Ending Corporal Punishment in Schools

Finance Desk
Ending Corporal  Punishment in Schools
Ending Corporal  Punishment in Schools

Not long ago, corporal punishment in schools was quite natural. Any misbehavior by school children was met with harsh and sometimes cruel punishment. Although physical punishment for disciplining children dates back to ancient times – reflected in the adage ‘’spare the rod, spoil the child,” the practice to physically  disciplining school children is at least as old as formal education itself.

 Corporal punishment used to be prevalent in schools in many parts of the world, but in recent decades it has been outlawed in most of Europe and in Canada, Korea, South Africa, New Zealand and several other countries. It remains commonplace in a number of countries in Africa, south-east Asia and the Middle East. In Iran the practice was widespread before the revolution, but was largely discouraged by authorities after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. But it did not entirely go away with some educators holding their firm belief in the efficacy of bodily harm “to straighten out the students.” A retired teacher has written in his diary that he has caned the feet of around 1,000 students during his 30 year career.

From caning to foot whipping to being slapped at the back of their heads, children have endured various forms of punishment throughout the generations. But more recently an incident in the southern coastal town of Genaveh involving a school principal who beat his students with a plastic pipe, and resulted in one of the students being seriously injured, sparked renewed national debate on the issue.

The school principal was summarily sacked from his position.  

There are parents who think the older generation was better behaved thanks to the harshness of that period’s “corrective methods” and that today’s children “are pampered and unruly because of the social permissiveness.”

The ban on corporal punishment has given way to a ‘’pampered child syndrome’’ in schools.  This can lead to teachers becoming ‘’indifferent’’ to what is going on in the classroom, says a teacher.

‘’These days I have to play the role of teacher at home by making up for lack of effective discipline at schools,” said a parent to a local newspaper. English Philosopher Bertrand Russell considered this feeling of adults, who were physically disciplined when they were school children, as one of the bad effects of corporal punishment.

 Specific Laws

Sweden, in 1979, was the first to outlaw striking a child as a form of discipline. Since then, many other countries in Europe have also instituted bans, as have New Zealand and some countries in Africa and the Americas.

More than 70 additional nations have specific laws in place that prohibit corporal punishment in schools.

While in Iran, corporal punishment has been going on behind the scenes, it enjoys official status in private and public schools in 19 US states-with the majority being in the south (all 50 states allow ‘’reasonable’’ corporal punishment in the home).  Federal data collected for 2009, the most recent available, estimates 184,527 students were physically disciplined in schools across the country that year.

“Corporal punishment has been held to be reasonable under some circumstances and not reasonable on others,” says Scott McCown, a clinical professor at the University Of Texas School Of Law and the director of the Children’s Rights Clinic. “Generally speaking, law enforcement and district attorney’s take the position that if there’s injury that requires seeking medical attention, it is not reasonable discipline.”

 Changing Times

There is now ample evidence that harsh physical punishments do not improve students’ behavior or academic performance. The evidence that corporal punishment is harmful to children, adults and societies is overwhelming – more than 150 studies show associations between corporal punishment and a wide range of negative outcomes, while no studies have found evidence of any benefits, according to a report released by Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children.

 Many children who have been subjected to hitting, paddling or other harsh disciplinary practices have reported subsequent problems with depression, fear and anger.  These students frequently withdraw from school activities and disengage academically. The US Society for Adolescent Medicine has found that victims of corporal punishment often develop “deteriorating peer relationships, difficulty with concentration, lowered school achievement, antisocial behavior and intense dislike of authority, somatic complaints, a tendency for school avoidance and school drop-out, and other evidence of negative high-risk adolescent behavior.”

But this is not all, according to a WHO report, corporal punishment kills thousands of children each year, injures many more and is the direct cause of many children’s physical impairments. Other research  shows long-term harms  like mood and anxiety disorders, lower test scores, truancy, and — later in life — addiction and spousal abuse.

‘’Our education system has gone through many changes and while corporal punishment was seen as a disciplinary tool in the past, today’s research shows that this no longer can be effective and has adverse long-term effects,’’ says a psychology student in Iran.    


In the wake of the incident in Genaveh, several officials spoke out against corporal punishment in schools. Zohreh Tayyebnia, a member of the Majlis education committee had some of the strongest reactions. She considered even one example of school corporal punishment as an ‘’opportunity to exhibit insolence’’ and said that conditions that foster such punishment must be removed.

‘’Corporal punishment is a medieval way of disciplining students and it is expected that the education department reprimand the violators severely,’’ Tayyebnia was quoted as saying by ICANA (the official news website of the parliament).  The intervention of the judiciary can be helpful in eradicating the culture of punishment in schools. ‘’Even a single case of corporal punishment is not acceptable,’’ she said.

Minister of Education Aliasghar Fani also weighed in on the issue saying although there are rules on how to deal with cases of abuse in schools, ‘’cultural awareness’’ is the only tenable solution to the problem.

The head of the Iranian Association of Social Workers on the other hand, sees the shortage of counselors and lack of social workers in schools as an inherent problem which fosters abuse and violence in schools. Hossein Mousavi in an interview with ISNA called for a restructuring of the education system and asked for social workers and counselors to be actively involved in schools.

 Boring Curriculum

Milad Dehghani a young teacher is of the opinion that ‘’uninteresting curriculum’’ is the root cause of all problems in schools as it results in the students becoming bored  and hence their lack of attention. “I think we should come up with ways to engage the children with interesting and fun material in the classroom,’’ he says.

With officials and experts being like-minded on the issue, it is hoped that corporal punishment in schools will become a thing of the past. Every one of us can recall an amiable teacher who changed the trajectory of our life through nice behavior and leading by example: a practice that should become the norm by discarding worn out policies and adopting the right approach.