Friday, August 23, 2013

Paddling Children is Contrary to Catholic Values: Catholics Can Help Wipe Out Corporal Punishment in the Public Schools

To strike a child in any way, to make him kneel in a painful position, to pull his ears, and other similar punishments must be absolutely avoided.
                                                                   Saint John Bosco (1815-1888)

Sister Mary Stigmata (The Penguin)
The Blues Brothers (1980)
Almost everyone is familiar with the stereotype of the Catholic nun who wields a ruler in the classroom, banging kids on the hand for the slightest infraction.  Who can forget Sister Mary Stigmata ("The Penguin"), whopping Jake and Elwood Blues with a rattan stick in the Blues Brothers?

But Catholic schools have stopped beating the kids.  According to the Center for Effective Discipline, an aggressive opponent of corporal punishment, not a single Catholic diocese permits corporal punishment in diocesan schools. 

Catholic schools did not stop administering corporal punishment due to a change in Catholic doctrine. In fact, corporal punishment is not even mentioned in the Catechism.  Rather we have come to a more Christ-like understanding of the dignity of a child and the obligation of adults to protect them from harm. Most Catholics would agree with Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans, who spoke out forcefully against corporal punishment in 2011. "I do not believe the teachings of the Catholic Church as we interpret them in 2011 condone corporal punishment," Archbishop Aymond remarked.  "It's hard for me to imagine in any way, shape or form, Jesus using a paddle."

Unfortunately, however, kids are still being beaten in some of he public schools.  Although 31 states have abolished corporal punishment in the schools, 19 states still allow it.  Thirteen of these 19 states are in the South. In fact, according to the Center for Effective Discipline, 75 percent of all school-based corporal punishment takes place in just five Southern states: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, and Texas.

Red states still permit corporal punishment in schools.

Catholics can help abolish school-based corporal punishment in states where it is still permitted.  Let's support school boards that abolish corporal punishment as a matter of local policy, something urban school boards are increasingly willing to do. Let's let our state legislators know that we support a state law abolishing corporal punishment in schools.  And let's support federal legislation to ban corporal punishment in schools.

Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy of New York introduced legislation to abolish corporal punishment in schools during the last Congressional session, but the bill died in Committee.  I am going to contact Representative McCarthy and urge her to reintroduce the bill. I encourage you to do the same.


Richard Fossey & Robert Slater (2012). “The only thing I wanna hear out of you is nothing!” Is it time for federal legislation to ban corporal punishment in the schools? Teachers College Record, ID Number: 17008.

Christopher B. Goodson & Richard Fossey (2012). Corporal punishment is on the wane in Southern schools: Encouraging evidence from Florida, North Carolina and Texas. Teachers College Record, ID Number: 16940.

Stephanie Phillips & Richard Fossey(2012). Retiring the paddle: Local school boards wipe out corporal punishment in urban Texas. Teachers College Record Online, ID Number 16745.

Dr. Gregory Popcak. Catholic Bishops Weigh in on Corporal Punishment. blog site. July 9, 2013.  Accessible at:

Note: Dr. Gregory's blog posting on Catholicism and corporal punishment is excellent. I obtained the quote from Saint John Bosco and Archbishop Aymond from Dr. Popcak's blog.