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Carol Smaldino

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Georgia's New Anti-Bullying Law is Cancelled by Corporal Punishment Policy

Posted: 06/09/10 12:06 PM ET

This year, Georgia Equality, an organization committed to fairness and safety, was successful in its campaign to influence the Georgia General Assembly to pass anti-bullying legislation. The bill has consequences for bullies and repeat offenders in particular, and it generally places responsibility for an atmosphere of safety on the schools. Last Friday, Governor Sonny Perdue signed the bill into law.

You might think this would be a cause for celebration by those children suffering the taunts and bruises inflicted by other children since a state law against bullying broadens the focus beyond individual hate crime offenses. However, if we take one or even two steps back, we find an interesting fact: Georgia permits teachers to inflict corporal punishment on children as part of their disciplinary procedures.

And so we see that the beat goes on as we ignore the adult part in bullying, not only in the present but the bullying passed down to us by parents, clergy, and reality TV shows that highlight humiliation, sadism and more.

The bullying issue is hardly isolated to Georgia, but it provides an apt illustration of how policies can often contradict and controvert each other. The state's corporal punishment for schools is stated as follows:

"Corporal punishment is allowed, subject to various restrictions. It may not be excessive or unduly severe or be used as a first line of punishment; it must be administered in the presence of a school official; a written explanation must be provided on request; and it may not be administered if a physician certifies that the child's mental or emotional stability could be affected." ~O.C.G.A. § 20-2-730-731

What does it say exactly, whenever we teach our children lessons that we fail to model? What do they learn when a grownup is allowed to hit a child or humiliate him when that same child is punished, if not expelled, for similar actions? Since the complexity of our intentions is not always conscious, is this disparity between polar opposite expectations for children and for adults an expression of our envy and our need to displace blame for the pervasive violence in our culture?

And just who is to define what is meant by "excessive" or "severe" regarding the regulation of corporal punishment in Georgia or anywhere else when one of the definitions of bullying includes the humiliation by one person with a higher degree of power. The mere "freedom" of discretion given to the adult in charge can be disturbing, for when does the child who may well have a distinctly different and often equally valid way of seeing get a chance to have his say? Is this not then, by definition, an allowance for the right of public bullying by adults towards children? And, do we ever know the motivations and aggressions released by those adults who lean towards such humiliating behavior, be it verbal or physical?

The Georgia policies on corporal punishment by teachers, as with any policies in any of our schools, includes the necessary power of discretion and thus of bias depending on one's moral, psychological and political orientation. As one example, the degree of bias vs. integrity exemplified within the context of mental health-related court cases.

Most would be shocked to learn the level to which this bias is applied in mental health-related court cases. In a prior posting I wrote of a forensic psychologist who threatened a mother with loss of custody if she didn't force her son to see his father more often despite the child's fear of his father along with bruises and claims of abuse by the dad. The psychologist's justification was, "Children are puppies, you know, and they can be trained to do anything."

If you ask me why I didn't stop that psychologist's abuse of power, my answer is that I tried, and the judge in that case considered only the opinion of those he had personally appointed. Significantly, the boy was not allowed to express his opinion to the judge, and when I asked him what he would say to the bench if had a chance, he replied, "I'd want to ask him to listen to the child as much as he listens to the grownups."

Children are often lauded as our most precious "possessions," and right here is a serious problem that we face. This isn't to say that every statement of a child is gospel, but that children often are clear and haven't yet learned the political correctness of taking a side at all costs. I have a feeling that many of them who are given time-outs for the smallest of infractions would like to give us all time-outs, maybe even some long ones.

I'm not sure that's such a bad idea. Imagine a series of time-outs for adults, quiet times where we are sent to a room with those who bully us or whom we bully to meditate on the hate running around our atmosphere. We need more than a time-out. We need to examine how many of us crave the violence and humiliation in our entertainment and our "news," as well as our competitiveness and judgment of one another, even in our patriotic odes to one single truth that defies what we praise as freedom of speech. Consider how we might feel if we were scolded, chastised or even hit for every rude thing that comes out of our mouths. We need to look at how long we have been hating each other.

We are an impatient culture. We want answers now; frequently we want to know who is to blame. The old adage, "patience is a virtue," springs to mind, and listening can be one too, especially if we are looking not for just the facts on the surface but the nuances, the feelings and the damage done by blame and yet more blame.

One definition of bullying is, "repeated oppression, psychological or physical attack, of a less powerful person by a more powerful person." As for school bullying, it is seen as intentional and occurring when a student or group in a position of power uses that power to abuse peers, instilling fear and humiliation. As for those of us who come to conclusions about causation, punishment including corporal punishment, we need to consider how much humiliation we heap upon each other and our children in general.

To say the world is too small for a scapegoat seems pretty dramatic, but is it enough? We are all busy, and underneath we are all scared of not measuring up to something or somebody. A commercial interruption might be a beginning for us to stop all of this madness.

Worth a try?

 

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