Blog Credo

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

H.L. Mencken

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Way I Was Raised

One of the interesting and hopefully illuminating aspects to come out of the Adrian Peterson saga has been to shine a light on the practice of corporal punishment.  One player (Calvin Johnson?) said that he would continue to discipline his child as he saw fit, and there was a story yesterday that Peterson simply doesn't get the degree of trouble that he's in.

The "I was whupped and I turned out fine" argument is a fascinating one, especially when applied to Peterson.  Because self-evidently, he did not turn out fine.  He turned into a man who left scars on his four year old child.  On the other hand, he's a millionaire and not in prison - which for a black kid from Texas and from limited means is a sort of accomplishment.

There have been several good stories - Vox and The New Republic are good examples - that catalog the overwhelming evidence that corporal punishment is not good for a child.  Among other things: it damages the trust between parent and child that is critical in their emotional development, it teaches the child that violence is a way to solve problems, it instills fear of repercussion rather than teaches good behavior and it instills a fear of authority.  The long term effects are higher incidents of depression, substance use and the tradition of violence that gets passed down from one generation to the next.

There is also the fact that very rarely is corporal punishment applied dispassionately.  I have two sons.  I have wanted to swat them countless times.  They do incredibly aggravating/dangerous/disrespectful/hurtful things on a daily basis.  Did I mention they were boys?  Luckily for me (and the boys) my wife is wiser and calmer than I and laid down a "no spanking" rule in our house.  Because every impulse I've had to spank my kids has come from MY anger and MY frame of mind.  If you discipline from a place of anger (a place most parents are all too familiar with) you will teach anger.  If you discipline from a place of rationality, you will teach thoughtfulness.

But there is a cultural issue at play here, too.  Last week, I was teaching my students about political culture and how tricky it is to tease out causation and correlation when it comes to culture, so let those caveats apply.  I don't know if there is a determinative effect here or whether this reflects the culture.  But look at the map of states that ban all forms of physical punishment in schools:

Does that map look familiar?

It's not perfect - you'd need to swap Colorado and Utah, and the northern plains states probably have some of that vestigial Germanic educational tradition - but that's a striking map.

It would be interesting to tease out the use of corporal punishment by parents between "red" states and "blue" states, but from what we know of corporal punishment we know that it does create a more fearful attitude towards authority.

In the outrage over Trayvon Martin, white America was introduced to the reality of "The Talk" that African American parents give their kids, especially their sons.  We've learned that the world is fraught for black boys, replete with dangers and pitfalls.  But what sort of multiplying effect does the reliance on corporal punishment have?  In an effort to protect their sons from a world that looks down on them and values them less are parents making things worse by adding the psychological damage of corporal punishment on top of the societal weight of racism?

And what is the cultural effect on overall violence?  The ten most violent states in the country in the 2006 census are South Carolina, Tennessee, Nevada, Florida, Louisiana, Arizona, Delaware (!), Maryland, New Mexico and Michgan.  The highest ranked New England state in Massachusetts at 20.  Most European nations - that outlaw all forms of corporal punishment including by the parents - see much, much lower rates of violent crime.

To be clear, I'm not arguing that spankings turn people into violent criminals.  Nor am I trying to "blame the victim" when it comes to racism.

But I do wonder if the culture of "I was raised this way" that leads to the use of violence over education to discipline a child is one of the contributing factors in America's bloody body count.

Cross posted at Booman Tribune

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