The Case for Corporal Punishment

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Well
it's happened again. It's another school shooting. Let's bring out
the usual suspects: "Guns," say the illiberals. "Nasty
video games," say the conservatives.

Now
the illiberals are correct in the strictest sense in that, it's
true, if there were absolutely no way for Andy Williams to get a
gun, he couldn't have shot anyone (which doesn't mean he couldn't
have hurt anyone). If people didn't have limbs they probably couldn't
hurt each other either. One almost feels condescending when one
says to these people, "Yes, but how about we try and, well,
take a look at why li'l Andy would want to take a mechanical
device and hurt people," with a tightened plastic smile and
a restrained frustrated hint of a quiver in one's voice.

It's
pretty easy to dismiss the conservative's notion of there being
demons lurking in video games as it is easy to dismiss the illiberal's
notion of there being demons lurking in guns, so we'll move on.

Some
more thoughtful pieces on the subject look toward an unhealthy culture
in general as well as Nanny state-style public schooling. Parents
care more about having cable TV and going on trips to Hawaii during
the summer than saving to send their kid to a private school. Schools
care less about having the students do well in math than about regimenting
their daily lives along with a touch of feel-good psycho-babble,
thereby destroying any burgeoning sense of responsibility.

Yet
these analyses are somewhat deficient in the case of Andy. For one
thing, he was basically this innocent kid from rural Maryland before
he moved to criminal southern California. This is obvious from his
home videos that have been plastered over the news networks. Basically,
I don't believe he's the product of an unhealthy culture; he was
no member of a Columbine-style Trench Coat Mafia. As for the second
part, as bad as schools are nowadays, I don't think they themselves
can be the cause of such a violent reaction.

The
cause of school-shootings ought to be the most obvious, yet least
discussed one. If one thing is common among the school shooters,
it's that they were bullied. And I don't mean just made fun of or
called names; most students experience that. I mean it's because
they were physically attacked, and to some degree because of the
general air of physical intimidation. Not just that they were bullied,
but the schools take no real responsibility over the matter, as
pointed out in a recent article by Stephen Carson. The worst schools
would probably send a bully to a few sessions of counseling, and
the better schools might suspend him for a bit. Being under the
constant threat of injury without recourse will make some kids "just
snap."

What's
the solution? I'd like to take a page from the Book of Rothbard
and suggest that corporal punishment is brought back. For one thing,
this sort of eye-for-an-eye ethics is perfectly consistent with
the libertarian position. If a bully decided to smack around a kid
half his size, fine, so long as he was willing to pay his dues.
I'd imagine there'd be a sort of school officer on every campus
who might take Mr. Bully aside to his office and offer him one of
two choices: He can submit to a caning proportional to what he gave
to the little guy, or an expulsion from school. This practice would
probably have a rough start after so many years, but I'd imagine
few parents would like to have their kid expelled from school, and
so some of the students would have to live with swollen hands (or
keisters).

I
believe bringing back this sort of corporal punishment would virtually
eliminate the type of physical bullying that goes on in Andy's school
or at Columbine, and at least greatly reduce the air of physical
intimidation. Now of course this wouldn't completely get rid of
fighting, but rather, I believe, bring it back down to the level
that Charley Reese recalled in a recent article where the kids who
fought were at a more or less equal level and usually forgot about
it days later.

We
can still keep a healthier culture in our sights for the long run,
but while we're at it, let's bring back the system that can wipe
out the present consequence-free environment in schools.

March
20, 2000

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