When we were young, spanking a child was considered a normal punishment for misbehaving. Whether in public or private, at school or home, a swat or two was delivered by parents, grandparents, teachers or virtually any authority figure in charge of the situation. By the end of the 1960s, spanking was on the way out as child punishment. Some attribute this to the immense popularity of Dr. Spock’s book, Baby and Child Care, first published in 1946, in which he proposed a more permissive and less physical approach to child discipline. As progressive education reforms began making inroads in the late ’60s and early ’70s, spanking was increasingly no longer welcomed in schools. Some later boomers will recall having to get a slip signed by their parents that gave permission to teachers to spank when they felt the necessity, or not to spank at all. By the middle of the 1970s, spanking had gone from a social norm to a pariah. The Supreme Court ruled in 1977 (Ingraham v. Wright) that spanking by a teacher or administrator in-and-of-itself was not illegal or a violation of a child’s constitutional rights, but deemed parameters be “prudent and reasonable.” The ’80s and ’90s continued the trend toward eliminating the practice, though it has only been banned in 31 states, and continues in the other 19 states, most of which are in the South. As far as society is concerned, though, spanking has been relegated to clandestine giggles between consenting couples who shared the same proclivity, or as the butt of jokes on TV sitcoms.
Now the practice of spanking may be poised to open a national debate once again, thanks to a bill that was considered in the Kansas State Legislature. State Representative Gail Finney proposed a bill that would allow “up to 10 forceful applications in succession of a bare, open-hand palm against the clothed buttocks of a child and any such reasonable physical force on the child as may be necessary to hold, restrain or control the child in the course of maintaining authority over the child, acknowledging that redness or bruising may occur on the tender skin of a child as a result.” The bill was slapped down in committee, but the question remains: after a generation since falling out of favor, is it time for society to revisit corporal punishment for disciplining a child?
Most baby boomers, including Mister Boomer, can attest to either being spanked themselves or have observed the practice administered on siblings or classmates. In schools, a paddle was often used instead of a bare hand, and most often it had the phrase, “Board of Education,” painted on it. In Mister B’s elementary school, the “board” was kept just outside the principal’s office, where the school secretary sat. In high school, the men’s gym teacher had possession of it. What Mister B witnessed in his early school days of the Baby Boom could today only be described as child abuse.
Mister Boomer was a “good” child who never gave teachers or parents a reason for resorting to corporal punishment. In his family, Brother Boomer was the sibling who most often incurred the wrath of his mother, the family disciplinarian. Her method involved “the belt,” which was a leather belt grabbed hastily from his father’s closet. Being of diminutive stature, Mister B’s mom never inflicted much damage to Brother Boomer, who mostly laughed it off. Brother Boomer was a pre-teen when his mother attempted to spank him for the last time. He ran as she tried to hit him, and she gave chase out the front door. When she caught him in front of the house, Brother Boomer grabbed the belt from her hand. Physically outmatched, she had no counter, except to say, “Wait until your father gets home.”
Spanking is another one of those long-standing practices that saw changes in the the Baby Boomer era. Yet when state representatives see the need to define and clarify the practice from a legal standpoint, it seems apparent that the question has yet to be completely resolved.
From Mister B’s point of view, what he witnessed as a child — especially in schools — was excessive and completely ineffective toward stopping the infractions from occurring again. On the other hand, observing children running amok in a restaurant or retail store begs the question of whether sparing the rod has indeed spoiled the child.
Did you get spanked as a child, boomers? Did you spank your children?