Steve Schertzer

Caring or kinky?

Corporal punishment in public schools


Caring Teachers or Kinky Teachers? Corporal Punishment in Public Schools.
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"Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shall beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell."

---- King Solomon, Proverbs 23:13--14.

"Corporal punishment is as humiliating for him who gives it as for him who receives it; it is ineffective besides. Neither shame nor physical pain have any other effect than a hardening one."

---- Ellen Key, Swedish writer, 1849--1926.

I was sitting in the teacher's room when I heard it. It was an unmistakable sound. At first I didn't believe it. Or I didn't want to believe it. Then I heard it again, and this time, there was an angry teacher yelling something in Korean prior to this unmistakable sound and a muffled cry immediately following it. The sound, first like a whistle, fast and furious, then the "thwack!" as wooden paddle met butt cheeks.

I got up off my chair and tentatively stepped out of the teacher's room. My head turned slowly toward the left and down at the floor. I saw two girls, perhaps 14, down on all fours, and a male Korean teacher standing directly behind them with a wooden paddle. Again he yelled something in his native tongue, then, "Thwack!", his wooden paddle met the girl's buttocks. The sound reverberated all the way down the hall. I winced, but not as much as the girls I'm sure. One girl took off her glasses to wipe her tear streaked face, only to be yelled at once more. I turned around and went back into the teacher's room not knowing what to do or think. This spectacle went on for another minute or two, then stopped as suddenly as it had begun.

A week before, I saw something similar in the teacher's room. Two young teenage boys were on their knees in front of another male teacher who chastised them openly before boinking one of them pretty hard with his wooden stick, this time, on the boy's head! That "boink" sound as wood met skull made the boy cry, but in neither case did any of the other teachers come to the student's rescue. I have no idea what any of these students were being punished for--- perhaps not getting a good grade on a test, but I began to ask myself if corporal punishment is really the answer to the question of how to best deal with these students.

Corporal punishment in public schools has a long and very dark history that continues to this day. It is not necessarily an Asian phenomenon, nor is it particular to any one country. In fact, we in the so called "progressive" and "enlightened" West are still struggling with it ourselves. As I write, according to the websites www.stophitting.com and www.repeal43.org, corporal punishment in schools is still legal in 21 U.S states as of November 2005, and in certain school districts in three Canadian provinces. Although corporal punishment was officially banned in all British schools in 1998, teachers can still use "reasonable force" in cases where students may cause harm to property and each other. So we in the West have not solved the problem of child truancy either.

But since I'm currently teaching English at a public middle school in South Korea, let's look at the problem here. And it's a pretty big problem. This from the September 14, 2003 issue of the Korea Times, headlined, "7 in 10 Schools Allow Corporal Punishment."

"According to the Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development yesterday, 7,536 out of 10,381 schools across the country maintain an internal regulation that empowers teachers to dispense corporal punishment."

In June of 2002, the Korean Ministry of Education did come up with "a specific set of procedures" and guidelines for teachers in dealing with unruly students. This from the June 28, 2002 issue of the Korea Herald, headlined, "New rules on corporal punishment stoke controversy."

"The Education Ministry announced Wednesday revised regulations on corporal punishment, which allows teachers to give high school students up to 10 whacks using wooden sticks with a diameter less 1.5 cm and length less than 60cm. The regulations will take place this fall.

Male students can be hit only on the buttocks and female students only on the thighs, and the punishment cannot be meted out in the presence of other students. Another teacher or school official, such as a vice principal or guidance counselor, has to be present when the student is being punished. Those facing corporal punishment have the right to ask for a different form of discipline.

Elementary and middle school students can be struck with a wooden stick whose diameter and length do not exceed 1 cm and 50 cm respectively. Elementary school students can be hit up to five times, while middle school students up to 10 times."

Needless to say, just about everyone had an opinion on this. And many teachers, students, and parents posted numerous complaints about these new guidelines. A spokesman for the Korean Federation of Teachers Associations (KFTA) called some of the measures "unreasonable and vague." A high school student asked, "Is it possible to report these teachers after we get thumped?" Another teacher called these guidelines, "the most deplorable measure devised by bureaucrats", while another lamented the fact that "the authority of teachers has already diminished" and now teachers "have to measure the length of the rod to punish students." (Yes, I do realize how perverted that sounds.)

When are students beaten? This question was answered by Yoon Ji-hi, a writer for Seoul's Joong Ang Daily on September 26, 2003.

"Students are beaten when they are late for school, fight with friends, run around the playground in slippers, do not eat their school meals, fail to bring the required materials for a class, or when their grades fall. Are all of these really reasons for children to be hit? If so, no one in the world could avoid a beating. Then, why can children be hit? Is beating guaranteed by law?"

What do Korean parents think of their kids being whacked in school? Are they for it? Do they see a problem? Well, in a "national telephone survey of 1,272 people, 91.8% of mothers and 82.9% of fathers approved of corporal punishment of children."

(Kim, Y.J. 1998. "A study of correlations between attitudes about domestic violence and violent behaviors." Korean Family Welfare Studies, vol. 2, pp, 87-114, cited in Doe, S.J., 2000, "Cultural factors in child maltreatment and domestic violence in Korea", Children and Youth Services Review; vol. 22, nos. 3/4, pp. 231-236.)

How about the students themselves? Are they all for being whacked by their teachers? Do they see a problem? "In a nationwide survey of 3,228 students conducted by the Korean Federation of Teachers Association (KFTA) in April 2003, 70% said that corporal punishment given by their teachers was fair, but it should be limited to severe cases of insubordination. Students said teachers should not abuse the right to punish students."

("Students cite slip in respect for teachers", Joong Ang Daily, Seoul, May 14, 2003.)

According to these studies and surveys, neither the majority of teachers, parents, nor students are against corporal punishment in school. In fact, an overwhelming majority are for it and see very little, if anything wrong with it, as long as it is meted out "fairly." Fairly? Who's to say what's fair? Teachers? Students? The government? And what happens when a brave and courageous parent doesn't want their child beaten by a teacher? Does this brave and courageous parent get treated fairly? Not if you're Lim Ke-Sook.

In a story by the Associated Press and printed in the New York Times on February 4, 1999 under the headline, "South Korea Doesn't Spare the Rod", Mrs Lim's 12 year old daughter Hee-Soon "nearly lost the sight in her right eye after a science teacher threw a textbook at her." Mrs. Lim went to the authorities and had the teacher charged with battery. What happened to her and little Hee-Soon as a result of this?

Hee-Soon's classmates threw rocks at her house, as well as "overturned her school locker and refused to play with her. Then hundreds of parents and teachers signed a petition defending the teacher. The teacher did not mean to hurt young Hee-Soon, the petitioners told the prosecutor ---- only to discipline her."

" 'Educational motives' drove him to throw the book at Hee-Soon to stop her from chatting with a classmate while he was handing out homework, the petition said."

Corporal punishment remains prevalent in schools because the support for corporal punishment remains widespread in South Korea. From the same article in the New York Times:

"My teacher always carried a knobby bamboo root," says Lee Ki-myoung, a 33 year old father of two. "Whenever we broke the rules, the stick would come out. It whistled through the air and it stung. He hit you if you were late, if you had a runny nose, if you pushed or shoved in line, if you couldn't add or subtract. Now I know he was right. He was a shepherd guiding 50, 60 wayward kids ALL BY HIMSELF." (Emphasis mine.)

All by himself? Now here's a big part of the problem, especially in South Korea. Parents here send their kids to school not only expecting, but also demanding that teachers raise their children for them. It's not enough that teachers have to teach reading, math, and science. They also have to teach kids how to stand in line; how to wipe their runny nose; what clothes to wear; and the proper way to eat rice and vegetables.

Excuse me, but isn't that the parents job? I can understand a 14 year old who has trouble adding and subtracting. But a 10, 12, or 14 year old who doesn't know how to properly stand in line, or wipe their nose, or eat their vegetables, or even how to flush a toilet? How did that happen?

I've always said that there is no such thing as bad kids, only bad parents. Or bad parenting. Of course that's a slight exaggeration. There is such a thing as bad kids. But let's put the blame exactly where it belongs. Bad kids are a result of bad parenting. Parents who have not taken their responsibility to raise bright, healthy, and well-adjusted children.

For those who believe in the "It takes a village" philosophy, let me suggest that it is this strange and ridiculous concept that has led to the sheer lunacy that we now see in Korean schools and other schools across the globe. Teachers across the world are already overburdened and underpaid for the work that they do. Expecting them to raise other people's children on top of that may be the primary reason why corporal punishment is still as prevalent as it is. It doesn't take a village to raise a child. It takes a family; two loving and dedicated parents who are committed to properly raising the children that they themselves brought into this world.

If a parent came to me as a teacher and said that it's okay to "discipline" their child, I would have a few choice words for that parent. "Listen," I'd begin. "Need I remind you that this is YOUR child we're talking about. YOUR child did not pass through my loins. You were the one who helped to make that child, so you raise him. My job is to teach him, not raise him. If you do not want to raise your own child, the child that you brought into this world, then next time think twice before pulling down your pants and making a baby!"

Of course parents should always have the right to spank and discipline their children as they see fit, as long as the discipline does not turn into abuse. And I believe that just about all parents know the line between discipline and abuse. For the vast majority of us, it's a very clear and distinct line. But teachers should NEVER physically strike a student. Plain and simply, it's just not our role as educators. Nor should it ever be. Education and physical punishment just doesn't mix.

Has the perception or the reality of corporal punishment in South Korean society changed in the seven years since the Hee-Soon Lim incident? Well, maybe. Let's look at an article published just last month in the Korea Times under the headline, "Teachers Suffer Violence From Students, Parents." (May 24, 2006.) According to this news story, a Korean teacher at an elementary school recently instructed her students to "eat lunch in only 15 minutes and hand in a written assignment if they did not follow the directions." For her "crime", this teacher was made to kneel in front of the students' parents for what they considered "educationally improper action." Other recent incidents from the same story include:

---- A middle school student identified as "Kim" knocked down his teacher during homeroom and kicked her several times shouting, "End the meeting quickly," when the class was held over. He then hit other students before running away.

---- A newly hired art teacher was attacked by a middle school student during a test. The student destroyed art work and shouted at the teacher in Korean, "How can a rookie make such a difficult test for students! It the teacher continues this, I will stamp on the art."

According to the KFTA, there were 52 abusive incidents against teachers in 2005, up 30 percent from the 40 cases the previous year. There were 32 in 2003 and 12 in 2001. But the teacher's association says that the actual figure may be quite higher. It is also interesting that that the student to teacher incidents have been slowly but steadily rising at the same time that the new rules against teacher to student corporal punishment supposedly came into effect. Although there is no evidence that these student to teacher incidents are becoming an epidemic, it is strangely reminiscent of the madness that was Chairman Mao's cultural revolution where children and students joined the Red Guards, turned in their own parents for not towing the party line, beat their teachers, and forced them to wear dunce caps while publicly denouncing them by shouting propaganda slogans. While it is highly unlikely that this will happen here anytime soon, these kind of instincts must be kept in check for the sake of social stability, and the perpetuation of educational integrity and individual dignity.

While I'm sure that there are many people out there who will blame "Western society, movies and music videos" for this sudden change in behaviour, those who do so will have missed several points. First, there hasn't been a change in behaviour. Whether it's teachers hitting students or students hitting teachers, the behaviour is the same. It's brutal, barbaric, and uncivilized, and should not be tolerated on either side. Second, Korean society, as well as most Asian societies, are hierarchical in structure. And Korean society is still Confucian in many ways. That the young must listen to their elders and follow them blindly is a social given. "You reap what you sow" and "What goes around, comes around" may be familiar to us Westerners, but they are foreign notions to Koreans and other Asians. Yes, shit certainly rolls downhill. And when it comes to Korea and many other Asian nations, there are a lot of hills and a lot of shit. Third, let's look at this comment from Kim Ahn-jung, an education professor at Seoul National University:

"It is inevitable that teachers see their rights weakened due to the rapid changes in society. To restore the falling trust, teachers should improve their skills and competitiveness and strengthen their teaching leadership."

On the surface, I agree. Of course teachers should improve their skills and competitiveness and strengthen their leadership. But then again, so should doctors and lawyers, and accountants, and pilots, and just about everyone else who has a job. Where Professor Kim goes wrong is that he ties this in with the current reality of students attacking teachers. His quote was from the same Korea Times story on May 24, 2006. If we accept the fact that it is just as bad and immoral for students to attack teachers as it is for teachers to attack students, then there is no connection between the improvement of a teachers skills and competitiveness and the frequency of teachers being attacked. Regardless of how poor the teacher's skills are, it neither justifies, nor does it ever excuse a student from attacking a teacher.

Forth, what in the world were 10 parents doing forcing a teacher to kneel down in front of them? What were they thinking? The sheer humiliation of this seems far worse than any paddle across the buttocks. Remember what happened in 1999 to Lim Ki-Sook and her daughter Hee-Soon? Is going to the other extreme the answer? Do the elementary school students, who know of the humiliation their teacher faced, fully understand the consequences of this action? Doesn't public humiliation beget more public humiliation? Where will it end? Or will it ever end? A more appropriate "punishment" for this teacher would have been for the Principal to sit down with her in private and give her a warning. Odds are it would have worked and saved many people a whole lot of pain and embarrassment.

And fifth, although Professor Kim's message of teachers improving their skills, competitiveness, and leadership is always a good idea, it seems to put the blame for these student to teacher incidents on the teachers themselves. It also puts a major part of the onus and responsibility for changing the situation squarely on the shoulders of teachers, relegating the parents to a secondary or tertiary position when it comes to teaching children right from wrong. To reiterate my position, I am not against parents disciplining their children as they deem fit. Bad parenting results in bad children. Parents, and parents alone, are responsible for the raising of their own children so that we as teachers can concentrate on what we do--- teach.

In a column on corporal punishment for the Korea Times on August 17, 2005, Heather Fairclough-Lee, a Native New Zealander, writes, "In New Zealand it is reported by confidential sources that the Korean kids are the least co-operative in class, the rudest and most unruly. The absence of corporal punishment must be like some sort of trip to Disneyland topped with a more relaxed approach to study."

I know what she means. I've been teaching in South Korea on and off for years. While working on this column in a neighbourhood internet cafe, I now have the "pleasure" of sitting next to a Korean "gentleman" who has spent most of his time here playing computer games, barking out orders to be served food, smoking, belching, spitting in the ashtray, and, on occasion, openly scratching his genitals. This is not the first time I've been treated to such a show. This is a "monkey see, monkey do" society, and little monkeys only mimic what big monkeys do.

Another aspect of corporal punishment is the unintended consequence of premature sexual behaviour, especially, what is referred to by Western mental health practitioners as "deviant sexual behaviour." The internet as well as psychoanalytic journals are replete with articles and information on this subject, so I will not delve too deeply into it here. Suffice to say that just about all of the information out there on this subject comes to the conclusion that spanking a child--- especially on the buttocks with a wooden paddle--- can, and often does, lead to some form of sexual deviant behaviour in that child later in life. This is common sense as far as I'm concerned. A shrink's office is full of people who were abused as children.

I can't help but think back to those students who were whacked on the buttocks and boinked on the head with wooden paddles. There is something sick and perverted, in fact, brazenly perverted and kinky about a middle-aged man holding a wooden paddle standing behind a young teenage girl who is on all fours, her skirt slightly raised to reveal her white laced panties, while this middle-aged man swats her on her derriere. It says a lot about a society that allows this to happen. It says a lot about the person holding the paddle. In fact, it says much more about the person doing the whacking than it does about the person being whacked. Changing the middle-aged man for a middle-aged woman won't help. This kind of perversion permeates society like a plague, unable to differentiate between race, gender, or religion.

Edward L Vockell, a professor of education at Purdue University, defines corporal punishment as the infliction of a physical reprimand in the hopes of stopping an undesirable behaviour. Sounds like a good definition. This is why the vast majority of people use corporal punishment; to stop undesirable behaviour. But in attempting to stop undesirable behaviour, are we inadvertently but clearly creating other undesirable behaviours that will be exhibited by the very same people that we are attempting to discipline? In other words, in attempting to discipline children through corporal punishment, are we simply helping to create more weirdos, sickos, and perverts who will seek their revenge on their own spouses and children?

Korea, like many other societies and nations, has yet to come to terms with it's own violent behaviour. Indeed, the whole world seems not to have the slightest inkling of what to do with disruptive and unruly children other than beat them with sticks and other blunt instruments. This is obviously a huge problem the world over. What is needed are debates on this issue on both a national and international level. Dialogue, discussion, and debates are good things. They get everything out into the open where they belong so that we as people and as individual nations can not only come to terms with what is happening, but also come to a consensus about what should be done to solve this very serious problem.

I currently teach in a public middle school where 40 boys and girls in a class is the norm. If students don't do their work or misbehave, I give them a warning. If they continue on this path, I sent them out of the room so that they can do their work in the hall. I don't hit the students, nor do I want to. But they must realize that they are in class to behave themselves, learn English, and have some fun in the process. When some of them don't do the work in class, I have been know to keep them after class so that they can continue with the work they didn't do. There are times when I feel terrible disciplining them this way. But for the sake of education and classroom harmony, this needs to be done. So far this seems to be working, and my Korean co-teachers are quite helpful in this regard.

These seem to be viable alternatives to corporal punishment. When I went to school, we had detention. Keeping undisciplined students after school to do extra work is a much better form of punishment. This could be a problem in Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and other places where most kids go to hagwons, bushibans, and other private schools in the late afternoon and early evening. To this, I say, too bad. If children misbehave or don't do the work assigned to them, keep them after school. Throw the ball back into the parent's court. Taking away the children's play time, (if there is children's play time), and other privileges is another alternative to corporal punishment. And just recently I saw a both a male and female student on their hands and knees washing the floors of the hallway with a small towel. This punishment, for misbehaving in class.

These alternatives, and others, must be explored and practiced on a wide level if schools are to produce smart, intelligent, better behaved, and well-balanced students. It also must be practiced in conjunction with parents and the community at large. On this very important issue, everyone must be on the same page. I fear that as time goes on, the longer I stay in places like Korea, I will no longer cringe or wince at a child or a teenager being beaten or whacked by a large piece of wood. This would be truly unfortunate, because with each whack on the buttocks; with each boink on the head, we are steadily and surely losing our humanity and killing the future.




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