Corporal punishment in Catholic schools

An interesting debate is unfolding around a Catholic school in New Orleans: St. Augustine’s, a historically African-American boys’ prep school, is apparently the last Catholic school in the country to use corporal punishment on students. In February, Archbishop Gregory Aymond called for an end to the practice, which he said “institutionalizes violence, runs counter to Catholic teaching and good educational practice, and violates local archdiocesan school policy.”

But parents, alumni, and even students of St. Augustine’s disagree, marching in protest of the archbishop’s decision:

The archbishop “is trying to fix something that’s not broken, and he’s going about it in the wrong way,” said Jacob Washington, the student body president at the 7th Ward institution. …

The Rev. John Raphael, the president of St. Augustine, has said the issue is not as much about the wooden paddle as the rights of African-American parents to educate and discipline their children in their own traditions.

 

“It’s about the right to self-govern,” said Warren Johnson, a 1981 St. Aug alumnus. …

Hunter, a 1974 alumnus, said he was raised by a single mother who knew that sending him to St. Augustine would “set me straight.” The school is renowned for producing graduates who have gone on to become civic and professional leaders.

“Young black men are dying in the streets, and we are trying to break that cycle of violence by teaching morals, values and excellence,” said Dwight McKenna, a physician and a 1958 alumnus. “Without St. Aug I don’t know what would have happened to me. St. Aug taught me to be a man.”

There are a number of different issues here, and any one of them is potentially incendiary: Is there room for corporal punishment in “Catholic educational practice”? We’ve all heard the stories of abusive nuns in the pre-Vatican II classroom, of course, but is paddling (the punishment in question at St. Aug’s) always and everywhere wrong? What about at home? And should the St. Aug community have the right to make this decision for themselves?

The alumni above mentioned coming from a poor background where the strict discipline helped set them on the right path; the school has also noticed an uptick in behavioral problems since the policy was suspended. Should these results have any bearing on whether paddling is allowed?

Lots to consider here; leave your thoughts in the comments. (And please be respectful. Violators will be paddled.)

Margaret Cabaniss

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Margaret Cabaniss is the former managing editor of Crisis Magazine. She joined Crisis in 2002 after graduating from the University of the South with a degree in English Literature and currently lives in Baltimore, Maryland. She now blogs at SlowMama.com.

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