06/04/2011 12:07 pm ET Updated Aug 04, 2011

Corporal Punishment in American Schools -- Teaching Through Terror?

The video "Treatment of Children in Islamic Schools" (the video) is sadly familiar to me. I saw plenty of paddlings as I went through school right here in America, and can recall most distinctly my own such punishment. I was 7 years old, a new third grade student, and I could not answer a multiplication question correctly. I was summoned to the front of my classroom to be whipped across my hands with a wooden paddle. I will never forget the feeling of humiliation before my classmates or the face of the teacher intent on hurting me.

Before that experience, I hadn't questioned my ability to learn everything my math teacher taught me. But subsequently, I failed to learn my multiplication tables, and was placed in the lowest math track. In later years, I was interested in science, but I shied away from any classes that required upper level math. Eventually, I became a lawyer (not the worst possible result, despite the jokes), a field that allowed me to pursue justice and completely avoid ever having to answer a math problem again!

The video was posted by a group calling itself "Secular Democracy and Human Rights for Iran." The comments show that many consider the behavior demonstrated by the teacher to be reprehensible and perhaps confined to Islamic schools. Other commentators experienced corporal punishment at religious schools in America, and many adults remember incidents similar to mine in their public schools. But some Americans may not realize that tax payer money still supports the physical abuse of American children in the name of educating them.

Corporal Punishment, as practiced in American Public Schools today, was the subject of a Congressional Hearing held April 2010, in Washington, DC. Evidence presented at that hearing entitled "Corporal Punishment in Schools and its Effect on Academic Success" demonstrated that:

1. Corporal Punishment (defined as the application of physical pain as a method of behavior change) is still legal in 20 American States.

2. According to the US Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights, the use of paddling in schools has dropped each year, but there are still hundreds of thousands of students paddled each year. Data from 2006-2007 school year showed over 223,000 students were paddled in our nation. This data shows only the number of students paddled, not how many times they were paddled. If a particular student is paddled numerous times, it only counts as one paddling in the statistics.

3. The Office of Civil Rights data indicates that minority students and students with disabilities are paddled at higher rates. The most recently available statistics show that African American Students and students with disabilities are paddled at twice the rate of the general population.

4. Children in kindergarten through eighth grade are more likely to be paddled than those in high school.

5. Students are typically hit on the buttocks with a wooden paddle approximately 15 inches long, between 2 and 4 inches wide, and 1.5 inches thick with a 6 inch handle. Typically students are told to stand with their hands on a desk or chair so they are bent over. The paddling may occur in the private confines of an office or in public view within a classroom.

6. Most paddling occurs for minor infractions such as violating the dress code, being late for school, talking in class, or being disrespectful.

7. The Federal Government has outlawed physical punishment in prisons, jails, and medical facilities, but not in our schools.

8. Hitting children causes immediate physical pain and may cause lasting physical injury and mental distress.

9. Evidence shows that paddling causes lower school achievement, antisocial behavior, tendency toward school avoidance, and school drop out.

10. Harsh physical punishments do not improve student academic performance. School success rates in states with corporal punishment are lower than in those states that ban corporal punishment. Also, American College Testing Scores have improved the least in states that paddle the most.

What does humiliation and pain teach in an academic setting? Apparently not academics. Perhaps it teaches another lesson: that being in power comes with the right to hurt and humiliate. Is it so far a stretch to postulate that the American soldiers guilty of terrorizing and humiliating Iraqi soldiers at Abu Ghraib were acting out based upon treatment they experienced when they were vulnerable themselves, perhaps as new soldiers, maybe even as children in their schools? And what do prisoners of war brutalized by American soldiers learn from humiliation and pain? Certainly nothing about American democracy and justice. Perhaps if we insist on a policy of non-violence in our American schools, we can begin to lead the world toward peace.

Click here for the status of Corporal Punishment in Public Schools, by state.