South Korea: Halting Corporal Punishment In Schools Met With Opposition

South Korean society is buzzing with the old issue of corporal punishment on student, as an elementary teacher smacking, beating and kicking his students got leaked into public. The corporal punishment, a widely discussed but practically ignored issue for decades in Korea, became the center of a controversy as the Seoul Education Office dismissed the teacher immediately and ordered a halt on physical punishment in every school.

This is a video of Mr. Oh, an elementary school teacher in Seoul beating his students. The video was recorded by one of the students and later released to public by the parent’s association. One of the students punished on that same day was taken was found out to be suffering from leukemia. Oh was quite infamous in his school, even to the point students gave him a fearful nickname of Oh Jang-pong (掌風: Palm Blast) as Oh often smacked students by his palm, making them fell down to the ground.

The Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education took a swift and unprecedentedly strong action. It declared a full-out abolition of corporal punishment in every school starting from this coming fall semester and is considering enacting a ‘Student’s Human Rights Regulation’ to protect student's basic rights which customarily ignored. Most Korean bloggers have greeted the news with enthusiasm, strongly supporting it as a long overdue measure. The middle-aged conservative people, who themselves were the victims of corporal punishment in schools, however, are giving a suspicious look on the effectiveness of the new moves. The Korean Federation of Teacher's Associations are expressing downright opposition to the news, worrying the abolition of corporal punishment may deteriorate the already undermined teacher’s authority.

The corporal punishment is not a legit way of teaching as defined by Korean education law which states teachers should ‘teach students with disciplines without inflicting physical pains with exception of inevitable cases’. The loophole created by the vagueness of the ‘inevitable cases’ has caused confusion and misinterpretation.

Majority of bloggers are showing their absolute approvals to the Seoul Education Office’s decision. The blogger OmegaPassion commented that it is time to redefine the word ‘Gyo-Pyeon’, a commonly used term in Korea referring the teacher’s post but which literally means a teacher’s rod or a teacher’s whip, interpreting the violent practice as the crisis of the democracy.

교편 敎鞭. 채찍을 든다는 말 자체도 이제는 고칠 필요가 있습니다. 체벌을 가하지 않으면 교단을 이끌어갈 수 없다면 그야말로 교육의 위기입니다. 학교가 매로 질서유지 된다. 나라는 무서운 공권력에 질서가 유지되고. 이는 민주주의 국가가 지향할 방향이 아닙니다.

The word ‘Gyo-Pyeon’ itself should be changed. If teachers cannot teach their class without using corporal punishment, it is clearly a crisis of education. The situation where the school’s order is maintained by the physical punishment and the nation’s system stands by the fearful government power; this is not the way a democratic nation should operate.

The corporal punishment has a long history in Korea. From Korea’s treasured painter Kim Hong-do’s “Seodang”(書堂: a private elementary school in town) from the 18th century, outsiders can take a glimpse of the strict education tradition in Korea. The picture depicts a student after being whipped by a cane crying in front of the class, while the teacher gives him a sorryful look while other students in the room hold back their laughter, some smirking outright. It shows a stern love which some Koreans feel nostalgia for.

A netizen ID Gubook 123 in a Ruliweb page recalled his memory on a strict but caring teacher.

대딩(대학생) 때 가장 어색했던 것 하나…아무도 매를 들지 않는다는 것…술을 퍼먹든. 당구장에서 세월을 보내든. 수업시간에 잠을 자든. 과제를 빵꾸(를) 내든… 아무도 뭐라 하지 않더라… 갑자기 주어진 자유 그게 너무도 어색했지. 그리고 진심.. 열성적으로 학생을 독려하던 선생님들이 너무도 그리웠음.

One thing that felt most awkward when I was in a college was the fact that nobody was punishing me… No matter how much I went wasted, whether I kill my time in a billiard, by sleeping during the class and whether I fail to do my assignments or not… No one said anything to me… That sudden taste of freedom was so awkward. And I came to miss my teacher who sincerely encouraged students (to study).

One recent parody of the picture, a student giving his teacher a finger, shows a different landscape in Korean education. This is how some teachers and worrying parents feel.

A blogger August 8027 who is a parent of a student commented that certain level of physical punishment is needed for the extremely spoiled and dangerous kids.

체벌을 받고 자란 세대의 학부모로서 지나친 체벌은 반대하지만, 학생의 잘못에 대한 적정한 체벌은 교육상으로도 있어야 한다고 본다…요즘 아이들 초등학교짜리도 얼마나 맹랑한지 모른다. 선생님을 무시하거나, 대드는 아이, 심지어 입에 담지 못할 욕을 하고 도벽에 폭력까지 제멋대로 행동하는 아이들도 적지 않다고 한다. 집집마다 아이가 하나, 둘인 지라 곱게 자란 탓도 있겠으나 tv 와 인터넷 등, 아이들이 접촉하는 매체가 빠르게 발전하는 까닭에 그 영향을 제일 받는 세대라 하겠다.

As a parent of a student and whom grew up receiving corporal punishment, I believe moderate punishments on student’s misbehaviors are necessary for educational purposes…Kids nowadays are so impertinent. There are kids with no respects for teachers, kids who are defiant and often throw unspeakable curses and students with stealing and violence issues and who act with no care in the world whatsoever. It may be due to the scarcity of kids in the house since a family has only one or two kids nowadays, but it is mostly because they are the generation most exposed to and influenced by media like TV and internet.

Those who once were on the receiving end of the physical punishment are saying it is a necessary evil. A blogger Keyhold who recalls himself often beaten by teachers asserts sometimes the corporal punishment is the only option left to the teachers.

전 90년대에 고등학교를 졸업했는데요. 학교 다니면서 많이 맞았습니다. 하지만 단 한번도 맞으면서 인권을 침해 받는 다는 생각은 안 해봤습니다…제가 학창시절에 선생님들에게 맞을 때에는 제가 잘못을 했을 때였으니까요…모든 아이들이 맞아야 말을 듣는 다고 생각하지는 않습니다. 하지만 말로는 도저히 해결이 안 되는 일부 아이들이 있습니다. 그렇다고 해서 이 아이들에게 무조건 체벌을 해야 한다는 이야기는 아니지만 현실적으로 체벌 이외에 대안이 없다는 것입니다…물론 지속적인 관심과 사랑으로 아이들을 바른길로 이끌 수도 있습니다만….대화자체를 거부하는 아이들에 대해서는 어떻게 하실지 그게 걱정이네요.. 시교육청에서 체벌을 전면 금지 시키며 그 대안은 준비해 두었는지 모르겠습니다.

It was back in 1990s when I went to high school. I was quite often beaten. But not once it occurred to me that my human rights are being violated (by the punishment). I got beaten by the teachers only because I must have done something wrong…I don’t think that every kids will listen to teachers only when they are beaten. But there are special groups of kids the talking wont work on. I don’t mean that we have to physically punish them. I am saying that there is no alternative way other than the corporal punishment…Of course we can lead them to righteous path with constant care and love… But I am not sure what we can do with the kids who refuse to have conversations..I am doubtful that the Seoul City Education Office came up with alternative ways when they suspended the corporal punishment.

While some conservative population is lenient to the physical punishment, the mainstream bloggers stress that taking the punishment granted is the first wrong step that dragged our society into the rampant, daily violence. A blogger SikSik 69 commented that the vicious cycle of violence learnt and trained from the school came to permeate the Korean society and make the domestic violence justifiable.

선생이 때리면 맞는 것을 당연하게 생각하는 아이들이 사회에서도 폭력을 정당한 수단으로 사용하게 된다. 학교 폭력도 실상은 선생으로부터 배운 당연한 결과물이다.그러니 선배가 후배에게 폭력을 가해도 저항 조차 못하지 않는가? 장차 사회에서도 폭력은 무감각, 폭력으로 해결하려는 풍조(가) 만연(하게 된다)

The kids who got used to the teacher’s beating will be using violence out in the society as a proper method (when solving problems). The bullying between students is the obvious harvest of the teachers’ violence. That is why when the senior kids beat junior kids and the juniors never even dare to resist. People will grow out to be immune to the use of violence. And the tendency to the violence will prevail in our society.

As some have pointed out, when the leash is broken, certain setbacks can be displayed. But it is not only the content of the education, but also the process of the education that needs to be democratic.


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