EDITORIAL: A reevaluation of corporal punishment
[Korea] The Hankyoreh, August 21, 2006

At a time when people still have fresh memories of violence on the part of a teacher towards a first grader in North Jeolla province, we again have a violent teacher in the news. A high school teacher in Daegu hit tardy students 100 to 200 times each, sending one of them to the hospital.

The teacher is a younger sibling of the chairman of the board of the educational foundation that manages the school, and he is reported to have gone too far in his treatment of students on previous occasions, as well. The student who ended up in the hospital says he was beaten by the same teacher last year, too. The authorities need to see whether it was because of his relationship with the chairman of the board of trustees that he was never really punished despite his habitual violence. It is because people associated with the board of trustees think that schools are their private property that this sort of violence remains uncontrolled.

What is even more important in relation to this latest situation is the way teachers think little about corporal punishment. The teacher in question defends himself by saying he tried to get discipline in order because the scholastic aptitude test was a mere 100 days off, but he "went a little overboard." In other words, corporal punishment is okay if he’s trying to give students the right kind of attitude, but he just applied too much of it. One hundred punches are too much, but perhaps 10 are okay? The physical punishment of students is not something that should be approached as a matter of how much.

Corporal punishment has long been the subject of debate. Some call it an expression of love, and some say students need to be able to defend themselves from violent teachers. Corporal punishment, is, however, basically a form of violence against the weak, not a form of education. The relationship between teacher and student is already one of power by one over the other, so the effect is that students are taught that they have to submit to those who are in power when they force their orders with violence. Furthermore, permitting legal violence contributes to an atmosphere in our society where violence is all too easily recognized as a necessity. The victims of severe cases of corporal violence are left with permanent emotional scars. Finally, it gives teachers who are particularly violent the inability to think of their actions as violent because they are just going "overboard" with actions that are legitimate.

Korean educational laws permit corporal punishment within certain limits, but that needs to be reconsidered, because of what it means for students’ basic civil rights.


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