Overview:

The move to bring corporal punishment back flies in the face of a compelling research consensus showing serious physical and psychological risks from the practice.

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Despite the clarity of research condemning the practice, a school district in southwestern Missouri is bringing back corporal punishment.

Beginning this year, children in the Cassville School District could face spanking as a disciplinary measure. The district removed spanking as a form of punishment in 2001, but Cassville School District superintendent Merlyn Johnson says he has no problem with its return. “It is something that has happened on my watch, and I’m okay with it,” Johnson said.

The caveat with the punishment is that it can only be used “as a last resort,” and that it can only be done with written permission from parents. Families will have the option to opt out of corporal punishment if they don’t believe it is the right option for their child. 

A strong research consensus finds that spanking can result in as many as 13 negative outcomes, including physical injuries, increased aggression and emotional outbursts, antisocial behavior, mental health problems including depression, and an increased likelihood of beating their own children. Given these adverse correlations, most developmental psychologists agree that parents shouldn’t even have the option of spanking at home, much less in school.

Cassville has a population of just over 4,000. Given the research consensus, it is harder to see corporal punishment making a comeback in a larger school district. But given the conservative push for religion in schools and the divergence of urban and rural districts, it is possible that more rural districts may follow in Cassville’s footsteps. 

Johnson claims that parents have pushed for the reinstitution of the spanking policy. “Parents have said ‘why can’t you paddle my student?’ and we’re like ‘We can’t paddle your student, our policy does not support that,'” Johnson said. “There had been conversation with parents, and there had been requests from parents for us to look into it.”

“We’ve had people actually thank us for it,” he said. “Surprisingly, those on social media would probably be appalled to hear us say these things, but the majority of people that I’ve run into have been supportive.”

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Marcus Johnson

Marcus Johnson is a political commentator and a political science Ph.D. candidate at American University. His primary research focus is the impact of political institutions on the racial wealth gap.