Corporal Punishment vs. Social Media

May 4th, 2011 by Andrea Bennett

A new online game and app seek to punish states that spank.

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

Designer Marc Ecko has embarked on a campaign to end school spankings; or, more comprehensively, corporal punishment in schools.

An admirable cause, but my question is: Where have I been? Are teachers and school administrators really still allowed to paddle kids in our nation’s school systems? According to Ecko’s Unlimited Justice campaign, the practice of hitting students is still permissible as a form of discipline in 20 states. The latest report by the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights showed that more than 200,000 students received some sort of physical punishment in 2006 (the last year data was available). Ecko’s site also details alarming correlations between corporal punishment and dropout rates and school performance statistics as well as the fact that nearly 10 percent of those students punished had to seek medical attention. He makes a good point: in all 50 states, it’s illegal to hit a prisoner or an animal, but in 20 states, it’s allowable to deny kids due process before they go over a teacher’s knee.

I’m not even going to fob off my ignorance of this on the fact that I’ve been out of the public school system for 20 years, or that I’ve been living in states where the practice isn’t legal. I did have an AP Economics teacher in high school for whom some kid made a club in his woodshop class as a joke, which Mr. Jensen wielded to powerful effect (but never actually used on a child; a misbehaving desk, however, didn’t escape the club’s wrath).

Back to Ecko: According to a Mashable story, his Unlimited Justice campaign (which uses a gaming platform to gain traction, more on that below) is an intriguing example of how the Internet is changing modern activism. Calling online activism both the “whipping boy and unexpected hero of social good,” the story points to social media’s success in amassing people during the recent revolutions in the Middle East, but it also is careful to note social media users’ perceived laziness (i.e. being aghast at injustice just doesn’t have the same sting when all it entails is signing an online poll, for instance).

Here’s how the gaming platform works: On the UJ platform, users gain points through five steps – learning the facts, signing a pledge to join the movement, recruiting friends to participate through social sites, petitioning government officials and creating a video. Each step earns the users points, which are shown on a leader board.

Separately, in the UJ Foursquare campaign, users checking in to a school can be notified if that school has a record of corporal punishment. You can see the reports here, which include this from South Grand Prairie High School in Texas: “In 2006, 589 students, 63% of the student body, received a total of 1,000 swats.”

The Foursquare app debuted at this year’s South by Southwest Interactive Festival (SXSW). As Ecko says in his promotional video for the game (which you can watch on the Fast Company website), “Think of Unlimited Justice as a game, where you're the hero. But, instead of saving some far away, imaginary land, you're doing good, right here, in America.” So far, Unlimited Justice has already claimed to having influenced New Mexico into banning corporal punishment while making in-roads into stopping it in Texas.

What do you think of spankings in school? And can online gaming get them to stop?