|The last legal
flogging of a convicted felon in the United States occurred in
Delaware in 1952. The barbaric practice was made illegal in that
year, but Delaware waited until 1972 to formally remove the
whipping post from the state penitentiary.
Flogging in the Navy for drunken or
disorderly conduct was abolished in 1853. The Marines finally
forbade all forms of physical punishment in 1957 after a drill
sergeant led a disciplinary march into a bog where six young men
were drowned. Military instructors now may not touch the person
or the clothing of a recruit and "Any fracture, concussion,
contusion or welt shall be considered prima facia evidence of
excessive force.'' There are no exceptions made on the grounds
that some young men bruise easily.
Slavery and involuntary servitude had
always been maintained with the help of whips, but that
disappeared in the United States with the Emancipation
Proclamation issued by President Lincoln, January 1, 1863.
Spousal abuse used to be termed
"reasonable chastisement of wives" and was presumed
necessary to maintain the sanctity and stability of the family.
All states now have laws against such assaults, and law
enforcement and the courts have begun to take seriously,
complaints of spousal battery.
Now, in 1987, physical punishment is
considered too severe for felons, murderers, criminals of all
kinds and ages, including juvenile delinquents, too demeaning
for soldiers, sailors, servants and spouses. But it remains
legal and acceptable for children who are innocent of any crime.
The reasoning behind this curious
discrepancy has been the belief that physical punishment will
prevent the child from becoming a criminal. The frequent
headlines: "Rising Tide of Juvenile Delinquency"
usually attribute the situation to a decline of the use of
corporal punishment in schools and homes.
"Permissiveness," or letting the child do as he
pleases, assumed by some to be the only alternative to hitting,
is pervasively believed to be the primary cause of anti-social
behavior. In the good old days, it is said, "old fashioned
discipline" kept children in line. There was very little
crime. Harmony reigned. Or did it?
The Truth About the "Good
There are no reliable statistics on the
extent of crime a hundred or a hundred and fifty years ago. From
all reports, however, crime in the U.S. was extensive,
especially violent crime and crimes among the young. The good
citizens of 19th century America were also alarmed. They looked
back to the good old days of simple rural life, before the
growth of the cities. The crowded and crime-ridden Eastern
cities were contrasted unfavorably with the "wide open
spaces" of the West -- the West, that is, of Jesse James
and Billy the Kid!
Discipline in the one room schoolhouses
was violent. Often the teacher engaged in a bare knuckle fight
with the biggest student as a warning to the others of what
would happen to them if they provoked his wrath. Horace Mann,
the Father of American education, fulminated against the number
of floggings per day, sometimes more than the number of
scholars. Most of our great grandparents were satisfied with a
fourth grade education and eighth grade was the end for all but
five percent. The lawless mountain men of the Old West were
recruited from the 14-year olds who high tailed it after one
thrashing too many. Bands of outlaws stole horses, and plagued
the defenseless. Public hangings and Iynchings were commonplace
while pickpockets worked the crowds. Only the militia and the
sheriff's posse maintained any semblance of order.
Yet the myth remains that only woodshed
discipline in early youth keeps boys from a life of crime, and
that respect for authority is promoted only by painful
procedures that induce fear and resentment of authority.
What is the truth? Let's take a good hard
look at the facts about the effects of corporal punishment on
After Effects of Physical
Adrenalin output increases sharply during
fear, anger and physical punishment. When this is prolonged or
often repeated, the endocrine balance fails to return to
baseline. The victim becomes easily angered and prone to poor
impulse control and spontaneous violent outbursts.
Educational achievement is affected both
directly and indirectly. Studies of prisoners, delinquents,
school drop-outs, college freshmen and successful professionals
are compared in the following composite report.
||Degree of physical punishment
at San Quentin
Taking part in this survey were:
200 psychologists who filled out anonymous questionnaires, 372
college students at the University of California, Davis and
California State University at Fresno, 52 slow track
underachievers at Richmond High School. Delinquents were
interviewed by Dr. Ralph Welsh in Bridgeport, Connecticut and by
Dr. Alan Button in Fresno, California. Prisoner information was
by courtesy of Hobart Banks, M.S.W., counselor of difficult
prisoners at San Quentin Penitentiary, San Quentin, California.
Do delinquents grow from lack of
discipline? Or from too much discipline? Dr. Alan Button
reports, "This, it now appears is the wrong question. We
should be asking about sequence. Parents of delinquents, all of
them, report physical beating in the first ten to twelve years
of the child's life, but rarely thereafter. They "wash
their hands" of the kid because "nothing works."
Then the judge, finding that the boy has no supervision,
The Belt Theory
Dr. Ralph Welsh who has given
psychological examinations to over 2,000 delinquents, has
developed what he calls. "The Belt Theory of Juvenile
Delinquency." Dr. Welsh tells us:
male delinquent who has never been exposed to the belt,
extension cord or fist at some time in his life is virtually
non-existent. As the severity of corporal punishment in the
delinquent's developmental history increases, so does the
probability that he will engage in a violent act."
Driving Under the Influence
Car crashes caused by drunk driving are
increased by a hidden factor. Bottled up anger, when combined
with alcohol is the largest cause of the highway death toll
which comes to 25,000 deaths every year, or one every 20
minutes. An investigation by Donald C. Pelz of the Institute for
Social Research at the University of Michigan in 1973 led to his
finding that: "For the young male, anger toward the adult
world is likely to find vent in dangerous driving ... Hostility
tends to multiply with their attitude toward the educational
system ... Those who had rejected the school system ... are
likely to reject the highway system. " In fact he concluded
that abiding anger was even more dangerous than drinking per se,
but that the combination was the most deadly. The insult to high
school boys of an embarrassing paddling raises the adrenaline
level, which if repeated often enough stays high all the time.
They are the timebombs whose battlefield casualties litter the
roads and intersections of our country.
Spanking the Baby
The effect begins early. Babies just over
a year were observed with their mothers at a clinic at the
University of Houston. As reported in Psychology Today
interviews about the methods of discipline they used revealed
that the babies who where punished physically were the least
likely to obey instructions not to touch breakables. Even more
importantly, seven months later the punished children lagged
behind the others in developmental tests.
The Real Reason
Why, with all this evidence about the
destructive effects of physically painful punishments, do so
many people continue to believe that the only alternative to
hitting children is to negligently allow them to do as they
please? And that what they please is always delinquent, if not
At the National Center for the Study of
Corporal Punishment at Temple University in Philadelphia a large
research project inquired of adults the reasons for their
beliefs, both pro- and anti-paddle. Most thought they had
arrived at their belief logically, but in truth, the real
determinant was their own childhood history. Those who had been
spanked, paddled, switched, whipped etc. tended overwhelmingly
to believed in it. Those who had not been hit, and had attended
non-hitting schools, did not believe hitting did any good or
were shocked and dismayed at the very idea. The action-language
of our childhood overrides logic more often than not. Minds and
habits do change, however, but it takes thoughtful assessment
and considerable motivation even by people of goodwill.
Whether the beatings were at the hands of
the natural parents, or others who stood in for them seems to
make little difference except that institutional punishments
lack even intermittent moments of pride and belonging, that
might in some cases mitigate slightly the worst effects. Charles
Manson, the child of a 15 year old single mother had his first
contact with police when he was 7 and spent the rest of his life
in a series of foster homes, reform schools and prisons. He
could have survived the rejection of his mother, he says, if
reform school of officials hadn't been institutionally cruel,
whipping, beating and raping him, and letting other inmates do
A survey of 3,900 people in Houston as to
what effect school corporal punishment had on their lives found
that 76 percent of them said the effects had been negative and
that they continued to resent what happened to them. That leaves
about a fourth of them who were able to shrug it off and a mere
handful who felt grateful for the timely punishment that
"saved me from a life of crime." Thus, the one who
testifies that "I was paddled when I was a kid and I turned
out okay," must be labelled a survivor and congratulated on
the strength of character that enabled him to make a life in
spite of early mistreatment. Phychologist Robert Fathman, has
offered this apt analogy: "Many people grew up in homes
that had outhouses and they turned out okay. But do outhouses
get the credit?"