‘Tough love’

I hate corporal punishment. I was fortunate to have parents who did not believe in it and have never used it on my own children. I did go to a private boys school in Sri Lanka that allowed its principal and vice-principal to cane students and there were some teachers who also hit students with rulers or slapped them even though they were not authorized to do so.

I was never hit by a teacher, but I was caned on one occasion by the vice-principal when he punished the entire class for making too much noise in the absence of a teacher. I was not traumatized by this, maybe because the vice-principal never seemed to enjoy caning people. This may be because his punishments were not in response to anything done to him directly but as part of the responsibilities of his office. He caned people matter-of-factly, not in anger. He was also much respected personally as a great and caring math teacher who instilled in me a love of the subject.

But there was one teacher whom I distinctly remember who would get really angry with a couple of students and slap them hard and repeatedly, while insulting them verbally. He seemed almost out of control when he did it, with a venomous look in his eyes, and it was quite frightening. He was also a very ‘Christian’ man, frequently giving little homilies at school assemblies using biblical texts to make his points.

In the US, corporal punishment seems to have largely disappeared, except in the context of sports teams. We have the recent spectacle of the Rutgers basketball coach Mike Rice who had been abusing his players (physically and with homophobic slurs) for a long time, known to the athletic director and the university president, but only got fired when video of his appalling behavior appeared online. Rice’s behavior reminds me of the out-of-control Christian teacher.

What is astonishing to me is how three Fox News personalities (Sean Hannity, Eric Bolling, and Michelle Malkin) defended Rice’s actions and said that firing him was a bad thing, a symbol of the ‘wussification of America,’ and that they were hit by their parents and feel they benefited from it and now do it to their own children.

As Jon Stewart of The Daily Show says, this confessional may explain a lot about their behavior on TV.

(This clip was aired on April 4, 2013. To get suggestions on how to view clips of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report outside the US, please see this earlier post.)


  1. Kimbeaux says

    I am not opposed to corporal punishment, but I am passionately opposed to abuse. Kicking, hitting, throwing things at and screaming bigoted slurs at a player who did not perform to your expectations is abuse, not punishment. When my parents sent me to my room long enough to cool down, then called me out to tell my side of the story, then sent me back while they determined the appropriate punishment, then called me back out to administer a punishment that hurt, but did not injure me (the most I remember was 3 whacks with the belt); that was punishment.

    I think corporal punishment is a better deterrent for small children than some other forms of punishment. For instance, I would choose to slap the hand of a small child reaching for the pot on the stove, rather than removing his TV privileges for a week: I think hand slapping is far more likely to avoid a horrible scalding accident later when my back is turned. I can’t imagine, however, any situation in which I would think that slapping a child’s face or hitting the back of her head is a good idea.

    I think that as the child gets older, there are other punishments which become as effective, or more effective than corporal punishment. And I certainly find spanking inappropriate for children past the onset of puberty.

    On the other hand, I can hardly argue that corporal punishment is necessary in all cases to raise a decent human being.

  2. nichrome says

    @Kimbeaux – Why do the choices for the small child/hot stove scenario have to be only “slapping” or “no TV”?

    How about firmly grabbing the child’s hand and saying “NO! – You’ll burn yourself!”

  3. MNb says

    Corporal punishment is a big problem in Suriname, though it’s strictly forbidden. All psychological research teaches us that it doesn’t work. The only result is that kids will fear the adults, which prevents building a positive bond. Like Nichrome writes firmly holding an arm is more than enough.
    I am certainly not a wussy. There are quite a lot of ill-mannered kids on my school, often with psychological problems. As a result some kids literally do not listen, they just ignore their teachers. So I can fully understand the despair that leads some of my colleagues to go astray. But again: it doesn’t work.
    I am certainly not against punishment, but two absolute rules apply: a punishment has to be effective, ie result in improving behaviour and thus it has to be related to the bad behaviour. So it’s best to punish as lightly as possible; quite often I remit a part of my intended punishment if the kid convinces me that he/she will behave better next time. After 13 years I have developed a whole bag of tricks. Sometimes I insult indeed, but I only reserve that to leader types who try to challenge my authority.
    The most extreme example I know from personal experience is a boy who regularly gets beaten by his father. He had learned only to listen after being hit; he would continue his bad behaviour until then. It took about a year to unlearn his habit. Unfortunately he still isn’t doing well even if his behaviour has clearly improved.

  4. anne mariehovgaard says

    @nichrome: Exactly. It’s not a choice between different forms of punishment; there are other, better, methods.

  5. ollie says

    Hitting players isn’t a big problem; if this coach had tried this with professional players, it would NOT have gone well for him.

    there is nothing wrong with “hands on” though; for example when doing “forward bend” in yoga, my teacher would sometimes “swat” my gluteals to remind me to move my hips over the line connecting my feet. to this day, that correction stays with me. So a basketball coach might show “hands on” how to do a proper “check” or “pick”.

  6. says

    Hi there,

    Thanks for your post. I appreciate your perspective on the subject, and I do feel that the most visible sports are promoting violent, anti-human, patriarchal values, in agreement with you so to speak.

    However, someone who has always lived in the U.S., particularly in a rural, traditional area or in areas of poverty either rural or urban, can testify that corporal punishment is much more common than perhaps you believe it to be. Parents in the U.S. typically do not have a clue what they are doing, often having children before even remotely considering how it will impact their individual futures. As a result, they are generally ignorant on how to successfully work with children, leaving the parents stressed and frustrated with issues that a good parent who planned ahead could handle with little to no effort. So, Americans already being culturally prone to accept violence as “discipline”, ignorant parents often resort to yanking, slapping, spanking, or even beating their children. This is a fact of life here. Although it does not tend to happen in well-educated families and it does not tend to happen in public, it is quite common in many homes.

    I have seen places where parents literally put their children on a leash in a store.

    The idea that children are simply adults who haven’t grown up yet is nonsense to most Americans. Children are basically considered property of their parents, and the cultural standards or what is recognized as “child abuse” are ridiculously low, in my opinion. If the parents want to brainwash their children with disgusting religious lies, it is considered their right and even their duty to do so. If the parents want to force their children to do manual labor for a traditional lifestyle that the children did not get to choose, it is considered the parents’ right and even their duty to do so. If the parents want to force their children to stay home where they won’t make new friends out of terror that they’ll learn something on their own, it is considered the parents’ right and even their duty to do so.

    In that type of culture, corporal punishment is really not a stretch.

    Remember, the U.S. is the only developed nation in the world that still openly executes its prisoners. (We won’t even get started on its foreign policy.)

    The type of comments that Sean Hannity gave can be heard by many average Americans when discussing corporal punishment. American culture – it’s just astounding sometimes.

  7. says

    Please allow me to make one further comment – the commenting apologists for corporal punishment make my point precisely.

    To be clear:
    There is NO occasion where corporal punishment is EVER appropriate.

    It is assault, and it should be treated as such.

  8. tyros says

    Yeah, I think you overestimate people… I’m from suburban Texas (in a major urban area, not at all deeply conservative) where there are lower-middle, upper-middle and poor people, pretty average class-wise, and corporal punishment is universal. Outright beatings and unambiguous child abuse are, anecdotally, common, and it’s totally OK unless the kid ends up in the hospital. In fact TX and many other states (mostly Southern AFAIK) still allow corporal punishment in public schools, although many school districts choose not to permit it.
    I believe this reflects and probably perpetuates some serious cultural pathology.

  9. left0ver1under says

    There is no such thing as “corporal punishment”. It is as best assault, and at worst, child abuse. Why is it okay to do to children what would get one arrested if done to another adult? Because a child can’t fight back? Because the child doesn’t know what his/her rights are? That’s not a valid argument.

    As for Mike Rice, he was fired by Rutgers and an investigation began because he didn’t win enough, not because what he did was wrong. This is no different to Joe Paterno’s cover up of Jerry Sandusky’s crimes, or Bobby Knight’s physical assault and verbal abuse of his players. Knight and Paterno had high winning percentages, so they were immune to scrutiny (until Knight started losing).

    And just this past fall, Washington State football player Marquess Wilson quit the team because of verbal and physical abuse from the team’s new coach, Mike Leach. Leach had been fired from his job at Texas Tech for the same abuses of players there. But because WSU had just given Leach a new contract for a lot of money, everyone (including the media, who knew of Leach’s behaviour) blamed Wilson and called him a liar and a “disruption to the team” rather than investigate.

  10. Timothy says

    I’ll echo similarly what others have said:

    * ‘Corporal Punishment’ is abuse. Let’s call it that.
    * There is no psychological research that supports hitting children.
    * Mano, my experience as a therapist suggests that Tyros is correct. Here in Northeast Ohio, I’ve spoken to parents from all walks of life. Many parents still believe that hitting children is an acceptable form of discipline. (Which astounds me. For example, I was recently at a social gathering of highly educated people. In a small group, the discussion turned to parenting. I was the only person (!) who did not agree with hitting children.) It sounds as if you are underestimating the extent this abuse occurs in the US.

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