Thursday, January 25, 2007

Spanking and "Correction"

I am somewhat alarmed to learn from Paul that Canadian law protects the right of parents and teachers (?!) to use reasonable force against children for "correction." I would certainly acknowledge concerns about selective enforcement, though such concerns are hardly unique to spanking regulations (and perhaps are better aimed at laws that are affirmatively harmful, such as drug laws). However, I find unpersuasive the notion that anyone has a "right" to use physical force (however "reasonable") to "correct" a child. There is no evidence that hitting a toddler has any beneficial effects for the toddler, and older children appear to gain nothing from the practice either. Spanking (or, to use a less pc term, "hitting") children seems, therefore, to serve the parent's interests in retribution or in releasing pent-up anger rather than the child's interest in learning to behave properly. The law's choice of the word "correction," moreover, in referring to the use of force to subordinate one's "inferiors" in the household is unlikely to be an accident. Both husbands (who had proprietary rights over their wives) and parents (who had similar sorts of rights over their children) could historically use violence to keep their subordinates in line, and this function was called "correction" as well (specifically, a right of "moderate correction," if I remember correctly). I think it is a property conception of parenthood that makes anyone think it is acceptable to hit our children (even when we leave no marks) to teach them right from wrong. And any teacher who hits a child (with a hand or a ruler) to discipline him or her (rather than, for example, in self-defense) should be suspended and perhaps terminated from the job of school-teacher. I believe that we have evolved morally from the place where we exercised the prerogative to use violence in the privacy of our own home. Though spanking may be a less injurious form of assault than beating with a ruler or a belt, it is still violence and should not be encouraged. I fear that when a court awards protection for the "right" to use "reasonable" force, it (perhaps inadvertently) lends undeserved credence to the notion that the "head of household" is entitled to assert ownership over his human subjects. Incidentally, worries about selective enforcement and the disruption of households underlay the inexcusable exemption of marital sexual assault from the criminal law of rape in both the Model Penal Code and in most state codes until quite recently. Though a history of misuse is not a dispositive argument against the right to spank, it should give us pause, at the very least.