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Rod rules

"Rod rules" Continued...

Issue: "Exit strategies," Aug. 5, 2006

Ginger Plowman's practical how-to text, Don't Make Me Count to Three, expands that idea, cautioning mothers against the use of spanking as a threat to merely produce good behavior. "It's not just about getting the kids to act right," she says. "We want them to obey and do what's right out of a love for God, not because they might get a spanking. Unfortunately, most people in our country, probably even Christians, are using it in the wrong way."

Despite their condemnation for reactionary beatings, Tripp and Plowman are often lampooned as advocates for violence. Reviews of their books on Amazon.com frequently charge the authors with promoting child abuse, some calling their texts evil, perverted, and worthy of censorship. Hostility toward corporal punishment is even more rampant in Europe, where spanking bans have largely succeeded in altering public opinion. But Tripp reports that many evangelical ministers are encouraging their congregations to defy civil laws and follow the Scriptures: "The pastors that I was with last summer in Europe were all saying to their people, 'We need to wisely, discreetly do what God has called us to do and trust God to protect us and care for us.'"

Wisely, discreetly, perhaps, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has taken a public stance against corporal punishment since 1996, calling it "a less effective strategy than time-out or removal of privileges," but many pediatricians continue to resist the academy's policy statement, believing that responsible spanking outperforms faddish disciplinary approaches.

Many backers of wise spanking do agree with anti-spanking advocates on one thing: Public schools are not the right venue for spanking. In December of last year, Pennsylvania became the 28th state to outlaw spanking in public schools. In most of the other 22 states, the practice is extremely rare-with the exception of several Southern states like Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas, and Texas.

Most Americans, including Tripp and Plowman, disapprove of public-school paddling and are pleased with its decline. "It's the parent's responsibility," said Plowman.

Tripp agrees, but cautions parents never to spank in public or in view of others who may consider it abuse. "With the trajectory of where we're going as a culture, I'd be very surprised if in 20 years time there are not laws on the books against spanking children," he said.

That prediction is based in part on decisions made in Europe and Canada; Canada's Supreme Court ruled in 2004 that spanking is only permissible for children ages 2 to 12 and never with a belt or other object. Several U.S. municipalities, including Chicago and Brookline, Mass., have already passed resolutions against corporal punishment-though legally such decrees amount to mere recommendations.

The child-abuse statutes in Minnesota carry more legal bite, stating that "if punishment results in less than substantial bodily harm, the person may be sentenced to imprisonment for not more than one year or to payment of a fine of not more than $3,000, or both." The state definition for bodily harm includes any physical pain, leaving the door open for judges and child-protection workers to accuse parents of abuse for even the most responsible and restrained forms of physical discipline. However, a Minnesota trial court has ruled that such laws do not supersede the common-law right to spank a child.

That amounts to a contradiction, according to Deana A. Pollard, legal professor at Texas Southern University and author of the widely circulated report, "Banning Child Corporal Punishment: A Constitutional Analysis." Pollard, who is at the forefront of the anti-spanking movement, is frustrated by the Minnesota deadlock and overall fledgling struggle to see spanking banned in any state. She has provided expert legal opinion to the Massachusetts legislature in support of House Bill 1787, an act prohibiting corporal punishment of children. But public resistance has stalled the bill, affording little chance for its resurrection in the foreseeable future.

Nevertheless, Pollard told WORLD that anti-spanking fervor is gathering momentum: "The states that are more progressive-to be blunt, the generally more educated states in the Northwest, the West Coast, and the Northeast-those states are moving toward bans on spanking." Many states now allow judges to consider whether a parent spanks in child-custody cases, with non-spanking parents having an advantage.

Part of what is behind the movement against spanking is a view that children are naturally good and, unless ruined by bad parenting, will naturally build a better world. Dr. Aletha Solter, founder of the Aware Parenting Institute, argues that corporal punishment teaches violence to children otherwise born innocent: "What happens in each home is at the root of world peace. If we're going to be hitting children, they're going to go around wanting to hit and hurt other people. If we raise them with gentle discipline, then we're creating a gentle world."

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