In 1890, the Idaho Statesman editorialized on the subject, saying “…we are prepared now and always shall be to oppose corporal punishment in the public schools. Boys’ bodies were not fashioned in their God-like form to be whipped. There are other ways to reach the hearts and minds of American boys to compel obedience.”
A stacked headline in the same paper six years later read:
Professor Wood Has Trouble
With High School Boys
SCENE OF GREAT EXCITEMENT
The Pedagogue Downs Rus Bryon and
Precipitates a Riot—Girls
Meanwhile, fellow students surrounded the teacher and encouraged him to cease manhandling Bryon. At that he released the boy.
The kerfuffle resulted in several upset girls leaving school early that day.
Trustees investigated the incident. They found Bryon insubordinate, but also judged the professor’s “method of disciplining unruly scholars was harsh, undignified and unnecessary.” They passed a resolution prohibiting such punishment.
One objection to paddling was that its severity was dependent on the strength of the paddler and, perhaps, their anger. In 1899, there was news of an invention that would solve those problems, though it was probably meant for lawbreakers, not students. One Newton Harrison had created a mechanical appliance that could administer corporal punishment at the touch of a button. His “electric whipping post” was presented as a vast improvement. You be the judge from the description of the device.
“The victim is first lashed securely to the post with his arms above his head. The whipper is a large wheel which turns freely on an upright. The whip or thong is attached to the rim of the wheel and as the wheel revolves it is swung violently around. The wheel is lowered or raised to bring it on a level with the victim’s back. The wheel is revolved by a small motor at the base of the upright, connected with the axle by a rear wheel.”
Bonus: The administrator of punishment need not even be in the same room as the person being punished. He could press a button somewhere out of sight and sound while he administered “mathematically correct justice.” That the person receiving the punishment was referred to even in the glowing article as “the victim” seems telling.
By 1900, Dr. Black, president of the Albion State Normal School, where many of the Idaho’s teachers learned their profession, was speaking out against corporal punishment in schools as a crime.
Over the next several decades debate about the subject of corporal punishment in public schools flared up from time-to-time in Idaho and the United States. In 1977, the matter came before the U.S. Supreme Court in Ingraham v. Wright. The argument against the practice was that it was against the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause of the Eighth Amendment.
The Supreme Court ruled that corporal punishment is constitutional, leaving it to states to decide whether to allow it. Idaho is one of 19 states that still allows corporal punishment. Four of those states (not Idaho) ban it for students with disabilities.