The Georgia School for Innovation and the Classics in Hephzibah, Georgia, has decided to reinstate paddling as a form of discipline. Because Twitter, this is now national news. The story goes thusly: At the beginning of the school year, the public K-9 charter school sent parents a “consent to paddle” form explaining a new policy. A third of the 100 parents who returned the form consented to have a school administrator take children to a private room where “the student will place their hands on their knees or piece of furniture and will be struck on the buttocks with a paddle.” This is utterly bizarre. Not only are these parents facilitating abuse, they are giving educators an easy way out of doing their jobs, which ought to involve communication, not assault.
And let’s make no mistake: paddling children is assault. The fact is that if you struck anyone other than a child on the buttocks with a paddle, they would have every right to press charges. The brutality of the situation at GCIS is compounded by the fact that the individuals who will enforce the paddling rules are teachers — people tasked with assuming trust and providing guidance.
If the school’s teachers do send kids to be paddled by an administrator, they aren’t just making an ill-informed judgment call about corporal punishment. They are lazily refusing to do their jobs. Talking to a kid is much harder than hitting a kid. Ask anyone who has ever interacted with a child. That’s why parents pay people to talk to their kids about the world. That’s why most parents operate under the assumption that these self-same people won’t engage in acts of violence.
Teaching involves helping children develop the social, emotional, and cognitive skills required to make appropriate decisions. That requires patience, time, empathy, and a bit of smarts. In seeking permission to hit children, the GCIS staff is suggesting that they lack those qualities (and providing proof of that fact). That’s very odd considering GCIS suggests it is committed to the Socratic method in its curriculum. “The critical thinking skills developed through the rigorous use of the Socratic Method throughout the curriculum will foster an ethic of self-leadership and be a platform for learning the four Classical Virtues,” reads the school’s website.
Remember how Socrates used to slap Plato around the cave if he did something annoying?
Of course GCIS has taken pains to mute its brutal policy. They suggest, for instance, that to keep instances of paddling to a minimum they will have a “three strike” policy — not to be confused with how many times they are allowing themselves to beat the child in one sitting. Also, the administration suggests that just the fact paddling is an option will work as a deterrent. But all of these hedges simply show GCIS acknowledges paddling is a deplorable practice.
A school that paddles children isn’t preparing them to be thoughtful, self-sufficient leaders who see the world with compassion. They are preparing kids to be brainless followers who will not question the powerful status quo. And perhaps, at one time, that was the kind of person America wanted in the workplace: someone who would listen to the boss and perform duties without question. But our future requires bright kids who have been taught self-control, not through pain, but through unemotional self-reflection and understanding how their decisions affect the world around them. Our future requires teachers that would walk out rather than have children hit.