Young people spend most of their time in school. As a result, it is essential to ensure that schools are a nurturing environment that cultivates informed and active citizens. However, this vision of a safe, productive environment does not always match up with reality. Many students have fallen victim to the school-to-prison pipeline which disproportionately affects minority and low-income students. There are many factors in the school system that contribute to the pipeline, but the role of corporal punishment is often less explored.
In nineteen states, including Georgia, it is legal for teachers and school administrators to use physical force against their students as punishment. While the number of schools that still use corporal punishment is relatively low (15% in 2012), incidents occur in Georgia every year. Georgia ranks 7th in the usage of physical punishment against children. School districts that engage in this practice are primarily clustered in the southern, rural parts of the state, whereas urban and metro parts of the state have largely phased it out. In the 2015-2016 school year, the counties with the highest reported number of cases were Appling County, Coffee County, Laurens County and Tattnall County, all of which are in southern Georgia. In 2012, 12,792 students in Georgia alone fell victim to corporal punishment, making Georgia the 5th highest state for the number of students receiving this type of punishment in the United States. That number has dwindled some in the past decade, but in the 2018-2019 school year, there were still 4,701 instances of corporal punishment used against children.
Research has found that corporal punishment is used disproportionately towards Black children and children with disabilities. In Georgia, such children are 26% more likely to be corporally punished than white children, despite white children being more likely to attend a school that actually has corporal punishment. This continues to perpetuate a system of violence against Black children. Undoubtedly, schools that implement corporal punishment are failing their Black and disabled students.
Additional research has shown that Black children are also more susceptible to other forms of punishment, such as school suspension. Despite being overly targeted in different forms of punishment, research has largely concluded Black children do not actually misbehave more than White children, they simply are punished more harshly when they do. Although boys are targeted more harshly overall, there are greater racial disparities amongst girls. Black girls are three times as likely to receive corporal punishment in schools than White girls.
These disparities can also be seen amongst children with disabilities. In Georgia, students with disabilities are 34% more likely to receive corporal punishment than children who are not disabled. This indicates that children who have documented disabilities are more likely to be treated harshly by the adults who are meant to look after them, rather than accommodate for their unique challenges that already make school more difficult compared to other children.
Further, the practice of corporal punishment is highly unethical. If a student appears in school with bruises and a teacher suspects that these occurred from parental harm, as a mandatory report the teacher is required to report this by law. However, if that child receives bruises from the teacher at school, it is deemed perfectly acceptable. Furthermore, parental consent is not needed in the state of Georgia to physically punish a child. According to Georgia Code, parents may provide a statement from a medical doctor licensed in Georgia upon the day of enrollment that corporal punishment is harmful to the child’s emotional or mental stability. However, the reality is most parents do not even realize that corporal punishment is still legal in schools, let alone how to opt-out of it. This provision is also a strain on the low-income bracket and rural families who may not have easy access to a medical doctor for a note of exemption.
The School-to-Prison Pipeline
Students recognize when they are being discriminated against, even at a young age. There is a great deal of evidence that perceived discrimination can lead to higher rates of anxiety and depression, while also leading to lower academic achievement. Furthermore, corporal punishment is not effective in getting children to behave. In fact, the opposite is true: students who receive corporal punishment are more likely to act out aggressively and misbehave in both the short-term and the long-term. This can lead to a negative feedback loop where the students lash out because of their punishment only for them to be punished more. The more they are punished, the more they continue to lash out, and the cycle continues. Furthermore, by creating a stressful environment in the school, teachers and administrators discourage students from attending, leading to adverse long-term educational outcomes.
Schools that once had corporal punishment and later banned it did not see any increase in juvenile delinquent activity. Ultimately, this is a practice that is hurting not helping Georgia’s students.
Harsher punishments are linked to students becoming involved in the criminal justice system later in life, contributing to the school-to-prison pipeline. Alternative punishments, such as time for quiet reflection or a visit to the school counselor are far more beneficial and productive to the overall outcomes for the student. This also costs the state less money. By keeping youth out of the criminal justice system, there is less need to supervise, imprison and take people to trial.
Due to all of these reasons, it is in the best interest of Georgia and the children to ban corporal punishment. Many states have already done so as a way to protect their youth. This would help put a limitation on discrimination that takes place in schools, lead to greater emotional and mental health in students, and improve academic performance