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Nineteen States Allow Teachers to Spank Children

In 2006, 223,190 students were punished physically in public schools in the United States

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This week, a bill was proposed in Kansas that would give teachers and parent-authorized caregivers the ability to spank children harder than their state normally allows. If your first reaction to this was “Kansas allows teachers to spank students?” it might surprise you to know that Kansas isn’t the only state that allows teachers to hit students. 

In fact, nineteen states allow teachers and caregivers to spank children (and administer other forms of corporal punishment). Iowa, Wyoming, Colorado, Arizona, Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma, Montana, Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, North Carolina and South Carolina all allow corporal punishment. This number is decreasing — in 1980 45 states allowed spankings, in 2004 22 states let teachers hit students. But, according to Alyssa Morones at EdWeek, 223,190 students were punished physically in the United States in 2006. That number comes from a Department of Education survey that looked at 60,000 different schools.

The spanking aren’t evenly doled out either. Morones writes:

The data also revealed that the punishment was disproportionately meted out for African-American and male students. While the student population covered by the survey was 17.1 percent African-American, 35.6 percent of the students paddled in 2006 were from that racial group. Boys accounted for 78.3 percent of the students paddled.

There is a Supreme Court case at work here, supporting the right of states to decide whether their teachers are allowed to administer corporal punishment. The 1977 case Ingraham v, Wright came down in the favor of the states—allowing them to determine their own corporal punishment policies. But some advocates are pushing back, saying that students should not be spanked in school. New York Representative Carolyn McCarthy is pushing a bill that would end corporal punishment in public schools. Anti-spanking advocates say that spanking is both ineffective and dangerous.

Of course, as with almost every kind of parenting question, it’s complicated. Melinda Wenner-Moyer at Slate tackled the question in her parenting column:

After digging into the literature on the topic and talking to a handful of experts, my best shot at a conclusion is this: It depends. If you spank your kids frequently, harshly, or after you’ve lost your temper, then your kids may end up worse off because of it. If, on the other hand (no pun intended), you rely primarily on nonphysical disciplinary tools like time-outs, but you (lightly) spank your kids with the palm of your hand several times when they don’t comply with these tactics, reasoning calmly but firmly with them as you do—then spanking might make your children better behaved, and it probably won’t do them any harm.

What parents do in their homes and what teachers do in school are two different things. But there are parents who wouldn’t hit their kids at home, who are also sending them to schools where their teachers can do just that. 

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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