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Corporal Punishment Ban Undermining School Discipline

Posted November. 13, 2010 13:53,   


Around 12:30 p.m. Oct. 15 in a middle school classroom in Suncheon, South Jeolla Province, a teacher approached a female student and asked her what she was writing in her notebook.

When the teacher tried to take the notebook, the student protested. The teacher hit her on the head and the student revolted, saying, “Is it right for a teacher to hit a student? Just teach!”

The student tried to leave the classroom but the teacher grabbed her neck and hair to force her to sit down. The student then grabbed the teacher’s hair.

After this incident, members of the school steering committee held meetings with teachers and parents. Committee members and the school principal asked for a slap on the wrist for the student, but teachers demanded the student’s expulsion.

The student’s father pleaded for leniency, saying, “My daughter made a mistake.”

The committee tried to find a solution for more than three weeks amid a huge difference in views on education and the human rights of students. The committee chairman said, “In a situation where students’ human rights and those of education clash, teachers belonging to teachers’ groups and certain parents stick to their stance that the student must be transferred. So we failed to mediate.”

After the mediation failed, the student’s father sued seven school staff including the principal and vice principal for defamation. “My daughter made a mistake but her teacher as well as other teachers who said they would `trample` on my daughter are members of the Korean Teachers and Educational Workers` Union,” the father said.

“After the brawl, indecent rumors about my daughter spread so I asked for help from the teachers union through a parents organization. But I’ve heard nothing from the union.”

A member of the union’s chapter in South Jeolla Province said, “We never received an official request from the parent,” adding, “We understand that the student caused trouble several times prior to the brawl. Our official stance is to leave things in the school’s hands.”

In Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province, police were dispatched to a middle school Oct. 26 after receiving a report that a male student ran amok. The ninth grader exhibited violent behavior and hurled abusive language, prompting teachers who were unable to control him to call the police.

A school official said, “It’s wrong to ask for police help but it’s understandable since teachers are banned from inflicting corporal punishment on students.”

The Korea Federation of Teacher`s Associations in Gyeonggi Province has received about 10 phone calls per day from angry teachers since the ban on corporal punishment was implemented. One teacher said his heart sank when a student to whom the teacher was giving a Dutch rub said, “Why are you hitting me when corporal punishment is banned?"

Another teacher said he was embarrassed after a student threatened to call police when the teacher tried to punish him for smoking.

A source at the association said, “There will be a lot of these cases that go unreported since most teachers don’t raise issue with student rudeness.”

Teacher morale is withering. A teacher at a middle school in Seongnam said, “There are few ways to guide students since both letters of apology and corporal punishment are banned,” adding, “Certain teachers are afraid of students for fear of having their reputations damaged by students.”

A middle school principal who has worked in education for 36 years said, ““Discipline has disappeared due to the abrupt ban on corporal punishment that was implemented without alternatives.”

Recognizing the severity of the situation, the Gyeonggi Province Office of Education will advance the date for devising and implementation of alternative programs to corporal punishment, which was set for the end of next month.

An official at the education office said, “What teachers want most is alternatives to corporal punishment,” adding, “We will encourage implementing alternatives next week at the earliest.”

peneye09@donga.com starsky@donga.com