"Obviously, I'm not advocating a return to an era of brutal beatings"

Randall, Laura, and I were recently chatting about spanking. Its disappearance from school and home. Two interesting articles.

First, Darshak Sanghavi in Slate:

Primary care physicians tacitly approve of corporal punishment. According to well-designed surveys, 70 percent of family physicians and 60 percent of pediatricians think “striking of the child’s buttocks or hand with an open hand … leaving no mark except transient redness” is fine. In a hypothetical scenario of an 8-year-old who refuses to go to bed at the usual time, for example, one in five family physicians think the child should be spanked.

Hmm. I'm not sure that 1 in 5 makes the author's case very well. But anyway.

Interestingly, even 40 percent of academic child abuse specialists think “spanking is appropriate sometimes.” A key committee of the American Academy of Pediatrics debated spanking for more than 10 years before they decided not to condemn it categorically. (Daniel Armstrong, the director of the Mailman Center for Child Development in Miami and the AAP policy’s main writer, told me “there was a clash of beliefs” and in the end, the committee condemned hitting kids with objects and in the face, but felt whacks on the buttocks were OK.)

Remarkably, however, a powerful trend toward abandoning corporal punishment is already under way. There has been a dramatic reduction in its use over the past two generations—an unprecedented change in a pattern that likely had been fixed for millennia. In the United States, for example, 94 percent of parents endorsed hitting kids in 1968, but only one-half approved by 1999. Similar decreases occurred in countries as diverse as Austria, Sweden, Kuwait, Germany, and New Zealand. (In Sweden, the drop preceded the law against hitting kids.)

What is connected to this change?

Instead, middle- and upper-class parents tended to treat children as peers, with the pint-sized ability to make choices, respond to reason, and have valid emotions. It's not a huge leap then to see children as having nascent civil rights that conflict with regular corporal punishment.

Such a view underlies the approach of Supernanny or How To Talk, where parents make behavior charts or create token economies for rewards, answer questions with explanations, and encourage kids to accept and express their feelings. According to Lareau, such discipline tends to be self-reinforcing, and part of a broader ecology of parenting.

As a result, these children who experience it develop an "emerging sense of entitlement"--a trait that may carry some negative connotations but generally correlates with better verbal skills, school performance, and a sense that they can actively shape the world around them.

Megan McArdle, thoughtful as usual, responds in the Atlantic:

It seems to me that what parents have discovered is a much, much more intensive form of parenting than their grandparents employed. The elaborate charts and systems of incentives are enabled by the fact that modern children are effectively monitored by adults every waking hour until they become quite old....

Obviously, I'm not advocating a return to an era of brutal beatings. But I'd like to think that there's some alternative to raising children in a sort of well-padded, benevolent police state where no action is too small or large that it can't be managed with an appropriately placed gold star.

I'm glad to have corporal punishment much reduced in schools. When I think back to our middle school teachers with paddles at Wilson Central, I recall a sadistic, angry streak in some of those guys.

But the alternatives create their own issues. No Excuses charters use what we could call "a much, much more labor-intensive form of teacher-ing than our grandparents" -- heavy on incentives, praise, clear consequences, and parent communication. I think that's correlated with turnover, perhaps 4 years in such schools on average. Steve Brill captures this in his book Class Warfare.

Many traditional high poverty schools seem to have gotten rid of the problematic tool of corporal punishment (I have no idea if it ever worked) -- but not really replaced it with meaningful consequences.

My buddies who teach at the nearby district schools say their administrators can't even run a detention that's tight, and often don't back up the teachers if it comes to a suspension or expulsion hearing. As a result, the day-to-day student and teacher experience in those schools is pretty chaotic.