Behaviour: US pupil beatings hit 200,000

4th September 2009 at 01:00
Children - one-fifth of them disabled - are slammed against walls and hit with rulers taped together, shock report reveals

Original paper headline: US pupil beatings hit 200,000

For many teachers in Britain, corporal punishment is a regrettable blemish on the school life of a bygone era.

Although only banned from all British schools 11 years ago, the draconian practice of beating a child with a stick is redolent of a particular era in the same way as separate school entrances for girls and boys.

So it will surprise many in the UK to hear that more than 200,000 US pupils are subjected to physical discipline - including beatings and spankings - each year, according to a Human Rights Watch report published recently.

At least one-fifth of children subjected to corporal punishment have disabilities, the study revealed.

The report, released in conjunction with the American Civil Liberties Union, showed that as many as 20 US states still use physical punishment, involving hitting children with a belt, slapping them and even paddling them with a "shaved-down baseball bat".

It brings into focus the continuing debate on bringing back the practice, often symbolised by the cane, to Britain's schools.

A survey of teachers carried out by The TES last year showed that 20 per cent believed the cane should be brought back to tackle poor behaviour. But the Human Rights Watch report, Impairing Education, found shocking evidence of use of corporal punishment on children.

Based on 200 interviews in the US between December 2007 and June 2009, the report tells of children being slammed against walls, hit with rulers taped together and beaten around the torso.

Alice Farmer, author of the document and a fellow of Human Rights Watch, said: "Corporal punishment can leave students feeling helpless, humiliated and reluctant to return to school.

"Physical force is ineffective, violates children's rights, and is especially egregious when used to punish students for their disabilities. More effective discipline, including positive behavioural supports, creates safe classrooms where children are able to learn."

One parent of a child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder described their son's "paddling", which left him "covered in severe bruising". "The first swat knocked (my son) down . When he fell, the principal said he had five seconds to get back up, or he'd start all over again . It probably took him a minute and a half to get up again. They gave him two more swats.

"Then the principal had to go to the nurse's office to get the asthma inhaler (as my son) couldn't breathe . When he came home from school, my wife found the marks on him. When I arrived home at 8pm we went to the sheriff's office. He had severe bruising on his buttocks and on his lower back. His butt was just covered (in bruises)."

According to Jacob Middleton, an academic at the University of London's Birkbeck College and A specialist in the history of corporal punishment, it is unsurprising the practice is still carried out on such a scale in the US.

"It is much harder to try and ban something once a school system has been established," he said. "It is even harder if you take into account the way the US school system is governed. There is federal law, state law and then regulations of individual schools.

"In the states where it is used most - Texas, Mississippi, Alabama - it has always been used as a control measure and is therefore harder to give up as it is part of the educational identity of the teacher."

Autistic boy's ordeal

Jonathan C, 15, a boy with autism, was repeatedly beaten at his Florida school.

In October 2008, according to his mother Rose C, he was thrown by a male staff member "into the tile floor, face-first" after screaming in the cafe and running away.

He was dragged to a room, where one male member of staff "put him in a chokehold".

"Other staff members came running," she said. "Three or four of them tackled him and he was thrown to the floor again."

After Jonathan was injured, his mother obtained video footage of her son's treatment at school. "They had been picking him up, throwing him into the tile floor like a wrestler," she added. "They'd . pick him up by all four limbs. You can see where they're dragging him . They're carrying him like a wild animal."

Slavery-era paddle still making waves

Unlike the UK, where the cane was the implement of choice for corporal punishment, in the US the paddle is more often used.

The paddle was particularly popular among slave owners. The instrument, commonly described as a "shaved-down baseball bat" but more like a small cricket bat in appearance, would administer a significant amount of pain without causing lasting physical damage. It meant a slave could continue to work after their punishment had been administered.

Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas and Georgia are the five states with the highest incidence of corporal punishment. Texas accounted for nearly 50,000 of all cases during the 2006-07 academic year.

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