J. Pharoah Doss: There are no solutions; only tradeoffs

by J. Pharoah Doss, For New Pittsburgh Courier

Economists always say: There are no solutions, only tradeoffs. What does that mean? Problem A has temporary fix B or C, but B creates new problem Y and C creates long-term effect Z.

In the long run, the choice between B or C ends up a tradeoff between problem A and new problem Y or long-term effect Z.

When decision makers are too busy debating the merits of B over C, and the tradeoffs aren’t factored into the equation, the merits of B or C are mistakenly referred to as solutions.

In 1977 the Supreme Court decided corporal punishment was constitutional but left its application or abolishment up to the states, and the states left the matter up to each school district.

At the turn of the century, the United Nations began an in-depth international study on violence against children, and an organization called “Global Initiative To End All Corporal Punishment Of Children” was formed to end the practice world-wide. There were 19 states in America that allowed corporal punishment, and these states followed the global trend and studied whether the practice should be abolished. Their studies concluded paddling was a “swift punishment”, but it didn’t get to the root of the problem. Plus, the threat of lawsuits made school administrators seek alternative measures.

Cassville School District in Missouri decided to ban corporal punishment in 2001. Let’s examine that decision through tradeoffs.

Problem A: The fear of lawsuits. Choice B: Eliminate the threat by banning corporal punishment. This created new problem Y: Working parents did not want their children suspended because they didn’t want to leave a suspended child unsupervised at home. Apparently, the absence of the school district’s “swift punishment” led to long-term effect Z: The gradual increase in behavioral problems throughout the school district.

In the long run, Cassville School District traded off their fear of lawsuits for more disciplinary problems.

Last year an anonymous survey revealed that parents, students, and school staff were concerned about the breakdown in school discipline and Cassville School District reinstated corporal punishment after a two-decade ban.

The new policy states that corporal punishment will be used as a last resort when other forms of discipline have failed, and it can only be administered with the superintendent’s permission.

This time, problem A: Is that detention and suspension have failed to achieve the desired results and behavior problems in the school district have increased. Choice B: Reinstate corporal punishment.

What about the fear of lawsuits?

The new policy will let parents opt their child in or out of corporal punishment, i.e., the school district has parental permission to strike certain children.

One mother was on the fence after the reinstatement of corporal punishment. The mother said paddling worked for her when she was a “troublemaker” during her school years. Also, she said, “There are all different types of kids. Some need a good butt-whipping. I was one of them.” However, she did not opt-in her 6-year-old boy because he is autistic. The mother claimed her son would strike back if spanked.

Notice, the mother supports corporal punishment but not for her own child. Which raises the question: How many parents supported the reinstatement of corporal punishment for the “bad children” but knew all along they were going to opt their child out?

One grandmother didn’t hesitate to op-in her 8-year-old granddaughter for corporal punishment. The grandmother explained the threat of being spanked was a deterrent for her granddaughter, who has attention/hyperactivity disorder.

But the threat of spanking will not deter behavior caused by a disorder. If the school is aware of the disorder, that’s more of a reason for corporal punishment not to be used on that child.

Here’s a disturbing fact, the latest statistics compiled by Missouri’s ACLU indicated that students with disabilities received corporal punishment at higher rates than children without disabilities.

This time new problem Y: Is parental permission for corporal punishment to be administered on children who should automatically be excluded from it due to disabilities. Besides, spanking can increase the risk of long-term effect Z: Aggression, hostility, and anti-social behavior, which can lead to depression and self-esteem problems.

Cassville School District is willing to barter the long-term effect on disabled student’s self-esteem in order to gain back control of their classrooms.

Making the economist’s point that there are no solutions; only tradeoffs.

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