What do you think of the new rule that the board of education instated that says there can be no corporal punishment anymore? I mean beating kids wrong but they've banned stuff like running laps or even holding hands up and such.
This question is so old now, that I don’t even know if the questioner is even still reading. I guess I just needed some time to get a proper bead on the situation. As it happens, something occurred this month that has brought this subject back to the forefront of school cafeteria table discussion.
Basically, I’m reduced to kind of repeating what I’ve overheard and been told by the other teachers at school, so don’t take this all for gospel — I haven’t been able to check any news sources for myself. But what happened essentially is that a teacher was caught kicking a student who showed up late for a field trip on some other students’ cell phone video cameras. A massive ordeal thus ensued, causing the teacher to be fired, charged, and now sued by the parents of the student in question.
What’s got the teachers all in a state is the revelation that the students in question (both the boy who was kicked and the ones who took the video) were part of the school’s 짱 group — essentially a milder form of a gang. The allegation now is that the students premeditated the entire ordeal, provoked the teacher into anger and were ready, waiting with their cell phones to capture the moment in order to cause exactly what has happened to happen.
Now. What I have to say about that is this: the teacher got bested. The kids sound like a bunch of little shits — don’t get me wrong. But as the adult in the situation, you should have the foresight not to fall prey to a scenario like this.
And what I want to make clear from the beginning is that I in no way support the abuse, physical or otherwise, of any child by any adult.
However. There, for me, is a clear difference between abuse and corporal punishment. One that I don’t think many Americans understand very well. I understand it, simply because I was raised in a household that engaged in corporal punishment.
Abuse is what is done in anger. It is the striking of a child while in the midst of emotion with the purpose of causing physical harm to that child. It is uncontrolled, lacks methodology and clear boundaries, and it is absolutely inexcusable on all levels.
Corporal punishment is exactly that — a punishment. It is the use of physical means in a measured, predetermined manner and minus any emotion on the part of the administrator to control and correct the behavior of a child.
My parents were very clear with me when I was growing up about their philosophy behind using corporal punishiment. It was not designed to cause me actual physical pain (although that may be an unpleasant side effect), but rather the intent was to, for lack of a better expression, put me in my place. When a child’s pride gets out of control, corporal punishment is used to bring that child back down to a child’s level. Nothing less, and nothing more. The reason for putting a child back down on a child’s level is not so that parents have the right to reign over that child, but rather so that that child will willingly accept the parents’ guidance, which is ultimately for the best for that child.
Hence the name for the stick many Korean teachers carry with them to class (although fewer and fewer as the years go by): the love stick. The idea is that discipline is actually another form of love. If you love a child, you will guide that child in ways that are occasionally unpleasant and difficult for the child to accept. A child does not always know what is best for her. It’s the job of the adults in that child’s life to see those instances and be willing to take the hard course of being temporarily disliked by that child in order to keep the child out of harm’s way.
And I stand behind that philosophy. I’m a little bit old school in my ideas about how a child should be raised — I don’t believe that allowing a child to behave in whatever way they choose is really for the best for that child. Society doesn’t work that way, and a well-adjusted adult will ultimately come from a household which held that person accountable as a child, and taught that person that they are not, in any respect, the center of the universe. Nor do they know everything. Nor do they have the right to behave in any manner they wish, or take whatever they want for themselves.
I’ve talked about this before in the other blog, but when I graduated university and saw my peers start to take on the challenges of adult life, I understood, quite literally, the meaning behind my parents’ word that I would ‘thank [them] for this someday’. I saw people flail about in their personal relationships, not understanding the basic principles of reciprocity and personal responsibility. I saw them fail miserably at making important networking connections, because of the personal impressions they left on other people. I saw them lose or quit job after job after job, because their boss was “mean” and expected them to do things that they didn’t want to do. Those were lessons my parents had drilled through to me early on — I didn’t have to face all of the difficulties of becoming an adult while also taking on all of those lessons at the same time. They prepared me well for life, and for social situations where I was not the adored and protected center of everyone’s attention, where everyone was not catering to me and my special sense of creative freedom.
Now. Is corporal punishiment the only way to drive those points home? No. I don’t think so. I’m not a parent yet, so I don’t really have a lot of room to comment, but I am a teacher, and a teacher who has learned how to control her students without even the vague threat of physical intervention. I would, actually, like to think that I would be able to outsmart my own children in similar ways, and not have to resort to corporal punishment. To me — I’ll be honest — corporal punishment does seem a bit easy. And I would feel a bit, personally, like I was caving in, in some way, or taking the easy way out if I used it. That might change when I have children of my own.
But that doesn’t mean that I don’t see corporal punishiment as a completely valid and effective method of discipline. After all, I was raised with it, and I don’t feel like I was done any permanent psychological damage, and I would certainly never call it abuse. There were times in my teens where my arrogance and strong willed-ness were so out of control, that I can see quite clearly now, looking back, how my mother’s slap across my face was the exact right answer. Nothing she could’ve said would have corrected my behavior as quickly or as effectively. Did her slap ever leave a mark? No. It never even really hurt. What it did hurt was my pride. And it needed to be hurt, in those moments.
So the long and the short of it is, I’m not one of those foreign teachers who is “horrified” to see the boys undergo corporal punishment. And it has been, almost exclusively at my school, corporal punishment. I work with lovely teachers. And they know where the line is. If a teacher has had an extremely ugly altercation with a student, they will not be the ones to carry out the punishment — they will hand the student over to a teacher who is not involved in the situation to take care of it. Because they know full well that laying your hands on a child in anger is wrong.
But where the introduction of this new law is a correct move, in my opinion, is in the grey area that exists because of human error. Not all teachers are as respectable as the ones I work with. Not all of them can be trusted not to cross that line. And that’s not okay. And it does need to be taken care of. The difference between a teacher and a parent is a stark one, in many cases. A parent, in an ideal situation, will have a much closer bond with and attachment to their own child. They are also not dealing with hundreds of children at a time. That makes them, again ideally, a lot less likely to go off course and cross the line between corporal punishment and abuse.
Where I think they’ve gone wrong with this ban is that they’ve suddenly decided that, just by putting a law into place, they are going to solve the problem. It doesn’t work that way — both the teachers and the students are used to a certain way of doing things. When the students hear, “no more corporal punishment”, what they are thinking is, “no more punishment!” And the teachers are hearing more or less the same thing.
Now, there are a few training programs popping up here and there to help the teachers along in finding new methods of dealing with classroom control. And that’s good. But I think that it really does need to be taken further — a whole new system needs to be put in place. It’s something that the Korean teachers have spent a lot of time asking me about over the course of the last few months — how do American schools control the students without corporal punishment? They listen with nodding heads and sounds of approval as I describe our rather emotionless formal system of demerits and detentions and suspensions and expulsions.
Where they get hung up, quite rightly, is on the fact that American schools have a whole body of employees in place specifically to deal with the students’ discipline. Korean schools have the 학생부, but that staff is made up of a few homeroom teachers who already have their hands full. It is no one’s specific job to manage all of this nonsense. Homeroom teachers, at the moment, are expected almost single-handedly to deal with all of the discipline problems that arise in their classrooms. Which they can do — with corporal punishment. Going to battle with little more than psychological warfare takes a hell of a lot more effort. There is no sending students to the principal’s office — the principal is not to be bothered with such things.
But the fact that so many teachers at my own school are thinking about it enough to ask me, the foreign teacher, specifically about it, shows me that Korea will get there. They’re not idiots — they know that they need to work out a new system, and they will get around to it. It’s already beginning. It’s just going to be a little bit rough in the meantime while they go through the transition. They will get a system in place that will get the job done — I have nothing but faith in that. And the next generation of teachers and students will come into the game already knowing the rules, which will make things a lot simpler than changing the rules on everyone halfway through.
As for making a value judgment one way or the other about which way is better, I’m far from qualified to do that. What I do know is that everyone is actively engaged in making the situation work. And that’s what really counts.