One of things that immediately struck me as different when comparing South Korea to the UK, or even Japan, is the use of corporal punishment in schools. While recognised as being culturally taboo in the West (well, most of it), in Korea teachers defend the use of such punishment along cultural grounds- that Koreans have long expressed their affection in a physical way, and that corporal punishment is one of the manifestations of this. Certainly you do see affection in this way on the streets and among friends- male students hold hands on the way to school, colleagues constantly put their arms round each other when drunk, and literally drag you to the next bar or karaoke venue (and all this physical contact in a country that doesn’t actually believe homosexuality really exists)! Yet I believe the defense of corporal punishment in this manner is, indeed, indefensible. Let’s make clear what I’m talking about here. There is a big difference between prodding, poking or tapping students with your stick (no innuendo please), and beating them across the buttocks with it or any other implement. In fact, pushing and prodding in an all boys school is very effective- its another manifestation of the way the students play fight between themselves, and can build a bond of comoraderie and familiarity. The punishments of making students to pushups or slapping them across the upper leg once when late is also, though perhaps questionable, certainly not outrageous. Yet sometimes teachers just lose it. A good friend of mine at school flew into a rage yesterday morning, took the broom part off a broom stick, and was smashing the students across the buttocks with it. His rage seemed so out of control that another, elderly and timid teacher, stepped in to try to stop him. The student apparently has a number of discipline problems, being late of absent from school for long periods of time. Yet this punishment both shocked and appalled me in its level of severity. I’m sure my colleague regrets it now- he seemed out of control- but certainly will continue to punish in this way if he feels it is called for. The logic of punishing students like this alludes me- violence does indeed beget violence, and students with serious problems need understanding and support rather than physical violence. Call my position wishy-washy and liberal if you will, but I can’t see any logical or moral justification for what I saw yesterday. The teacher later apologised to me via school mail for me having seen it, and I replied that while I didn’t like it, it was his choice as a teacher. I told him I thought it was a punishment that served no purpose, and was too severe, but that this was my view and it was up to him to decide how he punished his students. Speaking out like this is something a Korean teacher would never do in front of another Korean teacher- it breaks the Confucian structure of senior-junior that is so much more severe than in Japan- yet as a friend of mine I hope he realises I’m just telling him what I think. Whether or not he realises this, I had to say something- if I was Korean I’d have done something to stop it at the time, but stepping in like that as a foreigner is something I just can’t do. No matter what cultural justification is used for corporal punishment, in my opinion there is no way that you can defend it.

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