rural areas, which is a prime reason why it hasn’t gotten the national attention it warrants.
Its proponents argue that it is effective in teaching students the difference between right and wrong and ultimately motivates them to succeed. However, there is a sizeable body of evidence that suggests corporal punishment increases aggressive behavior in children, damages the relationship between student and educator, and precludes psychological, mental, and emotional problems in students later on in their lives. In addition, it neither improves students’ grades nor their behavior.
In our own state, there remain two districts–Robeson and Graham–where corporal punishment is still being practiced. According to NC Child, there were 41 cases of it in Robeson County during the 2016-2017 school year, up from 35 in the year previous. In Graham County, there were 34, up from 22. Although these numbers are small, they increased from the previous year, and represent a sinister aspect of our state’s culture that should not be allowed to see the light of day.
In an increasingly global economy, it is more vital than ever to make sure our public schools are a safe place to learn and graduate from, and that students don’t leave them physically or mentally scarred.
We need to have a conversation at the state and national level about this issue that has been hidden for too long. It shouldn’t hurt to be a student.
Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on NC Child.