Unless you live in one of the 22 states where it’s still permitted, you may not be aware that corporal punishment is still a viable option for schools to use to discipline students.
So you’ll most likely be surprised to hear about the punishment meted out to three students at a high school in Greenbrier, Arkansas this week for their decision to defy school authorities and take part in the nationwide 17-minute school walkout to protest gun violence and demand safer schools.
A parent of one of the only three students at the rural high school to participate in the protest tweeted out the story of the school’s reaction to their child’s expression of their free speech rights to declare a desire for a fear-free educational experience.
My kid and two other students walked out of their rural, very conservative, public school for 17 minutes today. They were given two punishment options. They chose corporal punishment. This generation is not playing around. #walkout
— Jerusalem Greer (@JerusalemGreer) March 14, 2018
That the students chose two strikes of a wooden paddle on their hindquarters rather than the other punishment option of two days of in-school suspension demonstrates the commitment that they have to fight fear.
Scott Spainhour, the superintendent of the school district, confirmed the details of the three students’ walkout to Little Rock NBC affiliate KARK but insisted that they were punished for “breaking school handbook rules in regards to leaving class,” rather than for protesting gun violence.
While Spainhour would not confirm the method of punishment that the students chose, the Greenbriar school board “authorizes the use of corporal punishment to be administered in accordance with this policy by the Superintendent or his/her designated staff members who are required to have a state-issued license as a condition of their employment,” but only with the explicit permission of the student’s parents.
Wylie Greer, the son of the parent who sent out the tweet informing the world of the incident, told The Daily Beast in an interview that most of his classmates were opposed to the idea of the protest and scowled at him as he walked out. He sat alone for a short while before two other students, whom he described as “two of the smartest students at the school” joined him.
The principal approached the protesting students and asked them if they “understood that there would be consequences,” before returning to the school. Then the dean-of-students came out to inquire about what they were doing. After being told that they were protesting, he ordered them inside, which they refused to do.
After 17 minutes they returned to class and were later called individually to the dean-of-students office to choose the penalty for their actions. the younger Greer says that they all chose the paddling, and described his experience as “not painful or injuring” and “not dealt with malice or cruelty.”
Despite the relative mildness of the inflicted swats of the paddle, Greer says that he opposes the physical punishment of students on principle.
“I believe that corporal punishment has no place in schools, even if it wasn’t painful to me. The idea that violence should be used against someone who was protesting violence as a means to discipline them is appalling. I hope that this is changed, in Greenbrier, and across the country.”
As brave and committed as all of the students who took part in this week’s protests may be, these three Greenbriar students deserve a little extra respect and admiration for their willingness to sacrifice some individual pain for the collective good. That’s the best lesson they could learn at school this week, and it’s one that their teachers, school administrators, and classmates would do well to learn for themselves.