Monday, June 29, 2009

Corporal 'Punishment' in Korean Schools?

I've been debating whether to post on this issue of corporal punishment in Korean schools, for I've not researched it and am not sure what to say in general, but from things that my daughter has told me, I think that I ought to post something on this issue. I don't want to post a lot of images, but I did find a website with some photos, e.g., the two below -- the first of a boy, the second of a girl -- showing students in Korea being subjected to corporal punishment:

The site is Corpun: World Corporal Punishment Research, and it seems to consist merely of reports and images, including videos, but offers no opinion, pro or con, on the issue. I looked at some of the videos showing corporal punishment in Korea, and the ones that I viewed didn't portray the worst that I have seen elsewhere on the internet. In fact, the punishment that I viewed on Corpun was only a bit harsher than what my own Ozark school imposed when I was attending way back in the 1960s and 1970s.

What my daughter has told me of 'punishment' in her school is far worse and shows some teachers out of control.

Let me begin with the least objectionable. One young female teacher told her class never to ask the question "Why?" My daughter, surprised, innocently asked, "Why not?" She received ten stinging slaps with a ruler upon her open palms. Now, this sort of punishment was never inflicted in my school, and it seems worse to me than being paddled on one's butt . . . but that might be because I've only been paddled and never struck on my hands.

Paddlings are applied in Korea, of course, as the images above make clear. But these blows with a stick can land not only on the buttocks but also upon the upper legs and even the calves. The buttocks provide some padding for protection, but blows against the legs can damage blood vessels and therefore seems far more like abuse to me . . . and thus even worse than a mere ruler applied to the open palms (though everything depends upon the severity of the blows).

Worse than either of these two are the blows with a hand or even a stick to the upper body and particularly the head, including the face. My daughter has received only the ruler to her hands but has observed these other 'punishments'. Often, the teacher who strikes on the upper body with hand or stick is reacting suddenly, emotionally, and at times uses fists rather than just slaps.

Far worse than these are reports from my daughter of a particular male teacher who attacks student not just with slaps, fists, and sticks but even by knocking them down, stepping on them, and kicking them -- as well as generally humiliating them, for example, by forcing them to lie under his desk for an hour while he 'teaches'. Incidently, he 'teaches' social studies, a subject that includes the social ethics of proper behavior.

I asked my daughter what the other students think about all these 'punishments', and she tells me that they don't like any of it but that they think that it's normal. Only Sa-Rah seems to question it, perhaps because Sun-Ae and I have raised her to ask questions and think for herself.

I'm not sure what to do. I don't want to be the 'troublemaking' outsider who causes 'problems', nor do I want to draw attention to my own kids, who are already different enough by being half-Korean. But this man who teaches social studies really has no business dealing with children since he can't restrain himself from striking and kicking them. My wife asked another mother about this man, and she said that she'd heard nothing but promised to ask her son, who subsequently confirmed what my daughter had reported. I think that Korean parents ought to be the ones to act, but they seem not to show much interest in this issue, being focused almost entirely on the grades and test scores that their children receive.

Even worse, according to my daughter, very many of the children receive the same kind of physical punishment at home, so they don't imagine that the world can be different . . . and I suppose that this also implies that their parents don't imagine this either.

For those readers who live in a very different world and have trouble imagining the sort of abuse that Korean students too often face, here's a 38-second video on You Tube to clarify the sort of thing that I'm writing about.

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At 6:30 AM, Blogger Conservative in Virginia said...

Ouch. That video was hard to watch.

My young Korean friends, who spent a fair amount of time in Korean schools before moving to the US, have told me that school teachers and taekwondo teachers hit students.

At 7:31 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Yes, that's right, and they often do, though my daughter's taekwondo teacher seems not to.

Incidentally, that video is not the worst that I've seen.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:07 AM, Blogger John B said...

Forcing students who hold uncomfortable positions for short or long periods is common, too, such as leaning on your head, holding books straight in front, crouching in an awkward manner.

At 10:36 AM, Blogger Hathor said...

In Catholic School the nuns use to use rulers to rap hands. I also had a history teacher make us stand on our knees.

I think I would try to do something about that social studies teacher, his actions might seriously injure or kill a student one day. I think you could find legal documentation of incidents that have caused harm.

I would think Koreans would know the difference between assault and corporal punishment.

At 11:29 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

John B, thanks for noting that. I should ask my daughter.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:32 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Hathor, you are surely right, but teachers are hard to get rid of in Korea. On a different blog, an expat noted that a student had ended up in the hospital but that the teacher still has his job.

I think that my wife might need to get some Korean parents to press for some sort of action.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm speechless that a teacher would forbid students from asking why, the interrogative word that leads to a greater understanding of how the world works.

The bullied often bully others. Severe corporal punishment in school may partly explain the abuse suffered by conscripts completing mandatory military service.


At 1:16 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Sonagi, when I told this story about "Why?" to my students last week, they laughed in chagrin, explaining that this was common.

Anyway, I have a clearer understanding for why so many Korean students can't discuss issues.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:21 PM, Blogger John.Hugens said...

Two notes: I also had the problem when I first came to Korea that none of my students would ask "why", which as a student was the only question you SHOULD ask.

Personally I think "why" makes it EASIER for the teacher as they can then focus on the specific weaknesses the students have, without it, it's the same as reading a book.

Other than that, it's also quite ironic that Corpun's website is blocked by the government sponsored "clean internet" filter.

So it can't be watched, unless you go to a Korean school. I always thought schools were places of childlike innocence, where dirty, repugnant or dangerous ideas, suitable of censorship didn't enter.

I suppose I'm wrong about that.

Oh and by all means, do something about it, it's often an outsider shaking things up that really changes a place. That said, as it's a deeply ingrained cultural phenomenon don't expect too much success, but you might protect your daughter(s?).

Also, if I may be a further aide to you, there is an age around 14 or 15 where Korean youths are truly broken, at least in my opinion. This is the age where their faces close, and eyes glass over, and they become merely receptacles of information, not creators of it. I've seen this happen, and seen it already in place, in many students.

So, at least, act for your family, and protect your daughter. You might have more of an impact than you realize, and for the sake of Korean youth, I'd hope you do.

At 7:37 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

John Hugens, thank you for a heartfelt comment. Clearly, you have thought about this issue very seriously.

Our daughter has expressed some interest in homeschooling. In fact, I do that already with English (actually with all subjects), and we may switch entirely to homeschooling for both English and Korean.

We will probably begin when she finishes the 7th grade this winter.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:21 PM, Blogger Saber Fencer said...

Watching and reading about this took me back to my elementary and middle school days....when I went to school here in Seoul before moving to the US.

Although this post was about corporal punishment in Korean schools, it also brought two points forward for me: 1) asking the question "why"; and 2) shaking things up in Korea.

1) Korean school system not only tell the very young students not to ask "why," but this "culture of blind acceptance" persists all the way to the very highest level of education.

Allow me to give a specific example. My wife is a Ph.D. student at S university right now, where the professors constantly remind their students that they are the selected lucky few because they can attend this "prestigious" institution of higher learning (I hate to say it, but I think my alma mater, which is a state university, actually was ranked ahead of this school last time the top 100 universities in the world list came out -- and we know how much Koreans love to rank things). Anyway, this is what happens at that school when a graduate student asks the professors "why." The answer is usually either 1) Ah, that is because you do not understand correctly the subject of *fill in the blank*. You would know that what I said is true and would not have asked that question if you understood it correctly in the first place; or 2) You didn't understand what I said because you did not go to this school for your bachelor's degree. If you had, you would not be asking such an idiotic question.

What any of these really have anything to do with the original question of "why?" Simple...the professors have no idea themselves, but they reply using personal attacks so that other students would not ask the same question. Who can blame them? I, for one, would not want to be personally attacked and humiliated in public like that for actually wanting to understand things.

The other reason for these professors' reactions, I think, are simple laziness -- mentally, I mean. My experience is that the question "why" is actually the most difficult question to answer and requires a lot of thought.

Finally, I am willing to bet that a large number of these professors actually never learned to ask and think about a questions this way either. After all, they are also products of the same education system where the student who asks "why" is the abnormal one.

Of course, according to my wife, there's not a lot of students in the graduate school who actually ask "why." Two reasons - 1) The question will not be answered; and 2) Students themselves do not know how to think, even at graduate level, to ask the question "why."

Sad...I thought one of the things we humans differ from other organisms living on earth is because we are the ones who could ask "why."

OK...before I get flayed for saying what I said about the professors above...I am not saying all professors in Korea are like that...just the majority of the ones I know at the S university in Seoul. So, I suppose that my observation and my hypothesis why this phenomenon occurs is limited to that specific school. :)

To be continued...

Saber Fencer

At 11:24 PM, Blogger Saber Fencer said...

Moving on to 2) making waves in Korea.

Interesting the US, if you make waves and point out something that is wrong in the school or the university (especially about a faculty member), usually the faculty member is either asked to leave or gets reassigned. In Korea, usually it is the student that gets asked (sometimes not so nicely) to leave the school. examples goes back to the famed S university. A faculty member there published a paper in the journal in his name. A student protested, and showed the school authorities a paper that he wrote for a class (and the paper was graded and everything). Although the student's paper was written much earlier than the paper the faculty member submitted to the journal (and upon comparison, the two papers were exactly the same...word for word), the student is no longer a student at the university. What happened to the faculty member? he's still teaching at the university. Oh, if you want to know why the student is no longer at the is because other faculty members of the department refused to allow the student to register for their classes following this incident. Since this meant that the student could not take core classes required for his degree, he had to seek other options...actually, only one practical option for him...leave the university.

So, with this kind of mentality, who would want to make waves? I suspect that the parents of Jeffery's daughter's friend are not saying anything precisely because of this reason. They don't want their kid to be the one that gets ostracized because they stood up for something that is right and just.

As I tell my wife all the time:
I look at South Korea as a country and I see that it has all the right conditions and the ingredients to become a regional leader and one of the global leaders. Somehow, however, South Korea always falls short of its potential (almost at all things). South Koreans usually blame the external factors (or the other political party) for falling short. I would like to offer another view point.... first try fixing the things like the ones I mentioned above before blaming everyone else for your problems.

Well, that's my two cents worth of rambling....sorry if I just rambled on, Jeff.

Saber Fencer

At 4:35 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Saber Fencer (aka Steve), thanks for a fascinating couple of comments. I hadn't realized quite how far up the Korean educational system that one encounters this inability to ask "Why?"

Your remarks on the consequences of 'stirring things up' reflect my own concerns. I think that my wife and I will just have to take our kids out of the Korean school system entirely and turn instead to homeschooling alone.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:51 AM, Blogger Saber Fencer said...


Given what I know of you and your wife, I would definitely trust the education of a child to people like you than those in the Korean education system (at any level).

[Yes, that was a compliment...although I think it sounded a bit weird]

Besides, if you are looking farther out and thinking about college, your kids will probably end up going to school in the US or Europe, right? Then what's the point in going through 12 years of Korean school system when you guys can prepare them much better?

Anyway, my views could be a bit biased...just so you know. :)

Saber Fencer

At 8:08 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Saber Fencer, thanks for the compliment, which wasn't weird at all . . . at least, not weird according to my weird standards.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:50 AM, Blogger Sunny said...

"The bullied often bully"
While it might be going to far to wonder if those students who were the very most abused are the very ones that are attracted to the occupation of teaching (and pondering on the WHY of that), it certainly is a problem that continues generation after generation-unless some folks (teachers hopefully) are willing to MAKE WAVES.

At 3:32 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Sunny, I agree that somebody should make waves . . . but maybe the Koreans instead of the 'foreigner' since I'd probably just be seen as another arrogant American.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:12 PM, Anonymous Lucy R said...

I'm a South Korean. However, I never saw a real corporal punishment in my life. So, it's really hard to belieave that Korea allows(or so I think) corporal punishment. Well, that's my opinion.

At 1:35 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

It's now against the law, but it still happens.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:17 PM, Anonymous Lucy R said...

Is it true, Jeffery? I don't watch the news, you know, being a 4th grader in elementary school...

At 6:24 PM, Anonymous Lucy R said...

Um, Jeff, one last thing, do you know about Harry Potter? (An off-topic thing, I know... However, I'm just curious. I'm a wonderful fan of Harry Potter!)

At 7:59 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I don't watch television either, but the Korea Herald occasionally reports on it, and You Tube has videos.

As for Harry Potter, yes, I've read and enjoyed them all. So has my daughter.

I've probably blogged a few times on Potter, so if you were to search . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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