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.