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'Beat them in a circle': Robinson touts corporal punishment but won't say if it belongs in schools

NC Lt. Governor and Gubernatorial candidate Mark Robinson speaks to the crowd at a Get Out the Vote rally for former President Donald Trump in Greensboro, NC on March 2, 2024.
Matt Ramey
NC Lt. Governor and Gubernatorial candidate Mark Robinson speaks to the crowd at a Get Out the Vote rally for former President Donald Trump in Greensboro, NC on March 2, 2024.

Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson has said a loving approach to discipline misbehaving children is to “beat them in a circle,” but his campaign won’t say if he thinks schools should bring back corporal punishment.

In several speeches at churches last year, Robinson made the comment while discussing the concept of love.

“We have perverted the word love,” Robinson told an audience at Trinity Baptist Church in Mooresville in March 2023. “We don't understand the word love. We don't understand what love really is. We think love is sunshine and rainbows, and put your arms around somebody saying ‘I love you, brother’ — certainly that's a form of love.

“But how many of y'all know when you hold your young’un by one arm and beat them in a circle, because they were bad — how many of you know that's love too?” Robinson mimed a spanking motion as he made the comment, video of the speech shows.

He made similar comments at Berean Baptist Church in Winston-Salem last fall, saying that “love is taking that young’un that got out of line, and holding them by the arm and beating them in a circle. So a lot of people in our society right now, they never had their arm held and been beat in a circle, and it shows.”

Robinson frequently calls for increased discipline in schools, so the comments raise questions about whether he’d support the use of corporal punishment to address the problem.

Asked repeatedly about the Republican nominee for governor’s stance on corporal punishment in schools, Robinson campaign spokesman Mike Lonergan did not address the topic directly. Instead, he pointed to another comment Robinson made during the Trinity Baptist speech.

“That man or women that goes down to the school board and declares ‘you will not abuse my children,’ in front of God and everybody else, that is love,” Robinson said at the time.

The “beat them in a circle” remark, Lonergan said in an email, is “just another thirty-second clip from a Democrat tracker twisted completely out of context. He was speaking at a church talking about themes like love and sacrifice — even condemning abuse in the same speech.”

A video of the full speech is posted online here (the remarks on love and discipline begin around an hour into the video).

Robinson's Democratic opponent, Attorney General Josh Stein, said he's opposed to corporal punishment in schools.

“Corporal punishment in our public schools is not the answer to behavioral issues," he said in an emailed statement when asked about the topic. "Every classroom should have a good teacher and every school a strong principal. And they need the support of more school counselors, social workers and nurses to help address student challenges."

North Carolina law still allows for corporal punishment in schools, but no public school districts have used the practice for the past five years, according to a report from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.

Robeson County was one of the last school districts to end the practice; its school board voting to stop paddling misbehaving students in 2018.

Last year, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement reiterating its previous recommendations that families and schools cease using corporal punishment.

“There are many alternatives to corporal punishment at our disposal that are effective and nonviolent,” Dr. Mandy Allison said in a news release from the organization. “While a child or teen might become fearful and obedient in the short term after being struck, we know that over the long term, corporal punishment does not improve behavior and in fact leads to a number of negative effects.”

Those effects include “a higher incidence of behavior and mental health problems, impaired cognitive development, poor educational outcomes, impaired social emotional development, an increased aggression and perpetration of violence,” according to the organization.

Robinson, who in his current role as lieutenant governor serves on the State Board of Education, has repeatedly stressed the need for better discipline in schools.

In a radio interview last month, he said that his preferred version of DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) would have the acronym stand for “discipline, excellence and intelligence.”

In 2022, he told a legislative committee reviewing school discipline issues that “bad actors should be removed from the classroom and given to the proper authorities whoever that authority might be, whether that be a law enforcement official or a social worker.”

Colin Campbell covers politics for WUNC as the station's capitol bureau chief.
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