Go to contents

Memories of Corporal Punishment

Posted July. 21, 2010 11:45,   


The 2004 hit Korean movie, “Spirit of Jeet Kune Do” made actor Kwon Sang-woo an instant star. The film features a teacher who uses his fist against students even for minor offenses rather than scolding, a practice which gave me a sense of déjà vu. In the 1970s, schools were like jungles and teachers were like predators. An incident I will never forget happened as soon as I entered middle school. Without knowing that classes were held after the morning session, I was running in the halls after school when a teacher caught me. He hit me so hard, I felt as if I was hit by lightning and collapsed in the hall. The brutal and traumatic slap on my face I got from the teacher is something I will never forget.

Many education scholars say compliments are more effective than negative feedback such as corporal punishment in teaching lessons and guiding students. Most Western countries banned corporal punishment long ago. Corporal punishment leaves scars in punished students and spawns antagonism against teachers. Apart from physical pain, it also entails human rights infringement. It is sad to see teachers who habitually inflict physical abuse on students in Korea, as shown in a video clip of a teacher who mercilessly beat an elementary student out of anger.

Depending on use, corporal punishment can become a catalyst for guiding students onto the right direction. Students can easily recognize whether a teacher is using physical force out of personal anger or intent to guide students in the right direction. Slackening education and class disorder have grown serious. Teachers find that they cannot keep students awake in classes or are even beaten up by students. Teachers say that if even light corporal punishment is banned, including mild whipping on palms and making students run laps as punishment, they effectively have to give up guiding students.

Parents are mixed over corporal punishment. Kwak Noh-hyun, superintendent of the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, has ordered schools to ban corporal punishment from the fall semester. An educational superintendent should not unilaterally make a decision at his or her own discretion on corporal punishment, an issue which educators and teachers have yet to find an answer to despite a prolonged debate. Opinion gathering and consensus building with parents are also needed. Critics say Kwak took the measure as a preparatory step to enacting an “ordinance on students’ human rights,” one of his election pledges. Setting an ordinance on students’ human rights is not something he can decide alone with his idealism, either. On corporal punishment, teachers, students and parents must get together to discuss the matter and reach a consensus to make a wise decision.

Editorial Writer Chung Sung-hee (shchung@donga.com)