Ponderments, Raisin Pickneys

To beat or not to beat? The corporal punishment issue in Trinidad

So I’m expecting some major backlash from the traditionalists for this…but I need to put my two cents in…

Recently, a Facebook video (originating from Trinidad) showing a woman beating her 12 year old daughter with a belt after the girl posted indecent pictures of herself on the site, went viral. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=626995590715013&set=vb.377192209028687&type=2&theater


It sparked a tremendous amount of controversy and public discussion, and in response, PM Kamla Persad- Bissessar stated that government is now looking at legislation to offer protection to children in their homes. However, the Point Fortin mother Helen Bartlett defends her actions, saying she is “prepared to go to jail” to set her child on the right path. The single-parent mother of four said her daughter was her “problem child” who might be “acting out” because of neglect on her father’s part. http://www.trinidadexpress.com/news/READY-FOR-JAIL-256468741.html

Her children (an elder sister and the 12 year old in question) bravely posted a video in reply to the public’s reaction; defending their mothers’ actions. The older sister stated that the mother had tried everything to discipline her younger sister and indicated that she is a good mother, and the 12 year old child issued a public apology stating that she had learnt her lesson and was sorry she had caused her family embarrassment. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10200938915675545&set=vb.1845430046&type=2&theater

The general cry of the public seems to be in support of Bartlette’s actions as local media sources revealed that in polls conducted,more than 70% of the respondents support her deeds. Many individuals believe that it is a time-proven method that they have a right to practice as child custodians.

But after watching the video, cringing with every flick of the belt and listening to the young girls’ loyalist defense of their mother, I can’t help but feel that we are settling and remain content with a system that is ambiguous and detrimental. Is corporal punishment really worth its weight as a form of punishment? 

Let’s examine the facts.

Support for corporal punishment of children remains widespread in the United States and most of the “developing” world. Scott Bloom, 1995. “Spare the Rod, Spoil the Child? A Legal Framework for Recent Corporal Punishment Proposals”. Golden Gate University Law Review, noted that “Corporal punishment is a physical punishment in which pain is deliberately inflicted on a perpetrator of a wrong in order to exact retribution and to deter similar behavior in future. An accepted form of discipline through the ages, it has been upheld by all the Abrahamic religions, and has been practiced in some form in almost every human civilization. Corporal punishment was for a long time considered an appropriate method for disciplining children in schools. The birch rod was once a fixture of the schoolhouse. In the latter half of the 20th century”.

So we know it’s been around for a long-time but is it effective?

Have a look at some graphical representations of found data about “paddling” (aka spanking) compiled by the US Center for Effective Discipline:

Paddling and School Shootings

Paddling proponents say: “If we still had paddling, kids wouldn’t be shooting one another in schools.”

Fact: Studies show significantly more fatal school shootings took place in states that allow corporal punishment in schools.

Figure 1

Information contained in Figure 1 was taken from The National School Safety Center’s Report on School Associated Violent Deaths (1992-2007). … Student shootings were more likely to occur in states where school corporal punishment is permitted.

A study by Doreen Arcus (2002) found that there were significantly more fatal school shootings in states that permit corporal punishment in schools than those that don’t.

Arcus, Doreen (2002). School Shooting Fatalities and School Corporal Punishment: A look at the states. Aggressive Behavior, 28, pp. 173-183….

Paddling and Violence Against Teachers

Paddling Proponents Say: “Since paddling was taken out of schools, kids have gotten more violent and aggressive toward teachers.”

Facts: Paddling is declining (Fig. 2). Violence against teachers is declining in U.S. public schools (Fig. 3). The decline of paddling in U.S. public schools is correlated with a decline in violence against teachers.

Figure 2

Figure 3

Data from Figure 2 on the number for students paddled can be obtained from the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights. During the years from 1994-2004, paddling numbers decreased from 470,683 students to 272,028 students…..This graph depicts the United States percentages of teachers who experienced threats or physical injuries by students. It shows a decrease in violence against teachers over this ten year period.

• Threats against teachers in U.S. public schools show a decrease of 41.4 percent between 1994 and 2004.
• Physical attacks against teachers in U.S. public schools show a decrease of 16 percent between 1994 and 2004.
• Paddling decreased in U.S. public schools by more than 42 percent between l994 and 2004.

Dinkes, R., Cataldi, E.F., Kena, G., and Baum, K. (2006). Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2006 (NCES 2007–003/NCJ 214262). U.S. Departments of Education and Justice. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office….

Paddling and ACT Scores and Graduation Rates

Paddling Proponents Say: “Since paddling was taken out of schools, kids have gotten lazy and are falling behind in academics.”

Fact: Non-paddling states have higher ACT scores and higher graduation rates.

Figure 4

Figure 4: Each state’s average ACT composite score was compared to the national average (20.9) and determined whether it was above or below the national mean. At the time of these test results, there were 22 states that allowed corporal punishment (Pennsylvania has since changed its position on allowing corporal punishment in schools)…. 36% of paddling states had a state composite score average above the national mean; 89% of non-paddling states, however, scored above the mean. Likewise, 64% of paddling states scored below the national average, while only 11% of non-paddling states fell into that category.

Figure 5

Figure 5: Among the paddling states, 57%, 12 states, had graduation rates below the national average, with only 43% keeping students in school to the end of 12th grade. Among non-paddling states, two-thirds, 66%, had better than average graduation rates….

Paddling and Adult Incarceration

Paddling Proponents Say: “If kids were paddled more, they wouldn’t end up in jail as adults.”

Fact: School corporal punishment is associated with higher incarceration rates of the adult population. Eight of the top ten paddling states are in the top ten states with the highest incarceration rates.

Figure 6

Top 10 Highest Incarceration
Rates by State (12/31/06)
Rank State Incarceration Rates
(per 100k people)
1 Louisiana 846
2 Texas 683
3 Oklahoma 664
4 Mississippi 658
5 Alabama 595
6 Georgia 558
7 South Carolina 525
8 Missouri 514
9 Michigan 511
10 Florida 509

Figure 7

The 10 worst states, by percentage of students struck
by educators in the 2006-2007 school year:
Rank State Percentage
1 Mississippi 7.5
2 Arkansas 4.7
3 Alabama 4.5
4 Oklahoma 2.3
5 Louisiana 1.7
6 Tennessee 1.5
7 Texas 1.1
8 Georgia 1.1
9 Missouri 0.6
10 Florida 0.3

(states in bold are on both lists)

Figure 6: Incarceration rates for each state were found in the Bureau of Justice Statistics Bulletin – Prisoners in 2006….

Figure 7: The percentage of student struck for each state was found using information from the Office of Civil Rights 2006 National and State Projections….

Eight of the top ten paddling states are in the top ten states with the highest incarceration states.


I’ve pored through scholarly articles from around the world and realised that the overwhelming majority report the same thing…that corporal punishment does more bad than good. In Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, Vol 13(4), Nov 2007, 231-272. (doi: 10.1037/1076-8971.13.4.231)The case against corporal punishment of children: Converging evidence from social science research and international human rights law and implications for U.S. public policy, authors Elizabeth T.Gershoff and Susan H. Bitensky observe that substantial amounts of research from psychology and related fields point to the facts that corporal punishment is “ineffective as a disciplinary practice and can have unintended negative effects on children”.  Many countries have banned all forms of corporal punishment, and the practice has come to be regarded as a violation of international human rights law.

Corporal punishment methods varies in terms of the severity. Where it is administered, with what it is administered, how it is administered, and in which context are questions that must be evaluated. Sadly, we have ambiguous guidelines about what should be accepted and not. The AAP, on their evaluation of suspected physical abuse, stated:

The recognition and reporting of physical abuse is hindered by the lack of uniform or clear definitions. Many state statutes use words such as “risk of harm,” “substantial harm,” “substantial risk,” or “reasonable discipline” without further clarification of these terms. Many states still permit the use of corporal punishment with an instrument in schools; on the other hand, the American Academy of Pediatrics has proposed that “striking a child with an object” is a type of physical punishment that “should never be used” and has recommended that corporal punishment be abolished in schools. The variability and disparities in definitions may hinder consistent reporting practices.

Some disciplinarians practice it in moderation to avoid excesses or misapplications, but as we are an excessive people, many parents and guardians, often get wrapped up in emotion, and may become too harsh in their dealings. In lieu of the previous, let me remind you about the extent of child abuse experienced in Trinidad.  Our track-record is awful, and child protective services very limited. This remains a major concern of mine. There is a thin line between love, anger, hatred and abuse, and we have had cases of child abuse (often as a result of feigned “discipline”) being reported.


We live in a society that knows very little boundaries. Here in the Trinidad, we experience high levels of gruesome crimes, horrific violence on our streets and at schools, and extremely concerning levels of domestic and child abuse. Above all, many citizens subscribe to the disconcerting mentality that bad behaviour and violence should in turn, be put down by violence. A move that (based on the above international studies) would statistically result in a vicious cycle.


I’ve always known of the “Spare not the rod and spoil your child” saying, and witnessed it being reflected by many members of the society. And I myself have had my own little share of “licks” (not excessively though, my parents used it only as last resort, and even then, it usually included just a smack or two with a ruler). But generally, my parents used reasoning with my brother and I, and I think we came out better for it.

On a very personal note; as a mother of two young ones who possess an inglorious knack for being naughty, I had been thrown into the moral dilemna of deciding the best forms of punishment. Though I had deliberated a long time ago to never use corporal punishment, that stance shifted when my elder began a series of seemingly uncontrollable behaviour. I had purchased books upon books about all sorts of creative punishment, but none semed to work. So after lots of frustration and discussions with parents of “well-behaved” kids who all seemed to ascribe to the “licks” thing, I decided to try my “hand” (quite literally) at it for a bit. However, the fear that was eventually instilled in my son was unsettling, and I still recall the hurt in his beautiful eyes whenever the deed was committed. Equally bad was his eventual copycating of the behaviour with his younger brother, as he began to resort to using violence to solve his squabbles. Needless to say, the “hand” was quickly put away and comes out only in the form of an occassional pinch. I have gone back to my creative correction books and have realised that the best form of discipline is the use of reasoning— the discussion and portrayal of consequences of naughty actions— and the removal of priviledges.

This extends to my classrooms where I deal with quite a number of troubled and “difficult” kids. Interestingly enough, these very kids are actually disciplined with very strict corporal punishment at home, many of whom are beaten by their parents or guardians. They in turn, return to school with violent attitudes. I have seen how these kids respond to disciplinary measures at school, and often they meet hostility with hostility and resentment, but react to kindness and logic with submissive gentility.

On a final note I would like to include this status taken from an Aunt who helped raise us in love:

I am looking at all the posts related to the beating of the 12 year old and the mixed comments…can u imagine being beaten like that almost everyday of your life…well it was like that for me not only with a belt but, potspoons pans pots crookstick, umbrella anything u could think of…no it did not kill me but i died a thousand times……..maybe that made me who i am today….and i can learn from that …….you see i was not only hurt physically but the emotional pain was more…. i never understood why…and to date i still do not know why…maybe it helped ease whatever frustrations…. i dont know…….the physical scars have almost vanished..but the emotional scars would never never leave……so today i have a chance to hold my little girl and tell her how much i love her, to be her best friend and cherish her because God blessed me with the responsibility of taking care of her and i will certainly do my best.