Corporal punishment in schools is still legal in 19 U.S. states.
That’s a horrifying statistic, but now there’s even more disturbing news. Some American school districts are pushing the boundaries of corporal punishment even further with the use of Tasers and pepper spray against unruly schoolchildren.
Over 4,000 School Resource Officers Carry Tasers
The deployment of Tasers against “problem” students coincides with the introduction of police officers on school campuses, also known as School Resource Officers (SROs). According to the Los Angeles Times, as of 2009, the number of SROs carrying Tasers was well over 4,000.
Teachers know that inflicting pain to make students obey simply reinforces a cycle of violence. Behavior modification is far more complicated, and requires far more work on the part of the disciplining adult. Good teachers know that discipline only really lasts when it engages kids from within, so that the students want to become responsible for their own behavior.
There are lots of approaches to this, but inflicting pain and fear is not one of them.
Yet Tasers Are Used Routinely
Here’s just one example, reported by Alternet.org:
On September 29, Keshana Wilson, 14, was shocked in the groin with a Taser while shoved against a parked car by Allentown, Pennsylvania police officer Jason Ammary, just outside her high school. The incident was captured on surveillance footage. Allentown police argue that the officer’s behavior was justified because “Wilson was cursing and inciting a group of people” as well as resisting arrest. While defending his fellow officer, Allentown Assistant Police Chief Joseph Hanna argued, “officers are trained to use the justified amount of force dictated by the actions of the resister, not their age or gender.”
In the age of school shootings, the presence of school officers armed with “non-lethal” Tasers may seem appealing to parents and school administrators. But the term non-lethal is highly misleading. While Taser International has long maintained that its products are safe, the hundreds of documented Taser-related deaths suggest otherwise.
Pepper Spray: Another Non-Lethal Weapon Used On Kids
The use of non-lethal weapons to discipline school kids isn’t limited to Tasers.
Last year, a 7-year-old special education student whom the San Francisco Chronicle described as having “learning difficulties, dyslexia, anxiety disorder and social-skill problems” was doused in the face with pepper-spray by a police officer called into the classroom by teachers unable to handle the child’s temper tantrum. The boy’s parents have since filed a federal lawsuit against San Mateo on the grounds that their son was treated like a “common criminal.”
And in Birmingham, Alabama, the Southern Poverty Law Center found that pepper-spray has been used on students nearly 100 times in the last five years, more than any other school system in the country. Among the victims were “a 17-year-old girl who was four months pregnant when she was pepper-sprayed, and an 18-year-old girl who has a heart murmur.”
From Pilot.online, reporting on Norfolk, Virginia in October:
School security personnel used pepper spray for the third time in two weeks Wednesday, subduing a student fight at Granby High but fueling an issue that has a city councilman urging an end to the practice.
“I just don’t think that our security guards should have a free hand with this pepper spray, basically because of danger to eyesight,” City Councilman Paul Riddick said Thursday. Riddick’s son attends Granby.
Behavior Modification Using Positive Reinforcement
There are plenty of positive, nonviolent approaches to school discipline that have been proven to lead to safe environments in which children can learn. But they require intelligence, hard work and a genuine commitment to students to make them work.
We need to give our children the chance to understand what they did wrong, and give them the tools to improve their behavior. Inflicting pain and instiling fear are not the way to go if we want to raise responsible students.
What do you think?
Photo Credit: Jimbo N