Where Corporal Punishment Is Still Used In Schools, Its Roots Run Deep : NPR Ed The use of corporal punishment is on the decline, but at one high school in N.C., the principal paddles his students himself.

Where Corporal Punishment Is Still Used In Schools, Its Roots Run Deep

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Corporal punishment is still used in public schools, mostly in the South. Recent federal data show more than a hundred thousand students are subjected to physical pain as a form of discipline each year. Jess Clark of member station WUNC takes us to one school in the mountains of North Carolina where the practice continues.

JESS CLARK, BYLINE: Robbinsville High School sits in a small gap in the Smoky Mountains. Green slopes topped with pine trees hug in around the school building. If there's one word to describe this area, it would be isolated.

So this is, like, really in the mountains here.

DAVID MATHESON: It is really in the mountains, yes.

CLARK: David Matheson is principal of Robbinsville High, a school of about 350 students, and he's the only high school principal in the state who still uses corporal punishment. At Robbinsville, corporal punishment takes the form of paddling - a few licks on the behind with a long, wooden paddle delivered by Matheson. The school's policy allows students to request a physical punishment in place of in-school suspension or ISS. Last year, 22 students chose it.

MATHESON: Most kids will tell you, you know, that they choose the paddling so they don't miss class. And even though they get their work in ISS, it's still not like being in the classes, you know, in front of the teacher.

CLARK: Allison Collins is a senior here. She says she chose to be paddled her sophomore year after her cell phone went off in class.

ALLISON COLLINS: That's, like, my first time ever been in trouble (laughter).

CLARK: Collins told principal Matheson she'd rather that than a day of ISS, and Matheson called her father to get his permission.

COLLINS: And my dad was like, just paddle her 'cause down here in the mountains, we do it the old-school way (laughter).

CLARK: Matheson says he always asks parents first, and very few opt out.

MATHESON: And I think that's one of the reasons maybe so many parents are good with it. It's something that the family decides.

CLARK: Matheson leads me to the band room where Cheri Lynn is substitute teaching.

CHERI LYNN: (Laughter) Oh no, you - oh, you found me.


LYNN: I was trying to hide.

CLARK: Lynn, who has her own kids at Robbinsville, says she and other parents support the use of corporal punishment in school.

LYNN: I think it goes back to traditional values. A lot of the parents still hold to the traditional values of corporal punishment. They use it at home. And so the school is an extension of the home.

CLARK: Recent surveys show about 75 percent of Americans believe it's sometimes necessary to spank a child. In a small, tight-knit community like Robbinsville, many parents entrust school staff to carry out that form of discipline.

TOM VITAGLIONE: When it gets to the schools, we now have an agent of the state hitting a child.

CLARK: That's where Tom Vitaglione takes issue with the practice. He's with the advocacy group NC Child.

VITAGLIONE: And we don't believe that should happen and that cultural issues should not override that perspective.

CLARK: Vitaglione has been working to get corporal punishment out of North Carolina schools since 1985. When he started, thousands of North Carolina kids got paddled each year. Now Robbinsville High is one of just a few schools that still use it.

VITAGLIONE: We're on a list of 19 states. There are only 19 states left that still do it. Where there with, like, Texas that does it more than 20,000 times a year and Mississippi and Alabama and Arkansas - all over 15,000 times a year. And we did it 57 times last year. For 57 cases, you keep us on the list.

CLARK: Updated state records show North Carolina's number is closer to 70 for last year. Vitaglione says for years, he's been sending school leaders research papers showing corporal punishment leads to higher dropout rates, increased rates of depression and substance abuse and increased violent episodes down the road. Principal Matheson says he's seen that research, but he still believes corporal punishment is effective. For NPR News, I'm Jess Clark in Robbinsville, N.C.


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