Until this fall corporal punishment was a big part of the Korean educational system. If you misbehaved, you got smacked. It was simple, but of course, some people took it a little too far. Finally, after one too many leaked videos, the Ministry of Education decided enough was enough and made a sweeping ban of all form of corporal punishment in public schools. Now, here is where things get a little bit murky.
The Korean/English newspapers have been flooded with stories about students now feeling so free that they harass and assault their teachers– and now many of these videos are surfacing as well. Critics complain that while the Ministry of Education has looked out for students’ rights, it has not effectively outlined to teachers the new discipline steps they should be taken when a student misbehaves. This sounds like the NYC school district in a nutshell.
Talking to many English teachers I know that students are still subjected to forms of punishment that would never fly in the U.S., but then again, in some U.S. districts telling a kid to sit in the hallway to complete their work is inexplicably labeled corporal punishment– go figure. Some of the Korean methods that are still seemingly acceptable are:
Making a student kneel in the back of a classroom
Making a student stand in the back of the room and hold their hands in the air
Making a student do squats in the hallways
Making a student hold themselves in the push-up position
Now, technically these are forms of bodily punishment, but I don’t believe (hard to get a straight answer) they count as corporal punishment in Korea– it seems that as long as no “violence” is inflicted, the punishment is acceptable. I’ve asked my colleagues again and again what the actual rules are, and it seems no one is quite clear on it, but they know you can no longer hit a student.
The mothers in my mothers’ class prefer corporal punishment (and say their kids do too) to being yelled at, so it’s kind of a crapshoot. For kids in a society devoted to saving face and maintaining respect, often times being made to stand while everyone else is sitting is less embarrassing than being chewed out by the teacher.
As native English teachers we’re really not supposed to do any sort of discipline, unless, like me, you are one of the few with absolutely no co-teacher and you’ve been alone with the kids from day one. In N.Y. a couple quick words would usually silence the worst offenders, but here it’s actually much more effective for me to send a student to the back of the classroom to sit or stand by himself (always the boys).
“Chan-Oo! It is rude to call your teacher baby. Go stand in the back for one minute!”
“One minute.” (lots of pointing and stern faces).
The worst thing it seems I can do is rat out students to their home room teachers, who will mete out such punishments as staying after until 7:00 PM cleaning the entire school. While this is effective, I don’t like to be seen as a snitch in the eyes of the students or the teachers, so I usually prefer to handle things in my own classroom.
If you’d like to read more about it, check out these links to recent articles regarding the ban. You can also do a pretty quick search on youtube for some of the videos I mentioned before, but again, you are probably just watching extreme situations, not the norm (hopefully).
Ban on corporal punishment takes effect
Schools buckle under corporal punishment ban