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To spank or not? Let the town vote.

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It happened years ago, but Deborah Lindeman recounts the moment as if it happened yesterday. Her mother, chastising her, hit her so hard that she left a hand print on her 11-year-old's thigh. Stunned, they both cried for 25 minutes.

"We review our lives as parents with some pain, I know we all do," says Ms. Lindeman's mother, Susan Goldstein, who also has a clear memory of when her own father hit her with a belt after she had crossed a street without looking both ways. "I don't like power as a way of solving problems.... We just took it for granted."

Corporal punishment as a means of discipline has been entrenched in US culture since Colonial times. Attitudes have evolved over the years, but Thursday night the town of Brookline, a suburb of Boston, faced possibly the most radical public shift in approach to the divisive issue. Its citizens were scheduled to vote on a controversial resolution that encourages parents and caregivers to refrain from corporal punishment of children. If passed, Brookline would be the first US town with such a resolution, says Jordan Riak, founder of Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education in Alamo, Calif.

"These kind of things tend to start at the local level and rise to a more global level, and I suspect that they're reaching for legislation that would make [spanking] illegal," says Julaine Appling, acting director of the Family Research Institute of Wisconsin, who supports judicious spanking and worries about infringement on parental rights. "It sounds very precedent-setting to me."

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