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Debate: A Ban on Teacher Violence at School
[ Issue 103 Page 7 ] Friday, December 17, 2010, 23:13:19 Jae Young Byon, Shin Hum Cho jaebyon@kaist.ac.kr, shinhum@gmail.com

A recent change in legislation now places a ban on teachers' use of physical punishment when dealing with student misbehavior. Many have voiced their approval of what appears to be a triumph for students' rights and the chance to improve the education system, but others fear that the new law will help unruly students have their way.

Pro: Our History of Violence

By Jae Young Byon

Recent changes to Korean school policy dictates that teachers no longer hit their students under any circumstance, and that they be can punished should they fail to keep their abusive tirades under control. This, in the opinion of your humble writer, is definitely a change for the better; it could make what is an already horrid school life more tolerable for the students and may even bring a degree of civility and etiquette into what is a barbarous Korean culture.

Should any reader feel inclined to advocate the teachers’ “right” to lash out at their students, I ask you this: has this appalling prerogative actually helped anybody? Maybe the teachers feel a sense of superiority as they cause bodily harm on their students. But a school is a place for students to learn, not a place for pathetic adults to take out their frustration on their students. What every school should always focus on is the educating of its student body, and a violent environment can not be a study-conducive one. With ever-mounting pressure on the students to perform well and maintain high academic standards, it is not fair for them to have to deal with belligerent teachers as well.

Perhaps the one reason anyone would support the teachers’ right to hit a student is that it keeps the students, especially the trouble-makers, in line. This however should be achieved in a different way that is more effective and less burdensome on the students. Any monkey will continue to steal bananas if it feels but a light sting every time it commits thievery. I very much doubt, however, that it would continue to do so should it lose an arm as a consequence. I of course do not mean to suggest that we sever students’ body parts – that would miss the point altogether. However, rather than strike out at the students with sharp but momentary pain, it would be better to punish them with something that would leave a more lasting impression. Perhaps because no such alternative has been found, we still continue to accept teachers hitting students, but why do anything at all then? Better leave the students alone than abuse them senseless. Surely all parents, who know the difficulties and pains that lie ahead for their children in facing adulthood, would be willing to do just about anything if only to reduce the suffering for their sons and daughters. If we cannot help ease their future burdens we might as well save them some of what they already face.

Aside from all the harm it has inflicted on the Korean student body, hitting students has also added to the backwardness that Korean culture already possesses. Ask any foreigner living in Korea about all that he has found shocking and he should be able to confide to you a long list of such offenses, ranging from spitting in public to incessant shoving and cutting in when lining up for anything. Teachers’ abuse of their students is yet another example of what makes up an ugly culture for any outsider to look at. Should what others think of us really determine our actions? Quite obviously the answer to that is a no. But at the same time, this reaction to our culture does imply the obsolete nature of our own culture and our need to change.

Sure, the westerners might stereotype the Chinese more than they do our countrymen, but we all should know we are next in line and only marginally better. And besides, must we compare ourselves with one of the most stereotyped people to feel better about ourselves? Let’s not. Let’s just try to improve ourselves for our good as well as everyone else’s. Protect the students from these spiteful teachers and make this place a better place for everyone.

Con: No Corporal Punishment, A Mistake?

By Shim-hum Cho

On November 11, The Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education made ground breaking changes regarding school corporal punishment. With the ongoing effort to improve student rights in public education, the Seoul education department has officially announced an end to physical disciplinary practices. Before the enforcement of this new regulation, students attending elementary to high school underwent physical punishment in cases of misconduct. With the new ban on this crude and harsh punishment, the student right has been achieved with flying colors. Or so it would appear.

Within a day of enforcing this ban, some teachers seem to have lost control on student discipline. There have been reports of a change of attitude in students, and teachers encountering more aggressive behavior from students from numerous schools around Seoul. According to statistics conducted on teachers, about 60 percent have responded that there were significant changes in classroom control.

In response to this problem, the educational department has issued a manual on punishment procedures. The procedures introduced in the manual included sending student to detention, or “thinking chairs,” but many instructors on the scene felt the measures insufficient and unrealistic. Without control in the classroom, the other students’ right for a better educational environment will be violated, as well as a harder working environment for teachers.

Indeed, a point has to be made on corporal punishment before going further. There have been widespread reports and incidents of over-the-top-down punishments that were conducted where severe injuries were sustained by the students for seemingly minor offenses. Obviously, teachers must acknowledge the fact that these incidents must be avoided in classrooms. However, physical discipline may have to be enforced in more severe wrongdoings, such as fights, theft, drinking abuse, as well as uncontrollable students who just will not comply with the new disciplinary measures.

The impact on society that physical punishment has had in Korea should not be overlooked either. Discipline at an early age may deter more problems in growth, reminding and educating students of the severity of their wrongdoings. If the students are not constantly reminded through the guidance of the teachers, their moral misdeeds may develop into an actual crime. Overall, the rate of crime in Korean society is significantly low compared to other developed countries, where even going out onto the streets at night is considered safe. Many teachers would link this achievement through Korea’s parenting and the discipline that corporal punishment has instilled in the students over the years.

What the educational department should be concerned about is the loss of disciplining students while the students are being more exposed to a provocative and violent media. In the society where information is exponentially increasing, students are more likely to contact and reenact forms of crime that were unseen in the past. Being in school is not just about learning calculus and history, but being disciplined morally. Without the control of the teachers in the scene of the classroom, the already deteriorating public education system will fall further apart, risking the rights of other students for a better learning environment. And without the guidance of teachers, we may not fulfill the role of school education as a whole.

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