Open Letter to Governors of States

Open Letter to Governors of States
November 2000

Dear Sir,

I take the honor of addressing You to ask you to issue an appeal to the parents and educators of your country to make them aware of the dangers incurred by the practice of corporal punishment towards children, both at home and at school.

As a researcher into childhood, I have for several years been examining the influence of the violence, suffered in early childhood, on the violence later inflicted by adolescents and adults. It is difficult for me to summarize the results of my researches and the content of so many of my books on the subject without the risk of oversimplifying, but I take this risk in the hope that if this letter reaches you, it will find an understanding and the determination to act.

For thousands of years, the conviction has prevailed that a child is born with evil instincts, and that these must be eradicated by repeated corporal punishments so that the child can grow into a well-balanced adult. This dangerous opinion stands in contradiction to the latest psychological and neurological researches. They have recently shown that man is not born with a fully developed brain, and that his brain structuring depends on the experiences of his first three years. The child nurtured with respect and love will develop a capacity for empathy towards others. In contrast, the beaten child will learn to glorify violence unless, in his infancy, he meets a person who, through the respect he gives him, imparts to him the notion of love.

The most murderous tyrants, like Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Ceaucescu, who were all pitilessly beaten children, and whose childhood I have investigated, did not benefit from the presence of a supportive witness. They only learned to deny their suffering, to ignore the cruelty they endured, and subsequently they inflicted both, on whole peoples. They avenged themselves symbolically for the humiliations of the early years, without having the least awareness of this fact. Terrorists, fundamentalists and neo-nazis are none the wiser when they claim to act for political goals. We, and society as a whole, bear the responsibility to open our eyes and recognize the obvious connections.

It is therefore necessary to bring the urgent information to the knowledge of all as fast as possible, to protect new generations from the tragic consequences of a very serious misunderstanding. Our parents administered corporal punishment because at the time, everyone believed to it was harmless? Yet parents today can and must know that by inflicting violence, they teach their children violence (against others and against themselves) and they plant in their souls the false conviction that violence against a defenseless person can serve a noble cause. In fact, corporal punishment teaches the child hatred; it is humiliating, immoral and dangerous.

Unfortunately, false information is not easily expelled from the minds of the beaten children who make up the vast majority of mankind, convinced that the humiliations they suffered were useful and harmless, and who therefore remain insensitive to the pain of children. Since this information is rooted in us very early, in the very first years of life, and since most people have been taught that the blows received were salutary, they strongly resist the arguments of reason and of the heart of an adult.

Your authority can, I hope, cross the barriers in the minds of your citizens, barriers rooted for millennia. Also, the principle of education without violence is accessible to all: to treat our children, as we would like them to treat us themselves. The future of our planet will be in the hands of today’s children.

Faithfully yours,
Alice Miller