Christian lawmaker cites Bible to defend hitting special needs students
State Rep. Jim Olsen helped defeat a bill that would've banned the use of corporal punishment against students with special needs
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Republicans in Oklahoma had the chance to ban corporal punishment against students with disabilities… but failed to pass the bill today, in part because one legislator said beating kids with special needs was biblical.
Oklahoma currently permits corporal punishment in public schools. That’s a problem in and of itself, but the law at least has a carve-out exempting students with “the most significant cognitive disabilities.” Teachers can theoretically spank kids but a handful of students are off-limits.
House Bill 1028, sponsored by Republican State Rep. John Talley, was designed to broaden that exemption so that it applied to all students with disabilities. GOP State Rep. Anthony Moore signed on as a co-sponsor of the bill specifically because he thought this would be an easy vote. “There's going to be nobody who's for corporal punishment on students with disabilities,” he said.
He must have forgotten that he’s surrounded by other Republicans from Oklahoma.
They will always find a way to defend abuse in the name of Jesus.
State Rep. Jim Olsen argued earlier today that the Bible permits hitting a child as a form of discipline—therefore that option must be available to teachers.
You know, several scriptures could be read here. Let me just read just one: Proverbs 29: “The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself bringest his mother to shame.”
So that would seem to endorse the use of corporal punishment.
So how would you reconcile this bill with scriptures…?
Who cares. It’s the Bible and he’s a legislator. We don’t need to run policy ideas through his favorite book.
Olsen later cited Proverbs 13:24, the infamous verse that gave us, “Spare the rod, spoil the child.” Kudos to the Tulsa World for including this line in its article:
Olsen did not turn to Deuteronomy 21:18-21, which is usually translated as God ordering that "stubborn and rebellious" sons be stoned to death.
And what about the American Academy of Pediatrics, which supports banning any form of physical discipline against children because there’s plenty of evidence showing the harm it causes in the long term?
Olsen didn’t care.
"God's counsel is higher than the American Academy of Pediatrics," said Olsen. "God's word is higher than all the so-called experts."
To paraphrase a famous line, Olsen acts like he placed his hand on the Constitution and swore to uphold the Bible. It’s supposed to be the other way around.
But the Bible wasn’t the only way a Republican defended hitting kids with disabilities. Another one said teachers needed the threat of discipline in order to coerce kids to do their bidding.
Rep. Randy Randleman, R-Eufaula, made a different argument from Olsen's against HB 1028. A child psychologist who often infuses religion into his medical opinions on the House floor, Randleman this time said spanking is almost always inappropriate but is sometimes called for. And he said teachers need the threat of corporal punishment to maintain classroom order.
"'You can't touch me.' I hear that over and over. I don't want to hear that in school," said Randleman.
If your classroom is so chaotic that physical discipline is your only solution, you shouldn’t be a teacher. And if you’re someone who thinks threatening children—special needs children!—with abuse is the only way to maintain order, you shouldn’t be anywhere in a position of power. Yet here we are.
Today’s vote in the House was 45-43 in favor of exempting kids with disabilities from physical punishment in schools. That sounds like good news… but because there are 101 members of the State House, 51 votes are needed for a bill to pass. That’s why the bill was technically defeated. More than a dozen legislators were absent for the vote.
Because neither side had the majority, the bill may come up for a vote later in the legislative session. 10 Republicans have yet to cast a vote on this matter. At least a few of them would have to do the right thing for the bill to pass.
Democratic State Rep. Forrest Bennett put today’s vote bluntly:
“It’s 1880 in here” should really be Oklahoma’s State Motto.
Incidentally, hitting kids has long been a core belief among fundamentalist Christians. Years ago, Michael and Debi Pearl wrote an infamous guide to faith-based abuse called To Train Up a Child. It’s a book that tells adults how to properly hit their kids, and it’s as awful as it sounds, recommending that Christian parents physically discipline kids as young as six months with “the same principles the Amish use to train their stubborn mules.”
In Oklahoma, this isn’t just theoretical. Corporal punishment is legal in the state and school officials take advantage of that:
Oklahoma educators reported using physical discipline 3,968 times during the 2017-18 school year, according to the most recent federal data available from the Office of Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education. The federal government reported that corporal punishment was administered at more than 1,800 Oklahoma schools.
Ultimately, the Sunday School teacher who routinely cites the Bible to defend horrible policies used his power to defeat a bill so that more vulnerable students could be hurt just a little more. He’s the sort of guy who wants to protect kids from learning about systemic racism while making sure teachers have the option to beat students with disabilities.
All because his Christian faith taught him that abuse is more important than compassion.
What the actual f$@k?
I was once – for various reasons – attached to a unit that taught kids with disabilities. Mostly Downs syndrome, but some others, one of which was not only pretty much incapable of speech – maybe even thought – but was also blind pretty much. I asked the person in charge what we were doing for this guy, and they said giving him stimulus to help him achieve his potential. Which was fair enough except of course the potential was very, very limited. So we gave him different things to touch and to listen to – occasionally brought a smile to his face. But that's what we did along with giving the parents a bit of a rest.
And I never saw anyone hit one of the kids at all. Sometimes you had to restrain them when they lost their temper, and they were often really strong. But I was there for whole year and not one of them was ever hit. Some of them I would maintain would be incapable of connecting the hit to the behaviour. Not many but some. It's the crudest form of behaviour modification I can think of.
I was hit when I was a kid, (it was the 50s after all) although my dad was pretty much sparing of the rod. I was – two or three times a year perhaps – caned at school. And contrary to people who say "it never did me any harm", it never did me any damn good. Except to learn how to avoid it and that wasn't necessarily by being good.