When Ethics Alarms Don’t Ring: Oklahoma Republicans Vote Against Banning Corporal Punishment Of Disabled Students

As an ethicist, I see news stories like this and want to hurl myself through the nearest wood-chipper. On the Left, we have racial-grievance fanatics claiming that eliminating discipline for disrupting class is necessary to avoid perpetuating “systemic racism.” On the Right, we have virtual Neanderthals with ethical standards stuck in the 19th century advocating teachers hitting cognitively challenged kids because…the Bible says so.

No wonder it’s so easy for Leftist fascism to get a foothold in our culture, when conservatives undermine their credibility with positions like that.

Oklahoma, where the wind comes sweeping down the plains and apparently through one ear and out the other of a lot of elected officials, is one of the 19 laggards that permit child abuse in the public schools. (Watch the Indian School corporal punishment inflicted on students in the “1923” miniseries now streaming on Paramount+, if you dare.) Democrats in the state legislature introduced House Bill 1028, a modest proposal—I would think—to outlaw school district personnel from “using corporal punishment on any student identified with a disability in accordance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.” It didn’t even outlaw teachers beating kids in general, just students with disabilities. But the GOP has a super-majority, and not enough alleged conservatives (why is beating students “conservative” voted against the bill to narrowly kill it, 45-43.

After all, Republicans had that up-to-date authority on child disabilities and modern educational techniques, the Bible, to back them up. “The rod and reproof give wisdom. But a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame!” intoned Republican Representative Jim Olsen, an evident idiot. “So that would seem to endorse the use of corporal punishment. So, how would you reconcile this bill with scripture’s council on this matter?” he asked the bill’s proponents.

They don’t have to reconcile the bill with a religious tome written by people who thought the sun revolved around the Earth and who lived in a culture as different from 23rd Century U.S. culture as a T-Rex differs from a jar of marmalade. The U.S. isn’t a theocracy, and human beings have learned a few things since the 5th century BC—well, maybe not Rep. Olsen. Other Republicans made equally fatuous arguments.

The bill’s modest goal was just to prevent school staff from being able to hit disabled children; they could still knock around other children. It tells you something about how the dark side of conservatism reasons that the most cogent argument in the debate over the bill was that preventing the beating of disabled kids gave them a special advantage over the other children, because God knows you have to belt all students now and then. “We need to help teachers understand how to discipline difficult children while keeping consistency in all classrooms,” one of the bill’s detractors argued.

Well, I’m off to the woodchipper!

10 thoughts on “When Ethics Alarms Don’t Ring: Oklahoma Republicans Vote Against Banning Corporal Punishment Of Disabled Students

  1. Okay, this is a difficult one. First off, a few stipulations:

    I don’t think corporal punishment should be permitted.

    I have not read the bill.

    My possible defenses to those who voted against it:

    Disability is too broad. Would it protect the dyslexic, the blind, or the deaf? Given the likely ever-expanding class of those recognized as “disabled,” the exception may end up swallowing the rule.

    Corporal punishment may be too broad. Could physical restraint of a student constitute corporal punishment? Could physically separating student involved in a physical altercation be considered corporal punishment? If the answer to either of those questions is anything more vague than “no,” a vote against the bill is warranted.


    • “Disability is too broad.”
      Exactly. Most of the disruptive students in the high school classroom would be classified as “disabled” in some way. I dealt with this for several years as a School Resource Officer program supervisor. We couldn’t even get dangerous and/or threatening students expelled because doing so would disrupt their Individualized Education Plan. And these disruptive students can game the system very well. The Special Education “tail” has been wagging the public education “dog” for many years now.

      • As well as ADD and ADHD kids. Many of them are getting away with doing only part of an exam. I’ve got a girl in Sunday School who claims to be ADD. She is openly disruptive, blatantly does other things during the lesson, gets up during prayer time to sneak out of the room and I haven’t a clue how to handle it because….ADD.

    • I agree that without seeing the definition of “corporal punishment” or the whole bill it’s hard to make a call. What if it prevents the school’s SRO from restraining an obviously dangerous student? Or if it includes a section redefining certain protected categories as disabilities?

      I mean, we all know law names are always correct, right? Who would be unpatriotic enough to vote against the PATRIOT Act?

    • Even as a deeply religious Christian I think the appeal to the Bible was completely wrong headed and ridiculous. Olsen represents a deeply rural section of the state whose biggest town has less than 9000 people, so he was most likely grandstanding to earn points in his district.

      My wife teaches in an Oklahoma middle school in a predominantly middle / upper-middle class district. A couple of weeks ago, a dyslexic boy (qualifies under this bill) attacked a girl in PE, punching her multiple times in the head, causing her to black out. The PE coach has to pull him off her and use a painful restraint to hold him until the school police officer could arrive. Under certain readings of this bill, what he did would have been illegal. Before you respond “oh come on”, ask any current teacher how quickly parents will blame / sue / try to get teachers fired.

      • Yes, parents are quick to sue. No, restraint (as described) isn’t punishment. “Corporal punishment” is clear enough that it isn’t subject to good faith confusion. “A corporal punishment or a physical punishment is a punishment which is intended to cause physical pain to a person. When it is inflicted on minors, especially in home and school settings, its methods may include spanking or paddling.” Restraint that happens to be painful when the intent is to prevent violence is still not corporal punishment. Teachers have no business laying hands on students, or paddles, or rulers. A law that prevents them from doing so to any proportion of the students is an improvement over no law at all. Having to employ physical force (or restraint) in self-defense or in defense of another student isn’t “corporal punishment.” The GOP rep’s reference to “rods” makes it pretty clear that there was no misunderstanding about what the law was about, no?

        Would binding and gagging a student, or locking him in a closet? Violate the law? Maybe not. An additional prohibition might be needed. But there is nothing wrong with a corporal punishment ban.

        • One of the selling points for Catholic School, at least when I was a kid, was that the teachers and other staff would not hesitate to strike unruly students, just like the parents usually did.

          Thankfully I managed to avoid most of the abuse, but some of the old school Christian Brothers still would not hesitate to knock a student flat for any reason or no reason. I went to high school in the 1980s though, those who went 10 or 20 years before saw some real nightmares, like one of the brothers lashing a student 40 times with a belt, extremely hard. Apparently the boys father came to the school later and insisted that that brother come to the principal’s office, and once he did, he took his belt off and was going to go for him physically, and had to be restrained by the principal. Yikes! The good old days indeed.

          • And restraining someone who is attacking another student doesn’t fit that definition. “Physical force” is a lousy and ambiguous term, but these morons on all levels (including Congress) are 1) incapable of saying what they mean in bills clearly and 2) can’t say what their real issues are, or won’t.

            I assume you read the linked article, including what snother Republican representative, Randy Randleman, said. First, He “wanted to get into the minutiae of the bill to make sure parents could still freely hit their kids,” according to the NR. Diagnosis: He was trying to muddy the waters. The bill is clear on that point. Second, he’s another “spare the rod” Neanderthal. He wants to see kids hurt.

            “A child could have dyslexia, and then you couldn’t spank him, correct?” he said. “I would never spank an emotional problem, I would never spank a neurological problem,” he continued, in curious syntactical manner. “But if a parent has the choice, and they know that it can stop a misbehavior for behavioral problem, is this bill stopping that?”

            NO, it doesn’t, and also, he’s concerned that teachers won’t be able to hit a dyslexic kid.

            Then he is quoted as saying, “‘You can’t touch me.’ I hear that over and over. I don’t want to hear that in school.” That’s funny: I DO, because it means a teacher is putting his hands on kids.

            I think you have made a base-line decent case why YOU wouldn’t necessarily vote for the bill, or how it could be improved, but that’s not really relevant to what GOP conservatives were using as reasons to kill it, based on what we have from the media, at least.

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