Several methods have been used in schools over the years to improve discipline and encourage positive behaviors among students. While there are proponents of punishment types that result in pain, most studies indicate that forms that encourage positive behavior through reinforcement strategies should be preferred. The physical nature of corporal punishment is identified by its proponents for effectiveness. According to the proponents of corporal punishment, the physical pain is effective for behavior modification as opposed to psychological pain that results from some punishment forms. The exemption of psychological pain from corporal punishment is founded on the argument that there is no experimental study that has shown beyond reasonable doubt that corporal punishment results in psychological torture (Vockell 278).
While most studies assert that corporal punishment should not be applied because of these reasons, this particular form of punishment has been widely applied through the years. It is only in the present decade that it is increasingly being prohibited across the world. However, it is still prevalent in parts of the world such as in developing countries where it is used and believed to be the most effective form of correction for ill behaviors. According to a study by UNICEF, corporal punishment should not be completely banned as a form of school punishment since it is also widely applied by parents. It is recommended that it should only be punishable by law in cases where the physical pain inflicted results in more adverse physical injury. According to the UNICEF report, there are instances when non- violent punishment methods cannot be effective and denying parents and teachers the right to use corporal punishment limits their disciplining capabilities (UNICEF 3). The results associated with corporal punishment are also varied as are the number of authors who have discussed corporal punishment and its use in the school set up.
Despite this argument and the contrary beliefs, the proofs that corporal punishment has detrimental effects on school going children make it a point of contradiction. As such, the concept of corporal punishment and its effects on school children is debated in this essay. There is need to determine whether corporal punishment has detrimental effects on the cognitive abilities of students. This will be done through the use of past literature on corporal punishment. In this study, corporal punishment is defined as any form of punishment that relies on the use of physical force to cause pain on the subject. To distinguish this from physical abuse, the study will restrain reference to corporal punishment to spanking and slapping that does not occur at frequencies of more than once a week.
Corporal Punishment and psychological problems
According to the Society for Adolescent Medicine, corporal punishment inflicts not only physical discomfort but also psychological problems. One of the main reasons linked to this is the fact that corporal punishment is meted discriminately in most cases. The Society for Adolescent Medicine reports that the darks skinned students are more likely to be subjected to corporal punishment than those who are light skinned (386). Similarly, those with learning disabilities are also more likely to be discriminated against during administration of corporal punishment. According to the society, teachers have reported that they heard complaints among staff members numerous times concerning the subjective administration of corporal punishment. Parents of disabled children also reportedly complained about their children being the victims of corporal punishment due to the inability of some teachers to cope with them. Students with Attention Deficient Hyperactivity Disorder were reported to experience the greatest forms of discrimination as they were subjected to corporal punishment more frequently than other students (Straus and Donnelly 8).
Apart from discrimination, other studies have also reported other forms of psychological impacts on children. For instance, psychological problems such as stress, depression and anxiety can all be linked to corporal punishment. The Society for Adolescent Medicine also opines that corporal punishment leads to development of depression and anxiety among the victims. The fear of being punished also results in anxiety among the students. Greydanus and others (391) postulate that the anxiety that develops as a result of corporal punishment is not only reserved for the victims. On the contrary, even those who are not yet subjected to corporal punishment live in fear and anxiety as they experience forebodings of their own punishment. While others claim that only the victims of corporal punishment face fear and anxiety, studies have shown that in schools where corporal punishment is allowed, students tend to record poorer performances as most of them live in fear (Greydanus and others 392). Depression on the other hand is more prevalent among students who have actually been victims of corporal punishment. According to a study carried out by Pratt and Greydanus (111), students who are frequently paddled are more likely to experience depression as a result of the constant humiliation that comes due to public punishment. Other studies have also indicated that the fear and depression also affects some parents leading to increased potential for withdrawing their children from schools (Society for Adolescent Medicine 388). The society for adolescent medicine also describes fear among teachers as a result of corporal punishment. According to the society, some teachers are less likely to send out students who engage in disruptive behaviors during their classes due to fear that the students would be punished corporally (387). As such, this type of punishment can hinder correction since students are not subjected to corrective punishments. Moreover, depression and anxiety as well as PTSD can result in mental health problems among those who are frequently victimized in the administration of corporal punishment (Holden 592; Frazier 998).
Straus and Donnelly address other psychological impacts of corporal punishment. For instance, the authors assert that students who are punished corporally are more likely to have reduced self confidence. Such students are more likely to feel inferior to other students who are not punished as frequently as they are (8). The dip in self confidence applies not only to the victims of punishment during their schooling periods but also in future. Corporal punishment results in injuries, some of which create marks and scars on the bodies of the punished students. As adults, those who have such marks and scars are most likely to feel low self esteem and reduced confidence in their personalities as a result of their perceived negative image (Straus and Donnelly 8).
Other psychological impacts that have been associated with corporal punishment in schools include: difficulty in concentration, lost respect for teachers and deteriorated peer relationships. Each of these impacts arises as a result of psychological problems and issues which prevent the victims from developing meaningful relationships with others. According to another study, psychological problems that arise from corporal punishment are the foundations of poor academic performance among students. Those who are depressed, anxious or fearful are more likely to lose concentration in their studies as compared to those who are healthy psychologically. This can be deduced to be the reason behind poor performance among students who are subjected to corporal punishment. Moreover, when parents withdraw their children from schools due to the fear of corporal punishment, they make those children vulnerable to poor performance. According to Pratt and Greydanus (7111), students who undergo corporal punishment develop psychological maladjustments such as low self esteem.
In spite of the arguments for psychological impacts of corporal punishment of children, there are counter arguments which suggest that the psychological pains associated with depression, anxiety and fear. Wilson posits that corporal punishment only bruises the ego in addition to inflicting physical pain while at the same time enhancing discipline among students. In this case, the positive impacts are deeper and longer lasting hence worth the punishment (Wilson 6). Moreover, the fear of being punished corporally prevents students from making repeated mistakes hence limiting the frequency of punishment. Because of this, vulnerability to post traumatic stress disorder is also reduced as it only results from repeated unwarranted punishment (Vockell 280). Brakocevic also claims that banning corporal punishment poses a danger to families and to the society at large as it has been established that nations that ban corporal punishment raised more violent children (UNICEF 3). In the same breadth, Vockell argues that any form of punishment involves unpleasant stimulation hence the physical pain caused by corporal punishment should not be considered more adverse than pain resulting from other forms of punishment (279). Although Gershoff attempts to explain the negative impacts of corporal punishment, she admits that immediate reactions following corporal as well as other forms of punishment involve physiological, psychological and emotional pain (607). As such, it can be said that both psychological and emotional pains are inevitable in any form of punishment. As students would persevere any form of pain from other punishment modes, so should they persevere the pain from corporal punishment in anticipation of the deeper and more long lasting positive impacts.
Corporal punishment and Negative behavior impacts
As has previously been highlighted, many studies affirm the potential for psychological problems to arise from corporal punishment. Other studies indicate that while it is the objective of any form of punishment to correct negative behavior, corporal punishment cannot be credited for achieving the desirable kind of behavior change. The Center for Effective Discipline discusses the impacts of corporal punishment on the discipline of students. The center reports that students subjected to corporal punishment are more likely to exhibit rebellious and vindictive behaviors (12). Such children could react to the pains they feel through increased aggression against other children. This goes hand in hand with the findings given by Frazier. From the research carried out by Frazier, students exposed to corporal punishment are reported to exhibit extreme dislike for authority (998). Similarly, the Society for Adolescent medicine posits that those students who experience corporal punishment lose respect for the teachers who subject them to the same (386). From these findings, it can thus be said that corporal punishment causes rebellion as a result of reduced reverence for authority. Smith in representing the findings of various reviews however argues contrary to the assertion that corporal punishment results in aggressive behavior (par. 6). This is done through the explanation of a cause effect relationship where the vindictive behavior is what leads to corporal punishment and not the other way round. In this argument, it can be said that while corporal punishment helps to achieve immediate compliance, some habitual behaviors may be difficult to change. As such, the more aggressive children are involved in a cycle of punishment and misbehavior.
Despite the explanation of this cycle, opponents of corporal punishment still argue that the feelings of humiliation experienced following subjection to corporal punishment lead to the feeling that the victims are being oppressed. Victim mentality among the students is thus what results in reduced cooperation with teachers, rebellion and lack of respect over the long term period. According to Smith (par. 1), those children are also more likely to have poorer relationships with their parents. In explanation of this claim, Straus (58) claims that this may the result of reduced reverence for authority and feelings that the parents may be doing little to avert the situations of their children. On the other hand, proponents such as Alsaif (19) explore the benefits of corporal punishment based on personal experiences. From the perspective presented by Alsaif, corporal punishment not only results in immediate compliance, but also in long term appreciation of punishment. Alsaif explains that most of those who received corporal punishment earlier such as himself grew to be respectable and responsible; they also attribute their success to corporal punishment. The same stance is adopted by Vockell who says most of the well adjusted adults can clearly relate to corporal punishment and cite specific instances where such punishment benefited them instead of hurting them.
Straus and Donnelly report that lack of reverence for authority and reduced respect for teachers results in a decline in the students’ learning capacity. As such, schools reported to practice corporal punishment also have higher rates of indiscipline among students as well as reduced academic performance. In a collaborative article, Brakocevic argues that banning corporal punishment is tantamount to social engineering. In this context, the author suggests that the ban would result in the development of violent nations where children learn to disrespect adults with the argument that nothing can be done to them (UNICEF 3). This is based on the argument that there are certain behaviors that can be changed through non- physical methods. From the arguments presented by UNICEF, one can say that corporal punishment is an effective form of behavior modeling in the long run.
Corporal Punishment and cognitive capacity of students
Vockell counters the arguments of those opposed to corporal punishment by suggesting that most of the normal and well adjusted adults Based on this argument by Vockell, it can be concluded that there are situations which are more requiring of corporal punishment than other non-physical forms of punishment (Vockell 728). Similarly, Alsaif (19) compares his school performance and attitude when corporal punishment was allowed to his son’s when corporal punishment was banned. According to the writer, while the attitude of students towards school was more negative with corporal punishment, the students performed better and were more responsible academically and disciplined. In the present times, the students like school due to the banned corporal punishment yet perform averagely or poorly and are more careless with their school work and more indiscipline.
On the contrary many other authors mention reduced academic performance, which is a measure of cognitive functioning as a direct result of corporal punishment. For instance, the society for Adolescent medicine (387), Straus and Donnelly (8), Nauert (par. 8), and Frazier (998) all mention reduced academic performance as a direct result of corporal punishment. Similarly, Smith (4) mentions lower intellectual accomplishment as a result of corporal punishment. Based on the other arguments presented by these authors, it can be argued that reduced cognitive capacities result from the other impacts of corporal punishment. Other studies show that stress, depression and anxiety all result in poor academic performance. Additionally, good academic performance is also positively correlated to discipline among students (Straus 59). It is therefore expected that students who exhibit negative behaviors or who are under stress or are depressed are more likely to perform their cognitive functions poorly. Nauert also finds out that students subjected to corporal punishment portray poorer problem solving skills which is a sign of reduced cognitive capacity (par. 9). The author concludes that relying on corporal punishment over long durations can result in negative impacts among the students.
Conclusion and Recommendations
While most opponents of the mode of punishment based their arguments on the psychological impacts of corporal punishment, the proponents of this punishment mode argue that impacts are minimal if any and only exist in situations where corporal punishment is misused. For instance, Wilson asserts that corporal punishment should be considered a favorable form of punishment since students tend to lack discipline due to hatred of the classroom structure. However, the present study has compared the arguments for with those against corporal punishment. The effects are not only direct but also as a result of other impacts of corporal punishment on the psychological capabilities of the students as well as behaviors of the children. Many authors have shown that corporal punishment results in psychological maladjustments characterized by development of depression, fear, anxiety as well as educationally induced PTSD. All these conditions are not favorable to academic effectiveness as they result in cognitive impairment. Moreover, while the proponents of corporal punishment allude to its effectiveness where other disciplining procedures fail, they also recognize its limitation due to potential for abuse and inefficiency when overused. As such, it can be concluded that rather than relying on methods that require physical force, it is crucial for other effective methods of punishment to be encouraged.
Alsaif, Omar. Corporal punishment in schools: Theoretical Discussion and Personal Experience. Contemporary Issues in Education Research 8, 1(2015): 19-24.
Center for Effective Discipline. Discipline at School (NCACPS – U.S Corporal punishment and Paddling Statistics by state and race 2006-2007 school year. Columbus, Ohio, 2008.
Frazier, Hillman. Corporal and Capital punishment of juveniles. Medical Law 9, 1990: 996-1004.
Greydanus, Donald, Hellen Pratt, Richard Spates, Ann Blake- Dreher, Samuel Greydanus- Gearhart and Dilip Patel. Corporal punishment: Position statement of Society for Adolescent Medicine. Journal of Adolescent Health 32, 2003: 385- 393.
Gershoff, Elizabeth. Corporal punishment, physical abuse and the burden of proof: Reply to Baumrind, Larzelere and Cowan (2002), Holden (2002) and Parke (2002).The American Psychological Association Inc. 2002.
Holden, Williamson. Perspectives on the effects of corporal punishment: comment on Gershoff. Psychological Bulletin 128, 4(2002): 590- 595.
Hyman, Arthur. Using research to change public policy: reflections on 20 years of effort to eliminate corporal punishment in schools. Pediatrics 98, 1996: 818- 821.
Nauert, Rick. Physical punishment may impair child’s cognitive functions. Psychology Central, 2015.
Pratt, Helen and Donald Greydanus. Adolescent violence: Concepts for a new millennium. Adolescent Medicine 11, 2000:103-125.
Smith, Ann. The state of research on the effects of physical punishment. Social Policy Journal of New Zealand, 27, 2006.
Society for Adolescent Medicine. Position Paper: Corporal punishment in Schools. Journal of Adolescent Health 32, 5:385- 388.
Straus, Murray. New evidence for the benefits of never smacking. Society 83, 6(2001): 52-60.
Straus, Murray. and Donnelly, M. Theoretical approaches to corporal punishment. In Donnelly, M. and Straus, M. Corporal Punishment of Children in Theoretical Perspective. Oxford University Press, 2005.
UNICEF. Pros and cons of the ban on corporal punishment of children. UNICEF, 2015. Retrieved from https://www.unicef.org/serbia/Child_Rights_Politika_and_UNICEF_January_2015_ENG.pdf
Wilson, Brian. Counterpoint: The benefits of corporal punishment. EBSCO Host, 2014.
Vockell, Edward. Corporal Punishment: The Pros and Cons. The Cleaning House 64, 4(1991): 278- 283.