As I was paging through the Boston Globe one morning last week my eyes were drawn to a headline that startled me: “Racial disparity found in school paddlings.” Pardon my ignorance but I really didn’t know that students were still being spanked in school. In turns out that although the majority of states and over 100 countries have banned spanking in school, it is still widespread across the U.S. South, especially in Texas and Mississippi. I was less surprised, but still very disappointed to read that African American and Native American were more than twice as likely to be spanked than their white classmates (I am well aware that similar racial injustices are common in northern schools). It also turns out that students with “exceptionalities” are also more likely to be paddled than their classmates. Overall, I’m more than a little shocked that we allow school personnel to use any form of corporal punishment in the year 2008. I went to elementary school in the 1950s and 60s (I even had nuns) and I never saw a fellow student spanked or even slapped with a ruler (something I’ve always heard nuns were famous for although I thought the nuns were scary enough without rulers). In any case, I do not see how fear helps to create a positive learning environment.
Another indication of how little respect some people have for students comes from another story I read in the Globe about the Harrold Independent School District in Texas which has authorized its teachers to carry concealed handguns to class. (I wonder if teachers who share their guns during “show and tell” will have fewer discipline problems?) If teaching is about relationships – and I think that it is – what kind of relationship can students build with teachers who are armed? This is nuts!
Finally, I read in the New York Times that in New York City they’re finding that paying students to do well on tests is having mixed results. This doesn’t surprise me but, again, where is the respect? Is it respectful to pay urban students to do well in school but expect that students in suburban schools will be engaged by learning for its own sake? In any case, how much will you have to pay students to overcome dreary schools and tedious curricula common in so many urban schools? Money is no substitute for respect.