Our end of the Deal, Part #2 – Teachers

Our end of the Deal, Part #2 – Teachers

We have got to stop using physical means on our babies and toddlers, because we’re setting them up to fail in school.

We’re moving in the right direction in terms of corporal punishment, specifically, it’s being stopped in the school systems, but that in itself has created a mismatch: if we control our kids physically, then we can’t reasonably expect the teachers to be able to control them by less forceful means.

There may be those who think teachers should be able to use the strap, or the paddle, or whatever instrument they used to use in your part of the world, but there are enough actual parents with kids in school that don’t, so we’re not going there, at least not today. Institutional corporal punishment has been outlawed, or will be in your part of the world soon, because that is how it should be, and that is something the directors of our societies have the authority to do. Corporal punishment in the home though, that is another matter. That apparently, is still a matter of religion, tradition, or just a matter of personal choice (don’t get me started – a “personal choice” as to whether I get to strike another person! Unbelievable), and the government isn’t going to touch it with a ten foot pole. Even in the countries that have outlawed it, I suspect they only prosecute if we’ve killed or nearly killed our kid.

Difficult as it sounds, we have at some point determined that by the age at which children enter the school system, they are presumed to be civilized, able to function in a classroom, and corporal punishment of children in schools has been stopped, so they need to be controllable by less than physical means, they need to be people that can be reasoned with, talked to. That means they aren’t supposed to be some sort of circus animals that only respond to a whip!

This conversation usually goes in the opposite direction, I know. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard or read that the problem is caused by parents that don’t physically train their children – but that’s not it. That’s what many people might think – but no, the violence and chaos in our world and in our children is not the result of a lack of corporal punishment. It’s actually simpler than that – violence begets violence, violence models violence. When our governments banned corporal punishment in schools, they did it based on good information, study after study after study shows that corporal punishment increases violence and rebellious behaviour in children, and not the other way around, despite what Sister Mary Louise told you in Catholic school.

So spanking and threatening and generally bullying our kids makes them impossible for the teachers to control. Once things have escalated to the physical, the kids can’t be convinced by words; for words to have power, they need to mean something, and when our kids know that we’ll force a point that we’re serious about, they learn that they don’t have to listen, and so they don’t. When we’re serious, they know they can depend on us to make them feel it. That’s what corporal punishment teaches: exactly the opposite of what we hope, it teaches that they never have to listen.

And that is the teachers’ nightmare, every day.

It is not the teachers’ job to civilize our kids, especially after we have spent five years uncivilizing them by force. Every year in the life of a human being is one in which that human being is less easily influenced than the year before, by an order of magnitude, so those first five years are a virtual eternity. Overcoming that, performing that nearly impossible feat, that is not their job.

That is our job. And we’re not holding up our end of the deal.

If we want the school system to function, if we want an environment in which children can learn, then we need to raise our children in such a way that the tools a teacher can legally and morally use to do it are going to work, namely, without any sort of corporal punishment.

Outlawing corporal punishment in schools, while we use that flawed tool in our homes for the critical first several years of their lives is a good first step, but a small one. Really small. Remember “Breaking Bad?”

No half measures.

– here’s part #1:


The Fight against Corporal Punishment will Fail

I’ve said it many times, so the waiver here will be brief: of course I’m against corporal punishment. The science is in, it is indistinguishable from abuse psychologically, except where there is a difference in the degree of it, and except that the legal status of it brings its own problems and complications.

Having said that –

The acceptance of non-corporal punishment, of supposed non-physical forms of “discipline” gives oxygen to corporal punishment and abuse. As long as we keep fooling ourselves that there is some form of “discipline” that isn’t harmful to the little people receiving it, there will always be physical punishment and outright abuse. I’m sorry, folks. I know you mean well.

You just don’t understand it.

Let’s take a bird’s eye view, a high level look at it.

One of the most basic tenets of a worldview that includes psychology is that negative stimulus brings negative effects, in a word, damage. We all agree, apparently so long as the negative stimulus is negative in a legal sense; I think we mostly see that the negative outcomes associated with illegal outright abuse prove the basic idea. As corporal punishment approaches illegal status we can begin to see that its negative stimulus brings negative outcomes . . . but we’re missing something. We’re failing to take the single next logical step.

That next logical piece is this: the theory of punishment, in its most basic form, means applying a negative stimulus in order to discourage unwanted behaviour.

This is the core concept of punishment, “core” meaning that it is the central concept, not something that only applies to extreme forms, or some forms of punishment, but that this is what punishing is, what all punishing (by any name, “discipline,” “consequences,” or not getting a “reward”) is. Forms of punishment we use on children that are not violent, such as the “timeout,” “grounding,” removal of a desired toy, restriction of screen-time, with-holding of love or attention – all of these are negative stimuli. So if our worldview is partly informed by psychology, we should expect that these negative stimuli also bring negative outcomes.

This should tell us that if we wish to lessen the negative outcomes associated with corporal punishment, that it’s a little schizoid to exclude the negative stimuli of all the other sorts of punishment from the conversation. Let alone that so many folks are actually promoting these other forms of negative stimuli! Again, all that sort of talk is well intentioned, but based in a dismal failure of reasoning. To view it arithmetically, we should see that this way:

To criticize a particular form of a thing – the corporal form of punishment – while supporting the basic form, the general form, the logical “pure” idea of the thing – punishment in general – is more support than it is critique. By a long shot. By, in fact, an order of magnitude. It’s fundamental support and only peripheral critique – put simply, it does more harm than good in the long term – and this battle is multigenerational. It’s the long game we need to be playing.

Of course, there’s a lot more to this conversation, but I’ve said it elsewhere and will continue to talk about it, always. For now, I don’t want to say anything that will distract us from this point, one that should be clear to us, but apparently isn’t.

Corporal Punishment is not a Racial Issue


Here’s what the link is talking about, but examples of the racism that is flooding the web these days in the guise of talk about the NFL scandals and corporal punishment are not hard to find. The link above also debunks the idea that the homophobia of blacks caused the success of California’s Prop. 8.





Corporal Punishment is not the Whole Story

A few words about corporal punishment before I get into something new on the subject. Bear with me. I promise, love it or hate it, I won’t bore you.

There’s been a lot of talk again lately, prompted by the Adrian Peterson story and it’s all good stuff, pretty encouraging. Here’s a great article, even if it does reference the racist aspect of the current spate of outrage:



That article breaks it down racially, which doesn’t interest me much, but it references one study that says that between 73% and 89% of most Americans (not all races are represented) stated that they spanked their children. These number aren’t changing very much. I think the big studies from decades ago give pretty much the same numbers. Corporal punishment of children is not going away, despite that the science is in, despite that we have known of the damage for years. Here’s what is probably the definitive metastudy regarding the damages of corporal punishment, from Elizabeth Gershoff:



Don’t follow that link if you’re already on board, if you already oppose corporal punishment. That information is good, but it’s old, and more to the point – it’s not helping as much as we might have hoped. Everything in it about the damage is good and correct, but here’s the issue, found in the first two points in the “Recommendations” section:


“1. That parents, caregivers, and all school personnel in the United States make every effort to avoid using physical punishment and to rely instead on nonviolent disciplinary methods to promote children’s appropriate behavior.

  1. That all public and private schools and institutions that care for children in the United States (including foster care agencies and group homes) cease using physical punishment and rely instead on nonphysical disciplinary methods to promote children’s appropriate behavior.”

(Gershoff, E. T. (2008). Report on Physical

Punishment in the United States:

What Research Tells Us About Its Effects on Children.

Columbus, OH: Center for Effective Discipline.)


The problem lies in these two terms: “nonviolent disciplinary methods” and “nonphysical disciplinary methods.” This is the trap that all the brilliant and well-meaning educators and parenting gurus have set for us. This is the myth, that there exists any such thing, or more to the point, that there can be any such thing or any such thing that actually works. I don’t deny that there can be instances of nonphysical discipline; we’ve all seen them. You don’t have to punish a child every time you want the child to do something. (That sounds like I’m advocating for punishment, but I’m not. I’ll explain before this is done.)

I deny that a program of punishment, a lifestyle of punishment, can exist without physical means.

I deny that a child willingly takes a punishment, I deny that a child willingly self-punishes. A child who takes his or her timeout, or early bed, or the loss of a toy, loss of screen time in stride, with only a word from the adults has learned his or her physical lessons previously. (This is the part you’ll hate. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.) When a child volunteers for discipline, most often that child knows it’s his or her best option; that child knows that compliance isn’t really optional, and that things will very likely escalate if the child resists. Remember what old-school discipline is. The old parenting books, before Doctor Spock, the religious child-rearing books, they had people swatting their babies, for the very reason that they were babies and babies can’t be talked to, they lack language. In that world, children know what happens when they resist by the time they can talk. Those families were able to demonstrate “nonphysical disciplinary methods” too, but their verbal control of their children was very much based in physical punishment.

Allow me to try to impress on you that all punishment is physical with a few rhetorical questions:

How do we non-physically place a two year old in timeout?

How do we non-physically stop a grounded teen from walking out the door?

So before I lose track, here is my point: punishment is inherently “corporal.” We are corporeal beings after all. I’m not OK with corporal punishment, that’s not what I’m saying when I say all punishment is physical, or based in the physical, impossible without a physical basis. When I say all punishment is corporal, what I’m saying is to end corporal punishment, we must . . . wait for it . . .

we must end punishment of children, all punishment of children – I mean if we want to end corporal punishment. Because these “nonphysical disciplinary methods” are a mirage, a weird dream.

I know that’s a big ask, not an easy answer. I know you see discipline as, uh . . . not optional. It is, though. It really is. It has to be, because the damages of corporal punishment are never-ending, and there really is no other kind. Not only that, but even if there were some kind of nonphysical disciplinary methods, even if it were possible to discipline without physically forcing it – again, there are instances of it, but there cannot be a program of it – even then, much of the damage isn’t the physical kind anyway.

Many of the well documented damages are non-physical. They are in fact, overwhelmingly emotional, psychological, and cognitive in nature. I know nobody really thinks the lion’s share of the damage wrought by corporal punishment is the physical damage, but to reason it along just a single further step, it is logical to acknowledge that physical damages are the only kind that require physical causes. It is the other aspects of discipline that bring on the other sorts of damage, again, namely, emotional, psychological, and cognitive damage.

So there you have it. Two arguments explaining why corporal punishment isn’t the problem, two arguments why punishment, period, is the problem. Love it or hate it, I beg you, just remember it. Of course, spread the word, re-tweet this, re-post. Spread the word. Try this idea on, look at these issues this way for a time, a day, a week, a month . . . you’ll see. These issues can make sense, when viewed this way, it doesn’t have to be an emotional, personal choice sort of thing. It’s not religion. It’s real-world stuff. It’s right in front of us.

My wife and I have raised two daughters without the use of any sort of punishing whatsoever. Our girls are still in school, one is a senior in high school and the other is in university, after two years of college. It’s not a controlled double-blind study, but we’ve proved it’s possible, and it’s looking pretty good at this point.

Thanks for reading. Really.

Leading by Example is Not Optional

Is that what we think? Do we say to ourselves and our peers, ‘I’m going to lead by example in this case?’

Like, the other times, when we did something and hoped no-one would see it as an example: yesterday, that thing I did? Don’t do that. Do as I say, not as I do. But today, today, I’m leading by example. This I do want you to emulate.

Like that is up to us.

I’ve enjoyed this form of literary masturbation in the past, the binocular peep show I will call the two-pronged blog, so I’ll try it again. Part One – the Middle East.

Let’s start with a harmless fantasy. How about we just get the Hell out of the ME, completely? America’s oil production is up, Alberta is already destroyed anyway, might as well milk the plateau that starts at the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains for all it’s worth, plus there’s still the Gulf. We’ve got oil here. I say we offer the Israelis some plot of land about the size of the one they have now, say Richard Gere’s place or something . . . and just walk away. Leave the various clans of Islam to sort it out among themselves. And in doing so . . .

Lead by example. We should leave them a letter or something, like –

“Dear Arabs, we’re sorry we took your oil and your blood for so long, but we’re stopping now. I don’t know why we did it, we were such pricks. All we can say is, we’re sorry. We wish we could explain it somehow, try to make some sense of it, but no, we just suck, and we’re sorry. We know that isn’t very satisfying. Of course you’re still pissed. All we can say is that we’re trying to change, and maybe, if we can be better for a few decades, maybe future generations of our peoples can have some sort of normal relationship. We acknowledge we’re leaving you in a terrible mess, but we think if there is one thing we can agree on, it must be that our efforts to clean it up only ever make it worse.

Good luck,


The West.”

and then we concentrate on getting our own house in order, see if we can’t establish something, a form of life and government that may be recognizable as an attempt to establish the Christian dream of Heaven on Earth . . . you know. Lead by example.

Because what do they see of the West over there? Conquest, war, dominance, that’s what we show Islam, and we hope that they don’t see that as an example. We don’t get to do that, we don’t get to say ‘don’t follow our example yesterday, follow it today.’ That’s not how the world works. People are watching us all the time. Everything we do is an example, we aren’t invisible until we say ‘see me now!’

Of course, part of this conversation must always be, action speaks louder than words. The world is always watching, but it is rarely listening, rightly so, of course. A great deal of what we do is far more important stuff we only say.

And so for the macro-view, geopolitics. Of course, the fractal seed, the base unit for this, is parenting. It doesn’t matter what moral lesson you are trying to teach your child if you teach it with any sort of negative stimulus, literal pain, loss of a loved object, loss of personal freedom, whatever.

Say what you will, you’re making your child’s life worse.

And your child will see it.

Why I Stayed? The Hopelessness of Popular Issues

I’m not bitter. Well, OK, I’m a little bitter.

In my day job, as an uneducated working man, I have customers all over town and one customer in particular that is an hour’s drive away from home, an hour and ten minutes from my office, and I listen to the radio in the van, the CBC, sometimes affectionately known as the Canadian Broadcorping Castration. At least that’s what we called it in a long past job, when I worked for a competing outfit, a small town Cable company. The CBC has some good talk stuff, some good comedy and fiction programming. I turn it off when they play music. I find modern mainstream music dreadfully boring, and don’t want to fall asleep at the wheel. There is some good talk, as I said, but the noon hour, call-in, current issue show can get me down. When they talk about issues of bullying, or this week’s issue, violence against women, things I have put some thought to, hopelessness looms and the world looks like a stupid, mindless place where nothing will ever get better. It seems like no-one is trying to find a root cause for these things.

When I hear repeatedly “Why I Stayed?” and all the usual phrasing around it, I want to answer, I even went so far as to call in the other day, but I chickened out before they answered, even though I had gotten through, somehow made it past the usual busy signal, I balked for two reasons. One, it’s hard to be the curmudgeon, interrupting a naïve, shallow conversation with the nasty truth, and two, it’s even harder when the poor fools trading banalities scoff and ignore you! I didn’t want so publicly to be casting the pearls of my insight before the unassailable popularity of the clichés the talkers were employing. There are plenty of clichés we use for that sort of thing; some good ones have been attributed to Mark Twain.

Domestic violence is a specific form of bullying – and bullying is a specific form of punishment, specific, namely, in that it is unauthorized. When someone deals out punishments – verbal, physical and emotional abuse – and the crimes that these abuses are intended to discourage are not in line with a broad social consensus, then that is bullying, abuse, violence. It is abusive if the crime, such as being a minority or a female, is not considered to be a crime by the larger majority, but the tools of abuse and punishment are the same.

The punished person, the victim of abuse is told that they are wrong, told that they are bad, told that they deserve the mistreatment, and they are mistreated in any number of ways. This is life for many children, this is life for many children who are over-punished, and many of the girls who are treated this way throughout their childhoods find their way into abusive relationships. Why do they stay?

Because this is NORMAL to them. Verbal and physical abuse is NORMAL to many of these girls, it’s the only life they’ve ever known, so they stay because they’re unaware that there is any safe place to go to if they leave. Now here’s the nasty part:

If there are many women who wind up in these abusive relationships who do not report abusive childhoods, if women find themselves in that situation having had no documented history of being abused, that is our clue that even “normal” lives are making adult abusive situations appear to be normal. If they miss the clues that may have tipped them off to a partner’s impending abusiveness, it is because they have learned not to see the abuse in their “normal” childhoods first. As have we all. This is the problem with these “cycles of abuse.” The cycle operates whether or not we acknowledge abuse, whether or not abuse in some part of the cycle is “normal,” legal, expected, or even mandatory.

I’ve said it elsewhere: our “normal” use of punishment is a cause in the world, a cause of the violence we consider to be beyond normal, a large part of all the cycles of violence, cycles of abuse. That women who we wouldn’t consider victims of childhood abuse, even women who don’t consider themselves to be victims of childhood abuse find their way into these binds is evidence that they have lived in these binds before. Do the ‘math.’ If two and two make four, it cannot be allowed to matter that we don’t LIKE four.

This is what I call “reasoning” or “logic.”

If someone doesn’t like my theory here, I would ask – what is their theory of domestic violence? Is it that men are just violent swine, that it’s “in our natures?” Of course many men are indeed violent animals, and of course that is terrible, and they need to be responsible for themselves. Of course, the men who are completely free of sexism are few and far between – but to say “men are pigs” is only a description, only a label, it is not an explanation for anything. To simply call an abuser an asshole and stop there is no more helpful that to call the victims fools. How does labeling people that way explain the many men who do not abuse their women, or the many women who won’t be mistreated? Or how does it explain the abused woman’s part of the cycle of violence, how does it explain why they stay? Is this simply a manifestation of that old, logical saltpeter, Original Sin, people are just bad, and we shouldn’t try to find the reasons for these sorts of things?

Again, Original Sin doesn’t explain when bad things DON’T happen. So, I’ll ask my strawman critics again – what is their theory? What natural process explains domestic violence?

This week it’s violence against women, and last year it was school bullying and cyber-bullying. I have written on bullying before, but I’ll discuss it again soon. For now my point is, these two controversies have had the cumulative effect of depressing me. Listening to people discuss these things in a blind, unanalytical way, trying to solve an effect with no acknowledgement of the cause . . .

Well, that is just sad and pointless.

I almost want to accuse the media of knowingly and willingly selling mindlessness, because mindlessness is popular, we eat that shit up. And the hopelessness they throw in for free.

It All Starts when We Punish our Kids, #5

It all starts when we punish our kids.

What “all starts?” Well . . .

  1. Rape.

First and foremost, rape is violence, so for that aspect of it, see Part #2.

Second, rape is misogyny, at least man-on-woman rape is. That is Part #3.

The analogy of rape to punishment is pretty straightforward, it’s a stronger person forcing their will on a weaker one, and there is often a lot of victim-blaming: the punished child has “brought in on his or her self,” and the rape victim “was asking for it.” But it doesn’t stop there, this analogy has more.

There is the issue of force, the issue of implied violence. We would say of a large number of instances of parental punishment that it isn’t violent, that children simply take their medicine, apparently willingly, just as the male dominated criminal justice system may often judge that a woman who wasn’t severely battered may not have been raped, that she may have been willing, perhaps that she “was asking for it.” Implied violence is invisible, of course – well, “of course” in certain circumstances anyway. Especially so in these circumstances, when we have all been raised in the system of punishment, when we are all willingly blinded to the “invisible” implied violence of that system, when we have all been subjected to it, threatened throughout our formative years, and with primal memories of force and violence from our baby and toddlerhoods, when threats were ineffective because we lacked language skills – and this is the best case scenario, this describes people who were never actually struck or manhandled during the majority of their early years. So very many of us believe there was no violence behind our parents’ discipline, or at least we believe it doesn’t matter. Of course, we must, there isn’t really much choice, and by the time we can safely choose to see it, we need not to again, so we can take our turn dishing it out upon our own children. The window in which we might face that truth is pretty short, and missing it is what we call becoming a grown up, achieving maturity.

In those circumstances, when needing to be blind to our parents implied violence and then to our own, when that needful blindness rules our lives, in those circumstances, the implied violence of rape will usually be invisible.

Here’s the rest of the series:





Punishment: a Self-fulfilling Prophecy and the Roots of Institutionalized Racism

“You beat a man with a whip, and he likes the whip.” I always love an opportunity to quote Charlie Manson. Or Vince Bugliosi anyway. I suppose we could still ask Charlie if he said it, but could we believe his answer? Bugliosi is still alive too, but sources aren’t important to me. I’m all about content. If a swine like Manson says something clever, I appreciate it. Moving on.

Separating the times when punishment has been a cause from the times when it has been an effect is no simple thing, along the lines of the chicken and the egg, except not so easy. We punish a person when they’re bad, but the well-intended abuse that is punishment can all too often have the effect all abuse has, the same effect the kind with bad intentions has. It makes people bad. To some degree or other, of course. Many recipients of punishment and/or abuse may never act it out. But it happens, and when it does, which came first, chicken or egg? When a person is bad, is the badness originating from their deep, original self, or is it a reaction to abuse, either well or badly intended?

Another analogy, supplied by another clever criminal: “If you’re really sick, you might take a lot of medications, but the reverse is also true: if you take a lot of medications, you will be really sick.” It’s a paraphrase from Kevin Trudeau. He’s a huckster and a shyster, but that is no lie. He backs it up with this: “All drugs are toxic. Don’t believe me? Take forty of anything.” Please don’t test the truth of that one. (I can’t remember if Kevin offered that warning.) But the analogy is apt: if you’re bad, you will receive a lot of punishing, but the reverse is also true: if you take a lot of punishments, you may be really bad. This is why it’s so hard to separate the effects from the causes: a punished person becomes bad, in effect proving the punisher’s case. The more we punish a person, the more they appear to “need” it, or “deserve” it.

This function can work on an individual level – Manson self-reports a childhood of very few happy moments – but it works at a social level as well. If a group or a subgroup of people are disproportionately punished, the effect of that abuse, well or badly intended, will make them bad, again, sadly appearing to “prove” the punishing subgroup’s case, reinforcing the appearance of the need to punish forever. Perhaps this is the correct context in which to see the recent events in Missouri, and the racist conflicts in America generally. It is a racial problem certainly, but I think the older problem, the pre-existing condition for this travesty lies in the abusive nature of punishing. Certainly there are a lot of ruined white lives as well, overly punished and abused white criminals that we should also wonder what came first, the chicken of their adult criminality or the egg of their childhood abuse and punishment.

Of course, we need to seriously question what came first with the disproportionately punished and incarcerated members of America’s black population, the chicken of their disenfranchised frustration, rage and desperation, or the egg of their marginal status in society. Of course this situation also informs the other current events tragedies of the moment, the dysfunctional relationship between the Israelis and their Palestinian citizens, and between the Canadian state and Canada’s aboriginals. Punishment and crime exist in a feedback loop, and of course, as always the real solution is love, not pain.

And just to be really, really clear: the egg came first.