The chilling implications of corporal punishment in schools without implicit bias testing for teachers


I was fortunate to be invited by ChoiceMedia.TV to host their Story of the Day video on Instagram yesterday. I chose to briefly discuss an NPR story about corporal punishment in a small-town school in North Carolina. The administrator literally keeps a paddle in his office.

David Matheson is the principal here. And he's the only high school principal in the state who still performs corporal punishment. At Robbinsville, corporal punishment takes the form of paddling - a few licks on the backside Matheson delivers with a long wooden paddle.
North Carolina state law describes corporal punishment, as "The intentional infliction of physical pain upon the body of a student as a disciplinary measure."
Robbinsville High School's policy allows students to request a paddling in place of in-school-suspension, or ISS. Last year, 22 students chose it.


That means this white man in North Carolina named David is hitting kids at a public institution with the blunt object sitting on his desk:


The NPR article avoids mentioning race and opening that can of worms, but the implications of corporal punishment doled out by racially biased teachers and administrators are chilling.

Did you know that 15 states still expressly permit corporal punishment in schools? That means in nearly one out of three states, students can legally be physically assaulted by an adult at school. Yet none of those states -- in fact, in no states at all -- mandate implicit bias testing for teachers and administrators.

Implicit bias is a primary cause of opportunity gaps and disproportionate discipline. In many ways, implicit bias is what keeps the ropes of the school-to-prison pipeline braided up. In fact, even the National Education Association has acknowledged the reality and the dangers of unaddressed biases in the classroom.

Of course, implicit biases can only begin to change when acknowledged and confronted -- as happened in this fascinating case with NBA referees unwittingly calling fewer fouls on players of their same race, only to see those statistics turn around with no intervention other than awareness.

Principal David Matheson, however, is openly uninterested in statistics or feedback. That means he's continuing to assault kids as punishment even though he's been told it's not effective. That is all too typical of public education -- a resistance to feedback, a resistance to honest self-reflection, a resistance or inability to change masked by an outward conviction that the old ways are best. To wit:

Tom Vitaglione, of the child-advocacy group NC Child, says for years he's been sending school leaders research papers showing corporal punishment leads to bad outcomes for students: higher drop-out rates, increased rates of depression and substance abuse and increased violent episodes down the road.
Principal Matheson says he's seen that research, but he still believes paddling is an effective form of discipline. "I think if more schools did it, we'd have a whole lot better society. I do, I believe that."
Vitaglione takes issue with that: "When it gets to schools, we now have an agent of the state hitting a child," he says. "And we don't believe that should happen."


To be clear, I also take issue with that. Matheson has seen the research, but he presses on with his beliefs rather than allow his sense of self to be challenged. When will we start seeing this as unacceptable behavior out of the people we are trusting to nurture and educate our kids?

Our students need to have their teachers and administrators tested for implicit bias. The adults in our schools need to confront their prejudices, both conscious and unconscious, before we trust them with the lives of our kids.

'The world owes more than they'll pay' #MusicMonday

"This was the era of Jim Crow -- when black people showed up at white-only hospitals, the staff was likely to send them away, even if it meant they might die in the parking lot."
– Rebecca Skloot, from "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks"

Henrietta Lacks lived a bizarre, remarkable, tragic life. She was born in Roanoke, Va., one of 10 children in an impoverished African-American family. Listen to the craziness described in just these three sentences from her Wikipedia page:

When Lacks was four years old in 1924 her mother died giving birth to her tenth child. Unable to care for the children alone after his wife's death, Lacks's father moved the family to Clover, Virginia, where the children were distributed among relatives. Lacks ended up with her grandfather, Tommy Lacks, in a two-story log cabin that was once the slave quarters on the plantation that had been owned by Lacks's white great-grandfather and great-uncle. She shared a room with her nine-year-old cousin and future husband, David "Day" Lacks (1915–2002).

Henrietta had her first child, a son, at age 14, it seems while sharing a bedroom with her cousin. Henrietta's oldest daughter had developmental disabilities and died as a teenager after four brutal years in an institution.

A few months after her daughter was committed, Henrietta, at the age of 31, asked to be admitted at Johns Hopkins for perpetual abdominal pain. She was diagnosed with cervical cancer and remained in the hospital for nearly two months before dying of uremic poisoning. According to a partial autopsy, almost none of her organs were unaffected by the uncommonly widespread cancer in her body.

More of the medical background from the University of Washington's Clarence Spigner:

As a matter of routine, samples of her cervix were removed without permission. George Otto Gey (1899-1970), a cancer researcher at Hopkins had been trying for years to study cancer cells, but his task proved difficult because cells died in vitro (outside the body).  The sample of cells Henrietta Lacks’s doctor made available to Gey, however, did not die. Instead they continued to divide and multiply. The He-La cell line was born.  He-La was a conflagration of Henrietta Lacks.
Permission for doctors to use anyone’s cells or body tissue at that time was traditionally not obtained, especially from patients seeking care in public hospitals. The irony was that Johns Hopkins (1795-1873), an abolitionist and philanthropist, founded the hospital in 1889 to make medical care available to the poor.  Informed Consent as a doctrine came into practice in the late 1970s, nearly three decades after Henrietta Lack’s death.  The new practice grew out of the embarrassment over WWII Nazi medical experiments and the infamous Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment of 1932-1972.

The revelation decades later that Henrietta's cells "lived on" and were being used for such astonishingly vast medical research was hard on her surviving family members, both for the personal invasion (for example, according to Spigner: "Evolutionary biologist Leigh Van Valen (1935-2010) reported the He-La cells had developed into a new species and was no longer human. To Deborah, such crude unqualified information meant her mother was somewhere in a man-made hell.") and for the large sums of money that had been earned through the theft of Henrietta's body.

In 2012, a band from Brooklyn called Yeasayer (pronounced Yay-sayer, like the opposite of a naysayer) wrote and released a song, "Henrietta," based on Lacks' life after vocalist and songwriter Chris Keating read Rebecca Skloot's landmark book, "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks."

Close your eyes, listen to the music, take a bath in the harmonies at the end, and give Henrietta Lacks a few minutes of gratitude by thinking about her.



Fever in the night, and the tremors come on
But it's you who'll survive, just like nobody thought
Nails turning red, lying cold on the bed
And now it turns out, death's not the end

She was a bone, we sharpened our teeth
A magnificent drone, was serving under our feet
You'll be making me rich, he'll throw you away
And after he's gone, oh HeLa's here to stay
Radiation makes you weak, tired okays leave your speech
The world owes more than they'll pay, in the wind I heard them say...

Oh, Henrietta, we can live on forever...

"You don't have to live next to me, just give me my equality..."


Nina Simone was a brave woman to be singing these words back in 1965.

There's something particularly striking and incredible and sad about watching her play it live now, with the benefit of perspective. She's on fire -- in lots of ways, yes, but mostly in the I'm-burning-to-death kind of way. She's on fire, and she's releasing these desperate, guttural cries about oppression and bigotry to whomever is in the room, sharing her pain by (figuratively) rolling around onstage for everyone to see.

The crowd thinks she's entertaining them. She knows she's trying to put out the fire.


"Mississippi Goddam"
Written by Nina Simone (© Warner/Chappell Music, Inc)

Alabama's got me so upset
Tennessee made me lose my rest
And everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam

Alabama's got me so upset
Tennessee made me lose my rest
And everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam

Can't you see it
Can't you feel it
It's all in the air
I can't stand the pressure much longer
Somebody say a prayer

Alabama's got me so upset
Tennessee made me lose my rest
And everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam

This is a show tune
But the show hasn't been written for it, yet

Hound dogs on my trail
School children sitting in jail
Black cat cross my path
I think every day's gonna be my last

Lord have mercy on this land of mine
We all gonna get it in due time
I don't belong here
I don't belong there
I've even stopped believing in prayer

Don't tell me
I tell you
Me and my people just about due
I've been there so I know
They keep on saying 'Go slow!'

But that's just the trouble
'Do it slow'
Washing the windows
'Do it slow'
Picking the cotton
'Do it slow'
You're just plain rotten
'Do it slow'
You're too damn lazy
'Do it slow'
The thinking's crazy
'Do it slow'
Where am I going
What am I doing
I don't know
I don't know

Just try to do your very best
Stand up be counted with all the rest
For everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam

Picket lines
School boy cots
They try to say it's a communist plot
All I want is equality
For my sister my brother my people and me

Yes you lied to me all these years
You told me to wash and clean my ears
And talk real fine just like a lady
And you'd stop calling me Sister Sadie

Oh but this whole country is full of lies
You're all gonna die and die like flies
I don't trust you any more
You keep on saying 'Go slow!'
'Go slow!'

But that's just the trouble
'Do it slow'
'Do it slow'
Mass participation
'Do it slow'
'Do it slow'
Do things gradually
'Do it slow'
But bring more tragedy
'Do it slow'
Why don't you see it
Why don't you feel it
I don't know
I don't know

You don't have to live next to me
Just give me my equality
Everybody knows about Mississippi
Everybody knows about Alabama
Everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam