Instigator / Pro

Reasonable corporal punishment should be permitted in American public schools.


The debate is finished. The distribution of the voting points and the winner are presented below.

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After 3 votes and with 1 point ahead, the winner is...

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Four Key Points for Judges and potential contenders:

1. Reasonable corporal punishment includes, but is not necessarily limited to, physical conditioning (e.g., running laps around a track), spanking/paddling and the like. (1). The only corporal punishment at issue is "reasonable" corporal punishment. Any abusive corporal punishment would be, by definition, unreasonable. Thus, abusive corporal punishment (e.g., depriving a student of access to water while making him or her run laps in 115 degree Texas heat, beating with a baseball bat, thrashing with an electrical cord) is outside the scope of this debate. Corporal punishment permitted by law in those states permitting it is presumptively reasonable. (1).

2. The legality of corporal punishment is a different issue than reasonableness, however. This is about the normative question of whether corporal punishment should be allowed, not whether it is allowed in any type or form. Arguments with respect to the legal status of corporal punishment shall be considered non-topical and disregarded by judges.

3. The debate is limited to use of corporal punishment in the school setting, and the specific school setting at issue is American public schools. Other contexts beyond the school setting (e.g., corporal punishment at home), in non-American settings (e.g., Australia or Sweden) or in non-public contexts (private and/or religious schools) may be relevant as illustrative examples. But this is a debate about the United States (as opposed countries where corporal punishment is routinely carried out in unreasonable ways according to American sensibilities, like Malaysia, Uganda, Thailand, India or South Korea).

4. The debate is only about whether reasonable corporal punishment should be "permitted," as opposed to mandatory. Permitting corporal punishment does not imply that it will be used wholly or totally in place of other available measures of discipline (like in-school suspension, detention or revocation of extra curricular privileges).
Further, PRO does not have to come up with a plan for HOW corporal punishment should be applied or provide evidence that any particular scheme of implementing would avoid harms (such as potential abuses), identify what if any safeguards as to preventing abuse should be implemented, whether it should be a default punishment as opposed to something like in-school suspension, whether parents should be required to opt-in or opt-out or other issues focusing on implementation. Implementation-focused issues are beyond the scope of this resolution.



Rules: Please review the rules carefully before accepting.

Structure. The structure of this debate shall follow as such:

Round 1: debaters shall make their affirmative cases (absent any specific refutation of arguments made by the opposing side).

Round 2: debaters shall rebut the affirmative cases raised in round 1 (and may introduce new evidence in support of such rebuttals).

Round 3: debaters shall reply to the rebuttals provided in round 2 and provide any reconstructive arguments in support of arguments initially raised in round 1 (but may not introduce new evidence in support of such replies or reconstructive arguments).

Burdens of Persuasion. The burdens of persuasion shall be equal, as stated below:

In order for PRO to win, PRO must argue that "on balance" reasonable corporal punishment should be permitted in American public schools; and prevent CON from establishing that, by the same standard, corporal punishment should NOT be permitted in American public schools.

In order for CON to win, CON must argue that "on balance" reasonable corporal punishment should NOT be permitted in American public schools; and prevent PRO from establishing that, by the same standard, corporal punishment SHOULD be permitted in American public schools.

For the avoidance of doubt, the burdens of persuasion apply equally to both sides. No side has any greater or lesser burden than the other. All starting points are equal.

Please ask questions if any of the above is unclear. If you do not agree to these terms, it would be better that you select another debate.

Accepting this debate implies that you agree with all terms above.

Round 1
This debate is about whether reasonable corporal punishment should be allowed in American public schools.  

  • ObservationLet's not put the cart before the horse.
    • This debate isn't about whether corporal punishment should be implemented in any specific way, used for specific conduct violations or should be mandatory.
    • Those would be the next steps, once we decide whether corporal punishment should be allowed.  
  • 1. The failed status quo.
    • A. Student conduct violations; Current approach.
      • Most student conduct violations are for garden-variety misbehavior; not drugs, gangs or violent offenses. According to the empirical literature, offenses involving defiance and insubordination comprise the majority of causes for school discipline. (Bloomberg 2004, 2 (reviewing literature)). 
      • Few options are available to maintain appropriate classroom discipline: referral, in-/out-of-school suspension or expulsion. (Bloomberg 2004; Mizel 2016).
      • It seemingly never occurred to "educators" that taking problem kids out of the classroom and segregating them into groups with other misbehaving students might make the problems worse; even though that is amply reflected in the relevant literature. 
      • Prolonged time periods spent outside of the classroom and away from structured learning environments is particularly harmful to students most in need of structure and positive influence (Kirsch 2019).
        • ISS in particular “was associated with lower grade point averages and increased likelihood of high school dropout," (Cholewa 2019).
        • Out-of-school suspension results in similar outcomes (Bloomberg 2004).
    • B. Current approach fails. 
      • Short & Long term outcomes. 
        • Short term:
          • Failure to achieve intended purpose: To no one’s surprise, it turns out that referrals and in-/out-of-school suspension fail to deter student misconduct (Bloomberg 2004, 2-8). 
          • Bad situation, made worse: American Academy of Pediatrics 2003 warns that current measures such as suspension and expulsion “exacerbate academic deterioration, and when students are provided with no immediate educational alternative, student alienation, delinquency, crime and substance abuse may ensue,” (AAPS 2003).
        • Long term:
          • The "referral" or suspension-based discipline model contributes to the “school-to-prison” pipeline, to the detriment of students/society (Bloomberg 2004; Mizel 2016).
          • Student suspensions cause life-long harm to students and their communities.  (Batcher-Hicks 2019, 17-21).
            • According to Batcher-Hicks 2019, school suspensions result in overall declines in student achievement, lower lifelong educational attainment and adult criminal activity. 
            • In particular, schools with higher suspension rates are 15 to 20% more likely to be arrested and incarcerated as adults, are less likely to attend/complete college. 
          • Rosenbaum 2018 shows that “[p]rior to suspension, the suspended and non suspended youth did not differ on 60 pre-suspension variables including students’ self-reported delinquency and risk behaviors, parents’ reports of socioeconomic status, and administrators reports of school disciplinary policies."
            • Yet, [t]welve years after suspension (ages 25-32), suspended youth were less likely than matched non-suspended youth to have earned bachelor’s degrees or high school diplomas and were more likely to have been arrested and on probation, suggesting that suspension...explains negative outcomes.” (Rosenbaum 2018).
      • Status quo undermines the education system's goals.
        • Minorities hurt the most
          • Minority students are the most likely to be the most hurt by the current suspension-based discipline model (Mizel 2016).
          • According to Mizel 2016, latinos were most likely to receive office referral, and blacks most likely to be suspended or expelled. Likewise, boys were more much more likely than girls to receive office referral and to be suspended or expelled. 
            • Illustrative example: In Charlotte-Mecklenburg, 23% of middle school students are suspended each school year and suspensions are concentrated heavily among minority populations.
        • Boys in particular are left behind.
          • In school: According to national trend data, boys account for about about 70% of all school suspensions, receive lower grades, fail grades more often, present with more hyperactive-related disciplinary issues and are far more likely to be segregated into "special educational" programs (Jackson 2013).
          • Out of school: boys commit suicide 2-3 times more frequently than girls, account for about 80% of all high school drop-outs, fail to attend college at substantially higher rates than girls (college populations are only about 44% male) and are about a 1-1.5 yrs behind girls in achievement in reading and writing (Jackson 2013).
          • Current approaches to remediate these problems (promoting engagement, peer interaction, etc.) haven't helped  (see Whitmire 2011; Jackson 2013 (discussing harms, recommendations)).
      • It wasn't always this bad.  
        • While I wouldn't go so far as to suggest that not paddling students is what got us here, cross-cultural empirical data do not find these achievement gap issues before the second half of the 20th century (see, e.g., Hermann 2019), which is when public efforts against corporal punishment really started to set in.
  • 2. Corporal punishment: the reasonable alternative.
    • A. Old model wasn't broken; shouldn't have been "fixed."
      • Junk science animated the move against corporal punishment.
        • The empirical literature clearly demonstrates no lasting harm resulting from spanking (see, e.g., Baumrind (Berkeley); Baumrind 2001; Scientific American). 
        • The public move against corporal punishment largely came about as a result of junk science (e.g., Gershoff 2013; Sheehan 2008) devoid of evidence for alleged harms and lacking viable alternatives (Gunnoe 2019).
        • Baumrind 2002 warns that the majority of negative child-behavior outcomes alleged in the anti-spanking literature are based on “methodological weaknesses,” which I will address I am sure at greater length in the rounds to come.  (Baumrind 2002; see also Larzelere 2010, Baumrind 2001).
      • What the evidence actually says. 
        • The data on corporal punishment obviates any basis for opposition to it; corporal punishment is very much in kids’ best interest. (Fuller 2015).
        • In contrast to methodologically flawed research(e.g., Gershoff's life work) and politicized pop-psychology opposing spanking, less spanking is directly linked to more child abuse and more teen violence; while children who are spanked tend to have the highest levels of optimism, academic achievement and highest self-esteem. (Fuller 2015, 264-315; see also Larzelere & Baumrind 2010).
        • Kids who are spanked performed better in school, were more involved and optimistic in terms of their future, compared with those never spanked (CNN 2010).
    • B. Corporal punishment: a tried and true method that works.
      • Nexus between discipline & the boys' achievement gap. 
        • According to the empirical literature, a "more disciplined school climate" is likely to improve boys' educational outcomes in the short and long term (Hermann 2019). 
      • School administrators agree that paddling is effective.
        • For example, Kenneth Whalum Jr., a board commissioner for Memphis City Schools in Tennessee, told CNN that, in his experience, “[o]ur public education is in a state of crisis because the current discipline system in this nation is being ineffectively implemented,” and “[c]orporal punishment would be an arrow in the quiver for teachers to use at their disposal. It’s the best way to get the system right,” (CNN 2010).
        • To wit, school districts are bringing corporal punishment back. For example, in March 2020 the Pampa ISD in Texas voted to bring back corporal punishment for the 2021 school year, following others throughout Texas with minimal opposition from parents or students (Miller 2020; see also NY Times 2018).
      • Student preferences & experiences.
        • Smithfield High School Principal Chad O’Brian told a local news outlet that “A lot of the children actually would rather take corporal punishment. When they get into detention or [in/out-of-school suspension] then they are going to start missing extra curricular activities, ball games can’t participate, can’t come to games and those kinds of things. They would rather just...get it over with,” (WBCI 2019).
        • Student accounts confirm that corporal punishment, specifically paddling, motivated them to stay out of trouble. For example, Three Rivers ISD student Joseph Garcia said that being paddled wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.  “It was kinda embarrassing. I Shouldn't have done thing I did. I'm now doing better changes and doing my best to stay out of trouble,” Garcia told a local news outlet (Garcia 2017).
        • Additionally, Ozen High School student Raleigh Johnson Reported that after being paddled for failing a class, the coach “got it through [Johnson’s] head” that grades were important, he told a local newspaper (Henry 2012).
        • Likewise, Julian Mansfield, a 19-year-old student agrees with his former high school’s use of corporal punishment. He told CNN that the potential shame caused by corporal punishment is more a deterrent than the threat of pain, unlike suspension or detention which does not involve the same level of embarrassment (CNN 2010).


The heart of my case is simple: Punishment involves the deliberate infliction of harm. Nothing justifies deliberately harming a child. And so we shouldn't allow it. Especially in public schools by people who don't care about your child at all, except to the extent they're paid to.

1. Punishment can't be justified, period. 

According to the philosopher & historian Michel Foucault, whatever passes for "justification of punishment" in any particular time & place is inextricably tied up with assumptions & beliefs that have no independent rational foundation. At bottom, institutions of punishment are nothing more than a way for people in authority to consolidate their power.

This fact -- the impossibility of justifying punishment from a limited human perspective -- is why Jesus (and many other great spiritual teachers) suggest leaving punishment to God alone. Humans aren't in a position to know when or what type of punishment is appropriate, so we must learn to love & forgive our neighbors, not punish them because they act differently than we'd like.

2. Even if you could somehow justify punishment, it has no place in American public schools.

a. Punishment isn't necessary to make children learn.

Children learn because they want to. Punishment isn't necessary for infants to learn to talk, nor for teenagers to learn to skateboard, or play the guitar, or learn chess. As Aristotle said, curiosity is human nature.

b. Punishment isn't necessary to discipline students. 

There are numerous alternatives to punishment that don't cause any harm. This is what such a system could look like in our schools: 

  • A judicial committee would meet daily to investigate written complaints about possible rule violations. The judicial committee would consist of both staff and students (some elected, others appointed from various age groups) who serve for a month at a time. Anyone can make a complaint. After complaints are investigated, the committee may charge someone with having broken a rule. Rulebreakers would then face some form of restorative justice (e.g. accepting responsibility & actively repairing the harm). Circles of support could include the families of both rulebreakers and victims. No punishment allowed. 
This disciplinary system gives students a voice in the consequences for their actions, an opportunity for restoration, and a deep sense of justice. It makes rulebreakers accountable while giving support to victims. It develops respect for democratic values, rule of law, due process, and individual rights. And it teaches students the importance of personal responsibility to uphold the values of the community.

It also avoids the many pitfalls of punishment. It doesn't break a child's spirit. It doesn't teach mindless obedience to authority. It doesn't weaken self-esteem, or exacerbate survival anxiety (i.e. a child's deep-seated fear of parental abandonment & ostracism from the tribe). And it doesn't open the window for psychopathic teachers to arbitrarily abuse students (a risk you run when allowing corporal punishment).

3. Punishment conflicts with the needs of our society. 

According to the American philosopher John Dewey, public schools are "an outgrowth of the needs of the society in which they exist." Thus, our schools should reflect the needs of our society, not the needs of the 19th century.

Historically, the great powers of the 19th century created public schools to meet the demands of an industrial economy. Early industry faced a problem: coal mining & factory work was dull, repetitive, arduous, and dangerous, while offering wages barely high enough to sustain life. Office work was equally dull & dehumanizing. And the discipline required for such work was alien to the independent, self-directed farmers & artisans that made up pre-industrial society. 

So the 19th century school used punishment to break a child's spirit & condition them to the harsh demands of an industrial economy... Schooling in a 21st century post-industrial American society should look different.

Rather than teach conformity to authority, intellectual indifference, emotional dependence, and provisional self-esteem, our schools should cultivate a child's natural desire to learn, to think critically, and to take personal responsibility. In light of a massive uptick in depression & anxiety disorders, our schools should also prioritize a child's spiritual & personal fulfillment.

There's a fundamental conflict between the spiritual goal of personal fulfillment, and the social engineer's goal of adjusting a child to fit the needs of an industrial economy. Today, more than ever, we need to focus on developing personal responsibility & spiritual fulfillment, not obedience & dependence on authority. Punishment conflicts with these needs, the basic needs of our society (and the more beautiful society our hearts know is possible).
Round 2
As per the structure of this debate, Round 2 is for rebutting their opponent's affirmative cases and providing reconstructive as needed. 

This debate is about whether: "Reasonable corporal punishment should be permitted in American public schools."

CON has two arguments, focusing on: (1) punishment's justification; and (2) propriety.

  • 1. Punishment's justification.
    • Observations:
      • 1. As a threshold issue, the resolution presumes that punishment can be justified.  To win this debate, I do not have to prove that punishment can be justified.  Though, I certainly can.  And do so below.
      • 2. It is unclear whether PRO objects to the practice or definition of punishment, as such; or both.  
      • 3. Punishment is the external imposition of consequences in response to past actions; which would include, for example, "restorative justice" which CON indicates would include "accepting responsibility & actively repairing the harm."  After all, any externally imposed change in position could be a "punishment," as what constitutes "punishment" as such is subjective; it's in the eye of the beholder.  See generally Br'er Rabbit, and related African folklore. 
        • To the extent CON alleges restorative justice is different from punishment, yet still defines it as an externally imposed change in position, he's talking about differences without distinctions.  This argument therefore fails. 
        • To illustrate, Foucault states in Discipline & Punish, the act of punishment is ubiquitous in society.  And while the particulars of its imposition have changed over time, societies have generally structured institutions "punish less, perhaps; but certainly...punish better."   
          • In the past, by the spectacle of the scaffold; in the present, hierarchical observation, normalizing judgment, and the examination. 
          • Yet, the effect is the same, and common to this set is a change in position resulting in submission to authority of some form. 
    • Justifying Punishment.
      • There are two levels in play here; justifying punishment as such, and justifying punishment in its particular application (whether by reference to rules, standards and/or principles). 
        • Essentially two approaches to justifying punishment: retrospective and prospective.  (Bedau 2015)
          • Retrospective approaches are backward-looking. 
            • There, the idea is to externally impose costs in retribution for past bad acts.   
            • From this perspective, punishment is either as a good in itself or as a practice required by justice (e.g., the Platonic conception, "giving every man his due"), thus making a direct claim on our allegiance.  
          • Prospective approaches are forward-looking. 
            • These tend to be focused on consequences of future actions, and relate to some sort of utilitarian type thought.  From this perspective, punishment is a means to prevent future harm (e.g., any form of corrective action, or subsequent change in position responsive to a past act meant to prevent that act from happening in the future). 
            • By implication, so called "restorative justice," while admittedly different in form than, say, the imposition of physical/somatic pain, is oriented towards the same end, for the same reasons and involving exercises of power in the same way. 
            • As Foucault, based his lectures and writings in Disipline & Punish would agree, inconsistencies at the level of particularity do not obviate consistency and congruity at the higher level.  In all cases, power is imposed to shape human behavior.  
          • A combination of those two approaches is also certainly an option. 
            • Particular methods, as such, typically involve some combination of both and are not generally constrained to either the retro- or prospective category; in practice, these differences manifest typically at the level of intent and the "reason why," as opposed to the "method of how." 
            • For example, a parent grounding a child for breaking curfew is at once intended as a means of retribution ("you broke the rules, and therefore now face this loss of privilege") and future deterrence ("you will think about breaking curfew next time, because you know I'll ground you if you do").  
      • Behold.  Punishment's two justifications, laid bare in this abbreviated form. 
  • 2. Necessity. 
    • Observations:  
      • 1. The burden is not on PRO to prove punishment's:
        • necessity, generally (see CON R1, 2);
        • utility for any particular purpose (see CON R1, 2.a.-b.), such as to:
          • make children learn (R1, 2.a.), or 
          • discipline students (R1, 2.b.). 
      • 2.  My burden is to show that reasonable corporal punishment should be permitted in American public schools.  Nevertheless, I address these arguments below. 
    • A. Necessity to make children learn. 
      • The goal of punishment is not to make children learn, and few would suggest otherwise.  Rather, the objective is to prevent others' misbehavior and/or untoward conduct from interfering with others' learning. 
      • The idea being that in an undisciplined environment, learning in the context of a school cannot effectively take place. 
      • That is not to imply that unstructured environments can never be conducive to learning, so much as that in the specific context of an American public school (i.e., the location type at issue here), the process of instructing students cannot effectively take place.  
        • For example, if students knew they could engage in misbehavior without the risk of externally imposed consequences, at least enough would that would prevent others from receiving adequate instruction.
      • So, punishment may not be necessary to make children learn; but it is necessary to prevent learning's disruption by other children. 
    • B. Necessity to discipline students. 
      • I incorporate by reference the argument above relating to the necessity of imposing a disciplined environment to prevent some students' misbehavior from interfering with all student's learning in a classroom. 
      • CON's proposed alternative to punishment is, as I stated above, a difference without a distinction; he even concedes that his is a " disciplinary system."  
        • Calling an externally imposed change in position, oriented for the purpose of preventing future misconduct of any kind is punishment by definition. 
        • The change is at least, according to CON, "accepting responsibility," and "actively repairing harm." 
      • CON even broadens the scope of those subject to his punitive process, from the offending kid to "families of both rulebreakers and victims." 
        • Implicit behind such broadening is the notion that society in general is harmed by the misconduct of others, as opposed to only an identifiable victim of the offending action itself. 
        • It is on this same basis that the state grounds its right to imprison, execute and otherwise deprive lawbreakers of their rights/liberties. 
        • That both "victim" and aggressor may have a "voice" does not mean that CON's restorative justice scheme is any less punitive.  If anything, it broadens the scope of those whose actions are inconvenienced or burdened by the rule-breaker's actions.
      • Even still, CON provides no evidence that "restorative justice" would adequately address the disciplinary challenges schools face, particularly those most directly disruptive to student learning in an American public school setting. 
        • As above, defiance and insubordination comprise the majority of causes for school discipline. (Bloomberg 2004, 2 (reviewing literature)).  
        • It remains unclear how, if at all, CON's punitive scheme of restorative justice could address these even better than the status quo (i.e., ISS/OSS), or even mitigate them in any sense. 
        • As I said above, according to the empirical literature, a "more disciplined school climate" is likely to improve students' educational outcomes in the short and long term (Hermann 2019). And spanking/paddling are effective means of accomplishing (CNN 2010) as well as at least some students' preferred method of correction (e.g., Garcia 2017) and effective at preventing future misconduct (e.g., id., Henry 2012, CNN 2010, WBCI 2019). 
  • 3. Needs of Society.
    • If as CON claims, John Dewy is correct, and public schools are "an outgrowth of the needs of the society in which they exist," then conditioning students to perform effectively across any of society's normalizing power structures is paramount. 
      • Returning to Foucault, particularly Discipline & Punish, locations and instrumentalities of modern employment (offices, factories, hospitals, and the like) share in common with schools that they follow the panopticon-type normalizing power-structure of modern prisons.  To the extent students can perform effectively in a school setting, so too may they likewise perform effectively in other settings. 
    • After all, they work the same; student answers to teacher; employee to supervisor; etc.  At the core of each, the relationships between individuals as subjects of power and institution exercising power upon them is the same. 
      • And as we shift to an increasingly post-industrial context, the need for individual submission to institutions of power (e.g., employee monitoring applications on computers) will only increase.  
      • And clearly, based on the relevant and available data I cited above, the current approaches fail to do prepare students for transition to such a context.  The post-educational outcomes speak for themselves.  
Having established that punishment (1) can be justified, (2) is appropriate for use in a public school setting and (3) is consistent with society's needs, CON's argument fails. 


Per the agreed structure, this section addresses only Pro’s case from Round 1.

1. Yes, we need an alternative to the status quo.

As Pro notes, the status quo undermines educational goals & hurts minorities. And yes, "it wasn't always this bad" (Pro's words). Things keep getting worse because (a) we keep punishing our children, compounding the harms over time; and (b) punishment has increasingly lost relevance & effect as we move from an industrial economy to a post-industrial one. The problem isn't the means of punishment, but rather the use of punishment itself. 

By "punishment," I mean the deliberate infliction of harm on children to change their behavior. Spanking (and other forms of corporal punishment) use violence as a means to punish, and legalizing such violence isn't going to make American schools great again (not that they ever were).

There's no need for a return to the past (corporal punishment). Letting public school teachers hit children isn’t necessary to solve behavioral problems or minority disparities. Instead, schools should adopt non-punitive forms of discipline responsive to the needs & sensibilities of the 21st century.

In particular, well-implemented restorative practices solve every issue Pro outlines in Round 1. A large body of research indicates that restorative practices improved school climate, increased student connectedness & parent engagement, improved academic achievement, improved school discipline, increased attendance, decreased problem behavior, decreased skipping school, decreased fighting & bullying, and decreased discipline referrals, suspensions, & expulsions (Fronius 2019). 

Augustine (2018) conducted a randomized controlled trial in 44 schools (22 restorative schools, 22 controls) -- using a regression framework and controlling for baseline outcome measures and a suite of student, staff, and school-level factors -- and found much the same: statistically significant reductions in behavioral problems, especially among African American students, low-income students, students in grades 2-5, grades 10-12, female students, and special needs students. And besides a massive decrease in discipline disparities based on race & socioeconomic status, Augustine also documented significant increases in teachers’ assessments of school climate, school safety, professional environment, school leadership, and opportunities for teacher leadership, as well as a statistically significant increase in standardized test scores like the PSAT.

2. Corporal punishment harms children.

For starters, corporal punishment directly harms children by causing physical pain & suffering. In many cases, it exacerbates survival anxiety, weakens self-esteem, and creates all sorts of other emotional problems. It’s a shameful & humiliating experience. And these harms aren't just the obvious result of hitting a child (according to a common sense understanding of child psychology), but intended effects (it's how punishment is supposed to work).

Second, corporal punishment interferes with the educational system's goals of helping a child realize personal & spiritual fulfillment. It also normalizes a culture of violence and teaches mindless obedience to authority in lieu of personal responsibility. These are more subtle harms related to the type of society we create as kids grow into adults, but the impacts could be disastrous for society in the long-term. For example, we wouldn't want to backslide into allowing state-sanctioned corporal punishment of adults, yet that's only a step away.

Third, there are literally hundreds of studies indicating that corporal punishment leads to worse behavior in children (Gershoff 2018). Spanking, in particular, has been significantly correlated with lower long-term compliance, more aggression, more behavior problems, more mental health problems, lower cognitive performance, lower parent-child relationship quality, and higher risk for physical injury or abuse (Gershoff 2018).

Yes, most of the evidence isn't experimental (for obvious ethical reasons), but that doesn't mean it's "junk science." These correlational studies (more than a hundred) used rigorous statistical approaches to rule out alternative explanations, including fixed-effects regression and propensity score matching, and still found that corporal punishment increases behavior problems (Gershoff 2018). Moreover, Gershoff (2018) systematically addresses & remedies the "methodological weaknesses" identified in Pro's sources. 

And while the available experimental evidence is limited in scope, it corroborates:

  • "A few studies have examined whether parenting interventions that target a reduction in physical punishment predict change in child outcomes. A randomized controlled trial (RCT) evaluation of the Incredible Years intervention for young children with behavior problems found that treatment effects were significantly mediated through a reduction in parents’ use of spanking (Beauchaine, Webster-Stratton, & Reid, 2005). An analysis of data from a national RCT of the federal Head Start program showed that parents of children randomly assigned to participate in the Head Start program decreased their use of spanking more than parents in the control group, and that this reduction in spanking, in turn, predicted declines in children’s aggression (Gershoff, Ansari, Purtell, & Sexton, 2016). An RCT of the Chicago Parent Program, part of which focused on African American and Latino/a parents and their preschool children, found that the intervention group reduced parents’ use of physical punishment significantly more than the control group and that their children had fewer behavior problems over time (Breitenstein et al., 2012). These experimental program evaluations provide evidence that interventions can reduce child problem behavior by reducing parents’ use of spanking, and in doing so provide evidence for a causal link between spanking and children’s problem behavior." (Gershoff 2018).
Taken together, this empirical literature supports a causal inference. And that shouldn't surprise anyone -- after all, corporal punishment normalizes the use of violence, which in turn predicts an increased propensity for violent behaviors like bullying.

3. Corporal punishment isn't directly linked to better outcomes at all. 

Pro cites three sources for this claim: Fuller (2015), Larzelere & Baumrind (2010), and CNN (2010). The first two don’t say what Pro claims, while CNN offers nothing more than a collection of opinions.

a. Fuller (2015) and Larzelere & Baumrind (2010).

Neither Fuller (2015), written by a law student at a 3rd tier law school, nor Larzelere & Baumrind (2010) ever say that corporal punishment (in schools or at home) is directly linked to “higher optimism, academic achievement, or self-esteem.”

This is what they actually say: Children in “authoritative families” did better than children in “permissive families,” and children in “permissive families” did better than children in “authoritarian families.” These categories refer to parenting styles, not the use of corporal punishment, and the conclusion itself relies on unadjusted correlations that don’t come anywhere close to establishing a direct link (ironically, it's the same kind of "junk science" that Pro attacks in Round 1). 

Moreover, Larzelere & Baumrind (and by extension Fuller) emphasize that they’re talking about corporal punishment exclusively in the context of a loving parent-child relationship, and they note that outside this context, corporal punishment likely causes harm without any benefit. They suggest that the love & nurture of a parent is essential to the proper administration of corporal punishment. And of course, such love can’t ever be replicated in a public school by teachers who don’t care about your child at all, except to the extent they’re paid to.

b. CNN (2010).

This isn’t a study, it’s CNN, and it offers nothing more than a collection of opinions (mostly non-experts). It doesn’t even rise to the level of “junk science.” 

The opinions themselves are varied; some people appear to support corporal punishment, while others warn about harms, including "deep emotional scars," "shame," "reinforcing the idea that being violent is the only way to handle a conflict," "degrading school environment.”

CNN also raises fairness questions: "Minority students are among those most likely to be paddled, which raises questions about the fairness of using corporal punishment." And continues: “Without paddling, students would be less likely to become antisocial or aggressively violent.” 

4. Corporal punishment doesn't work.

As noted above, corporal punishment tends to lower long-term compliance. But as Gershoff & Grogan-Kaylor (2016) explain, a meta-analysis conducted on 111 unique effect sizes representing 160,927 children demonstrates that corporal punishment doesn’t even increase compliance in the short or immediate term when you take into account differences in initial rates of compliance between spanked and non-spanked groups.

Pro notes that a minority of school administrators and students believe otherwise, but beliefs & perceptions aren’t a reliable source of evidence. Confirmation bias clouds the judgment of most people, especially when it comes emotionally-charged topics like corporal punishment, and nobody has the ability to rule out (or even consider) all the other variables or alternatives. This isn't an area where we should trust beliefs & perceptions over data. 

Consider, also, that for every school administrator or student that Pro cites, I could easily cite three more saying the opposite. People hold conflicting opinions on the matter.


Round 3
This debate was about whether reasonable corporal punishment should be permitted in American public schools.  I have shown that it should, and therefore have won the debate.   

  • My argument was simple: 
    • 1. The status quo has failed, so a change is needed. 
    • 2.  Corporal punishment is a reasonable alternative. 
  • These are the voting issues:
    • 1. I established that the status quo failed, and CON agrees.   
      • He agrees that the status quo is particularly harmful to minorities, and he's right.  It does.
      • I established causation; while CON did not. 
        • The status quo's harm is caused by a lack of effective discipline (e.g., Hermann 2019). 
        • Despite arguing that punishment causes the status quo's harms, CON's argument contains no evidence supporting causation between status quo harms and the imposition of punishment/discipline.  
        • CON fails to demonstrate a causal link between "punishing our children," and "harms of the status quo."  
        • Likewise, CON provided no evidence illustrating that without punishment, the status quo's harms would be solved.  
        • I established the opposite.  In the absence of discipline, student outcomes are worse across the board and in fact, CON seemed to agree (e.g., Hermann 2019).
        • And CON's evidence supports my points to this effect (see below).  It's not enough to re-brand "punishment" as "restorative" and pretend like it isn't discipline.  It's the same thing, imposed for the same reason.  Only difference is how.  Not why.  
      • CON's alternative ("restorative justice") is internally contradictory. 
        • Even if CON had a causal link between punishment as such and the status quo's harms (which he did not), CON's alternative world of "no punishment" is, in fact, just punishment by another means. 
        • Because what counts for punishment is subjective (see, e.g., Br'er Rabbit, and related African proverbs) that which is punishing need only constitute a change in position, which CON's restorative justice scheme certainly would.  Thus, requiring participation in a post-incident process merely styled as "restorative justice" is no less punishing than, say, a suspension or detention. 
        • The particularities of the changed position may differ, as may be the intent behind the proposal ("restoring" versus something else); but the form and effect is the same: discipline.  
      • By arguing simply for changing the form of discipline to "restorative practices," CON concedes that at least some form of discipline is necessary.
        • All of CON's evidence support the imposition of at least some form of discipline, and causally connect that discipline to improved student outcomes, through various approaches (see, e.g., the "large body of research," to which CON cites in R2, including Fronius 2019, Augustine 2019, et al., all of which supports this point exactly). 
        • And indeed, discipline absolutely is necessary.  After all, the point of any form of discipline (whether we call it "punishment" or whether we call it "restorative justice") is to prevent student misbehaviour from interfering with other students' learning.
        • I agree with CON that kids are naturally curious; but that's not the issue here.  You don't punish to make kids memorize stuff.  After all, we're not talking about punishing all students simply to motivate them to be academically successful.  You only punish in the context of a school to prevent student interference in their own learning or the learning of others. 
        • Rather, what we're talking about is much narrower: how do you deal with those students whose misconduct interferes with the educational process? 
        • Which brings us to corporal punishment.
    • 2. Corporal punishment is a reasonable alternative.  
      • Note that I am not arguing for -- and do not have to establish -- that spanking should take the place of all other forms of student discipline; just that it should be an option on the table (per the BOP). 
      • Corporal punishment works; CON has no evidence otherwise.
        • In R1, I provided clear and undisputed evidence that corporal punishment works; I posted academic literature (e.g., Baumrind), reviews of academic literature (e.g., Fuller 2015) and the testimonial experiences of both students and school administrators (e.g., CNN, and several others).  
        • CON did not refute.  Rather, he chose to characterize certain sources (e.g., Fuller 2015) with adjectives and ad hom fallacy-based reasoning.  But the irony should be lost on on none. 
        • "Harms children":  Fuller 2015 lists scores of sources that state exactly the opposite; which was the point of my citing to that article.   
          • It's not like Fuller 2015 was making extraordinary claims, either.  He simply reviewed the ample body of literature questioning the methodologies and findings of anti-corporal punishment "advocates," like Gershoff; while charting the obvious data-sets that she totally ignored in whatever analysis she purports to have conducted. 
          • "Rigorous" and "correlation study" should never be used in the same sentence, either.  Indeed, Baumrind (Gershoff's peer) called Gershoff's methods "incompatible" with scientific standards, and noted that Gershoff "emulate[d] political spin doctors by selectively reporting findings or refusing to abandon pre-judgment when faced with" data obviating her preconceived notions (Fuller at 280, citing Baumrind; see also Larzelere, who reaches the same conclusion for the same reasons). 
        • Nearly every single weak correlation study linking spanking to to some "harm" traces its roots to Gershoff, in one form or another (e.g., Gershoff & Grogan-Kaylor, which CON links in R2). 
          • But Gershoff's many "meta-analysies," and the entirety of her life's work fail to support that claim.  Gershoff is a quack; her "studies" are junk science, and I warned CON about this in R1. 
          • Indeed, her own peers (e.g., Baumrind sources) criticize her findings' reliability.
          • While Gershoff purports to be making claims about ONLY spanking, the data-sets from which she draws co-mingle spanking with beating with a stick, closed-fist punching, open-hand face slapping, beating with an electrical cord,  as well as hitting, punching and kicking that would leave identifiable bruises on a child's body (e.g., Fuller 2015, citing Baumrind) at 282-83, n.198 and throughout the article).
        • The so-called "evidence" that spanking harms children is out.  
          • The specious associations Gershoff draws are no such thing; rather the result of a methodologically inept zealot who manipulated the data in front of her to find what she wanted to find; while ignoring everything else out there, as would have vitiated her "links" between spanking as such and any harm she associates it with.  
          • In fact, "in contrast to the inadequate...methods" of Gershoff, Baumrind et al. plainly and clearly demonstrate that when you focus only on spanking (i.e., reasonable corporal punishment, which is what this debate is about) causes no such lasting harms (see Fuller 2015 at 306-315 and all footnotes, including in particular those citing to Baumrind). 
          • It likewise turns out that when you ban spanking, child abuse rates actually increase; as was the case in Sweden.  After Sweden banned spanking, child abuse rates increased almost 500% (Fuller 2015 at 269-70,  n.132).  Relatedly, Sweden's spanking ban (noted above) also ushered that country's single most significant increase in teenage criminality and violence in the 20th century (Fuller 2015 at 271-73).
        • Reasonable corporal punishment clearly improves outcomes, based on empirical literature and student/administrator experiences alike.  
          • As Baumrind's analysis plainly indicates, children with the highest optimism, academic achievement and self-esteem were spanked (see, e.g., Fuller 2015 at 311; and related Baumrind sources, as well as others from R1).  By spanking early, further punishment became less necessary later on and therefore indicating that future misbehaviour was averted.  
          • And the testimonial evidence supports.  As I established in R1, corporal punishment is a tried and true method that works. The empirical literature clearly links a more disciplined school climate with improved educational outcomes, especially in boys who tend to misbehave the most (Hermann 2019). 
          • Both students themselves and school administrators agree corporal punishment is effective, too.  I cited unrefuted evidence for each (e.g., CNN 2010, Miller 2020, WBCI 2019, Garcia 2017 and Henry 2012).  CON characterized them as a "minority," yet I never held them out as being representative.  What I said was that the trend against corporal punishment was reversing, as various schools increasingly are bringing corporal punishment back (e.g., Pampa ISD, in Texas).  
    • 3. CON's arguments to the contrary fail:
      • In order to win, CON needed to argue that reasonable corporal punishment should not be permitted in American public schools. This he has failed to do. CON did not establish that reasonable corporal punishment should not be permitted in American public schools.  
      • CON endeavored to argue: 1. That punishment can't be justified; period.  Yet, I proved that it can be, from at least several perspectives (see R2), including his own; and 2. Even if you could justify punishment, it has no place in American public schools. Yet, I proved that it absolutely does, based on the empirical literature and testimonial accounts of students and school administrators alike.
      • So, whether you're trusting the data (e.g., Baumrind) or the lived experiences of students and administrators (e.g., sources above); you're supporting that corporal punishment should be allowed as a form of punishment in American public schools. 
Re: Pro’s Rebuttals
1. Pro attacks the wrong definition of “punishment.”
When I refer to “punishment” in R1 & R2, I’m talking about an act that involves the deliberate infliction of harm on another person. This definition includes “corporal punishment," which intentionally causes physical pain, but excludes disciplinary measures that don't intentionally inflict harm, like restorative justice. My definition reflects the ordinary usage by everyone who writes about this topic (including Pro’s sources).

Pro ignores this definition & usage entirely, instead defining “punishment” broadly as “external imposition of consequences for past acts” & “entirely subjective.” In effect, Pro uses the terms "punishment" & "discipline" interchangeably. Don’t apply Pro’s definition to my argument because (a) it creates a semantic straw man, (b) it’s too broad (including acts that we don’t ordinarily consider punishing or even disciplinary), and (c) it’s incoherent (“external” & “subjective” won’t always align, creating internal contradiction).

2. Pro fails to offer an independent rational foundation to justify punishment.

Pro describes two approaches to justify punishment (retribution & utilitarianism), but he fails to show how these approaches aren't “tied up with assumptions & beliefs that have no independent rational foundation" when applied from a limited human perspective. We can’t actually know whether someone deserves retribution, or whether punishment is the only way to accomplish some greater good, so we should leave punishment to God alone.

3. Pro fails to prove punishment necessary to discipline students. 

In R1, I outlined a disciplinary system that offers unique benefits for students, none of which Pro contests. This system protects students from teachers who would otherwise hit them (or suspend them), and it solves every disciplinary problem in the status quo, including impacts on minorities.

Pro ignores the extensive evidence (including experimental data from randomized controlled trials) showing that restorative justice effectively disciplines students in schools without causing any harm. Instead, Pro offers a semantic argument about the definition of "punishment." But regardless how you define "punishment," the point remains: restorative practices don't intend harm, but rather to repair. That's the relevant distinction, which is why the empirical literature consistently refers to restorative justice as non-punitive.

Yes, restorative justice allows (but doesn't require) family & friends to get involved with the process. But that doesn't mean it punishes family & friends; it simply provides more opportunity for parents & friends to help. And yes, restorative justice asks the offender to change their behavior. But rather than promote mindless obedience to authority, restorative justice gives students a voice in the consequences for their actions, thus promoting personal responsibility, and respect for democracy, due process, & individual rights. Pro fails to show otherwise.

4. Pro's vision of the future sucks.

We both agree that the status quo sucks (and that the problem stems from the current disciplinary system). The question, then, is what kind of future we envision, and what kind of disciplinary system supports that future.

Pro argues that the future requires greater individual submission to institutions of power, and in particular the creation of a new class of mindlessly-obedient employees working in panopticon-type settings. This is the kind of future that corporal punishment leads to -- a totalitarian nightmare.

I argue instead for a future that cultivates the American dream, and in particular the values of our founding fathers -- democracy, due process, individual rights, personal responsibility, and spiritual fulfillment (which is especially important to combat current epidemic of depression & anxiety sickness). This is the future my disciplinary system supports.

Re: Pro's Case

1. Corporal punishment causes harm.

Pro never disputes most harms, including: (a) directly causing physical pain & suffering, (b) exacerbating survival anxiety & other emotional problems, (c) normalizing violence & mindless obedience, (d) interfering with personal & spiritual fulfillment, and (e) disproportionately hurting minorities.

Pro disputes only Gershoff's correlational evidence. But Pro ignores (a) the non-correlational experimental evidence from randomized controlled trials, which found that reducing parents' use of spanking directly led to better behavior; (b) hundreds of studies performed by scores of researchers other than Gershoff herself (reviewed in Gershoff 2018); and (c) the fact that Gershoff uses quasi-experimental techniques like propensity score matching to rule out other explanations & increase the reliability of a causal inference. 

Pro also attacks Gershoff's character -- baselessly asserting that she "manipulates the data"-- while selectively ignoring the fact that Gershoff's later work remedies every "methodological weakness" identified by Fuller 2015.

Yes, Gershoff may have "co-mingled" spanking in an earlier meta-analysis from the early 2000s, but she fixed that issue in Gershoff & Grogan-Kaylor 2016 and Gershoff 2018. These meta-analyses, which aren't addressed by Pro or his sources at all, separated "customary spanking" (the category referred to by Fuller 2015) from "abusive" punishment, and found that even customary spanking was consistently linked with negative outcomes. Abuse was more strongly linked to negative outcomes, but not by much: Gershoff determined that the effect size linking spanking with negative outcomes was two-thirds the size of the one linking physical abuse with the same behaviors.

Of course, a correlation alone isn't sufficient to establish causation. But when a correlation persists over hundreds of studies, across different cultural, family, and neighborhood contexts, and when other factors are statistically-controlled using quasi-experimental techniques like propensity score matching, and when these studies are corroborated by experimental evidence -- a causal inference becomes warranted.

2. Corporal punishment isn't linked to better outcomes. 

Pro doesn't cite any experimental evidence at all. Nor does he cite a large body of research showing that spanking correlates with positive outcomes. So what is Pro citing, then?

Pro cites a single study published by Baumrind in the early 2000s (and later reviewed by Larzelere & Fuller). As I explained in R2, Baumrind's study relied on unadjusted correlational evidence about parenting styles, not corporal punishment, and Baumrind's data hasn't been replicated since. Hence, Larzelere, Baumrind, and Fuller repeatedly emphasize that they're talking about corporal punishment exclusively in the context of a loving parent-child relationship, not corporal punishment by public school teachers. In fact, they repeatedly & expressly emphasize that corporal punishment outside a loving parent-child relationship causes immense harm without any benefit. Pro selectively ignores these facts about his own sources. 

Pro also refers to the Sweden ban. But according to Gershoff, the Sweden ban improved child outcomes; Fuller (a law student at a 3rd tier law school) simply misunderstands the data. And besides, the Sweden ban targeted corporal punishment by parents, not public school teachers, whereas the issue in this debate is much narrower, and per Pro's own sources, distinct. 

3. Corporal punishment doesn't work.

Pro doesn't offer any evidence at all that corporal punishment works in schools, the relevant context for this debate. Instead, Pro repeatedly mischaracterizes Fuller: (a) Fuller doesn't list "scores of sources," he lists only one source, Baumrind 2002, who never says corporal punishment works in a school context; and (b) Fuller doesn't identify any "obvious data-sets" that Gershoff "totally ignored."

This leaves Pro with nothing more than a collection of opinions by a non-representative minority, which I refuted in R2. Meanwhile, Pro ignores extensive evidence I cited in R2 showing that corporal punishment doesn't work in schools in the immediate, short, or long term. 


If we're going to socially engineer society through our education system (and Pro seems to support this goal), it should be towards a better world, not a worse one. Pro envisions a totalitarian nightmare supported by corporal punishment. I want to avoid this outcome by cultivating democracy, due process, individual rights, personal responsibility, and spiritual fulfillment. 

Throughout this debate, I've shown that corporal punishment fails to solve the problems of the status quo (it doesn't work), while simultaneously causing immense physical, emotional, behavioral, and spiritual harm to children (and by extension, society itself). I've also shown that "punishment" isn't necessary to discipline students in the first place, as restorative practices effectively discipline in schools while solving every issue in the status quo, including impact on minorities.

In contrast, Pro hasn't offered any data at all about corporal punishment in the context of schools. In fact, Pro's own sources support my case, noting that corporal punishment harms children when performed outside the context of a loving parent-child relationship. Pro also fails to demonstrate that corporal punishment works, he selectively ignores the evidence I've cited, and he repeatedly mischaracterizes what the evidence actually says. 

If corporal punishment in schools causes harm but isn't necessary to discipline students, why should we allow it by people who don't care about our kids at all (extent to the extent they're paid to)? The answer is, we shouldn't. Pro never suggests otherwise, and thus Pro cannot win this debate. Vote Con.