Stranahan: Dominion comes in many forms | AspenTimes.com

Stranahan: Dominion comes in many forms

George Stranahan
Guest Commentary

As an amateur sociologist, I was pondering on our human propensity to exert dominion over other living things simply because it is possible to do so. If we have the power to dominate, we tend to use it whether or not it is a “good” thing to do.

Our evolutionary success depends on us, each of us, being survivors; i.e. avoiding mortal dangers of all kinds. That’s a big job, for mortal dangers are both common and come in a huge number of varieties. Better safe than sorry.

So why do we dominate simply because we can? It’s a matter of efficiency — control all potential mortal dangers before they have a chance to arise. Dominate immediately and then those living things will no longer be part of our whack-a-mole world of survival.

Is there a practical example of this sociological theory? Let’s look at childhood, and particularly the schools we designed to deal with these living things. They don’t have the right of assembly; they assemble only when they go to a scheduled assembly. They don’t have the right of free speech; the school paper is censored. Fourth Amendment, probable cause and warrants for searches? Lockers and backpacks are opened with mere suspicion.

I was aware that corporal punishment, historically and descriptively called caning, used to be pretty commonly practiced in schools. Friends who had gone to church schools talked of knuckles rapped by rulers and ears twisted. I did a little bit of research — thank you Google and Wikipedia. Corporal punishment in schools is still allowed in 20 states, including Colorado. In a 2008 reporting, the following states hit more than 1 percent of their students: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi (the winner with 7.5 percent), Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas. Seems like a pattern here.

The Eighth Amendment banning “cruel and unusual punishment” is much in the news with this death penalty by botched lethal injection stuff. I decided to check on whether the Eighth Amendment would apply to corporal punishment in schools, and I got this surprising true story.

In Florida, in 1970, an eighth-grade student, last name Ingraham, refused to leave the stage of the school when asked to do so by a teacher. Taken to the principal’s office, he stated that he was not guilty of the accusation. The principal ordered Ingraham to bend over so that he could spank him with a spanking paddle. When Ingraham declined to bend over, he was forcibly placed face-down on the top of a table. The assistant principal held Ingraham’s arms and another assistant held his legs. While restrained, Ingraham was hit more than 20 times with the paddle. He suffered a hematoma requiring medical attention and the attending physician instructed Ingraham to rest at home for a total of 11 days.

Ingraham and his parents sued the school, calling it “cruel and unusual punishment.” In 1977 the Supreme Court ruled 5-4, in Ingraham v. Wright, that the Eighth Amendment did not apply to corporal punishment in schools nor does the 14th Amendment for due process apply. The winning argument was that the Eighth Amendment obviously was written for convicted criminals only, and hence did not apply to schoolchildren.

Dominion is more than just compulsory attendance and standardized tests.

George Stranahan remembers his own schooling, his own children’s experiences in school and he tried to make it better with the two community schools in the Roaring Fork Valley.


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