President Obama’s speech last week to America’s students disappointed me. I wish he had given the bushleaguer Fox-frequenters something to squawk about. I wish his talk about responsibilities had included a promise to America’s minors that he would work to extend to them the same rights under the law that their parents, teachers, and principals have.
Obama used the same rhetoric for this audience as he would have if he were addressing full citizens of the US: “if you quit on school – you’re not just quitting on yourself, you’re quitting on your country.” And while it’s hard to argue with the message “I expect you to put your best effort into everything you do,” I find it unsettling to hear kids once again being told that “Here in America, you write your own destiny” when the truth of the matter is that in 20 states, school kids of all age, for all kinds of reasons, are subject to corporal punishment.
Children, unlike adults, including convicted murderers, have no protection from “cruel and unusual punishment,” nor are they guaranteed due process, or so said the Supreme Court in its 1977 ruling on Ingraham vs. Wright, which challenged the State of Florida’s corporal punishment policies as unconstitutional, in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. See.
Twenty years have passed since the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which says that children should share in basic human rights, like protection from violence, and still the US has not ratified it, a distinction we share only with the great nation of Somalia. During his campaign, Obama said, “It is embarrassing to find ourselves in the company of Somalia, a lawless land.” His administration has at least begun thinking about the problem; in June 2009 the US Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, said officials are looking at “when and how it might be possible to join.” But it isn’t his decision alone.
The same mouths who had to protect their precious children’s delicate ears from being bruised by Obama’s innocuous speech will fight this tooth and nail. They’ll buy into the argument of Steven Groves, a fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, as reported on Fox: “To the extent that an outside body. . . have a say over how children in America should be raised, educated and disciplined — that is an erosion of American sovereignty.”
They’ll fear losing the legal right to terrorize with threats of violence and to physically assault those who are smaller than they are. They’ll claim it’s a matter of religious freedom, spare the rod and spoil the child. But even the stern Calvinists of Scotland stopped beating kids in public schools 29 years ago: “Corporal punishment is prohibited in state schools and for publicly funded pupils in independent schools in Scotland under Section 48A of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980.”
What other countries haven’t prohibited corporal punishment in public schools? Uganda, Turkey, Myanmar, Liberia, Cuba, and other illustrious nations. See.
Is it surprising that states that hit kids the most — whether by counting the number hit at least once during the course of the year or the percentage of the student body beaten — have some of the lowest graduation rates in the nation?
Or that in the ten most violent states, in nine cases , special ed students are paddled at a higher rate than kids in the general population (and in the tenth, they are paddled at the same rate)?
Or that disproportionately more minority students, especially blacks, are hit and hit more often? In 2006-2007, 36% of kids struck at school were black (interestingly, in 1976, the percentage of blacks hit was 29%). Look at the map of where corporal punishment is allowed in schools, and think plantation discipline.
Obama used the words responsibility or responsibilities nine times in his address to school children. The word rights appears just once, in a list of historical achievements of the American people, suggesting that the fight for civil rights is as much a done deed as putting a man on the moon.
Mr. President, you can do better than this.
I’ve an assignment for you.
In a year’s time, return to the schoolroom TV monitors and address this question: If rights come with responsibilities, do responsibilities come with rights?
Corporal Punishment : Legalities, Realities, & Implications. Patricia H. Hinchey. Clearing House, Jan./Feb. 2003
Corporal Punishment of Students with Disabilities in US Public Schools. Alice Farmer. Human Rights Watch
Corporal Punishment by State and Race. Center for Effective Discipline.