Sunday, December 19, 2010

Corporal Punishment In South Korea

It's customary in Korea for teachers to brandish a stick -- the leg of a stool, a reed of bamboo, some solid piece of wood. Students say teachers sometimes use them to hit the palms of their hands or their hips or shoulders.  Stress positions, such as push ups or kneeling in the corner, are also common punishments.

Holding your hands in the air is another stress position that's
used as a punishment and now banned in Seoul.
Seongju High School in Gumi.
But students started capturing videos of harsher abuse on their cell phones and posting them on-line, gathering fresh attention around the long-debated question of whether corporal punishment's time had come.  As of November, the liberal superintendent of Seoul schools banned it completely.

The decision has been extremely controversial, with many opposing it, including the superintendent of Busan, Korea's second largest city, who said that a ban would strip teachers of an important tool to control unruly children.  "I think we still need 'love of the rod' in the classroom," she told the Korea Times.

Interestingly, many of the people I have talked to about this, including students, don't like it.  Most teachers say the new punishment regulations, which involve issuing warnings, calling parents, and sending students to an "introspection room," are confusing and don't really work.

Mr. Chang, an English teacher at Posung High School in Seoul, said "Thirty years ago, I had over 60 students in my class. In those days, I was allowed to use the stick, but I didn't because students were quieter and easier to work with.  Now classes are much smaller but harder to work with," he said.

I asked some students from Younggang Middle School in the Ichon neighborhood of northern Seoul what they thought. "I think we need punishment. Some students ignore the teachers," said Yu-Na Kim, 15, adding that she didn't think it was a good idea to kick students out of class, even for misbehaving. "Without punishment students are too out of control," said her friend Youtak Kim, 15.

Last week, a student posted a clip on-line showing a student verbally harassing a female teacher, asking a series of personal, sexual questions. The clip unleashed a flurry of complaints that the disrespect is a side effect of the corporal punishment ban.

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