Friday, February 28, 2014

Spanking in school is a bad idea



            An email from a friend last week included a link to an article about a Kansas lawmaker who is proposing legislation that would make it legal for school authorities in Kansas to spank children to the point where they leave bruises; not just spank them, mind you – they can already do that in Kansas – but spank them hard, so as to leave marks. I thought my friend was pulling my leg, so I googled it.  He wasn’t; it’s true:

            What part of psych 101 did that legislator sleep through? And why is spanking a bad idea?  I’ll answer both. She slept through the section on learning where research clearly indicates that while conditioning works well for rats and pigeons, it is less effective in complex human learning. True, you can change behavior in the short run, but as for long term complex learning, it’s not so good. Secondly, rewards work better than punishments, and finally, teaching appropriate behavior is more effective than trying to eliminate inappropriate behavior. So here’s the deal:
            Best –reward good behavior.
            Next best – withhold a reward when good behavior is missing.
            Then – withhold a reward for bad behavior.
            Finally, if all else fails – punish bad behavior.

            Furthermore, social learning, aka identification and imitation, is far more effective than conditioning for complex learning. So what do children learn when they identify with the spanking teacher? They learn that it’s ok to hit someone else as long as they are smaller than you are. They learn resentment and anger at the perpetrator. Since they can’t lash back, the anger gets turned inward, and that, namely anger turned inward, is depression.

            It gets even more complicated when the victims are little boys and the perpetrators are adult women. Not a great beginning for boys whom we want to grow up loving and respecting women, rather than lashing out at them when they get big enough.

            I know; there are times when children are so out of control that they need to be restrained. But aren’t there better ways than spanking? Haven’t we learned anything? Any teachers out there, parents out there, what do you think?