Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Put That Boxcutter Down, Kid

Of all the photos by Korean students displaying their hatred for Japan that were posted last week, one grabbed my attention more than others. The reason for this can be found in Gord's comment upon it:

"No need to use large swords when an exacto knife does the job. Curiously, exacto knives are pretty much standard issue for all students in Korea."

This is something I've noticed before on many occasions, and my immediate order to "Put that away," has always been met with confusion by my students. The main reason for this is that they simply don't consider them to be dangerous. After all, they're usually used as pencil sharpeners, and pencil sharpeners can't be dangerous, now can they?

The reason why the picture above stood out is that a few weeks ago a grade six girl in one of my classes began to play with a boxcutter she'd taken out of her pencil case, extending and retracting the blade because she liked to listen to the sound. This was after a short round of teasing (which was both playful and in English) between her and the (younger) boy next to her. For a joke, he decided to grab the knife from her after she retracted the blade...but before she again extended it. He immediately yanked his hand back (so fast that there was no blood left on the blade), and the look of surprise on his face was what really got me. He had no conception that a knife like that might be dangerous.

Before the pain really start to the set in I had him out the door, and after running water over his hand it was clear he had cut three fingers to the bone. It took two and a half hours of surgery to reconnect the tendons, but when I visited him that night he seemed in good spirits. The visit was a bit awkward, as the girl's parents were there (even though it wasn't really her fault), but neither of the boy's parents were (the father was out of town and the mother was at home making dinner for his younger brother). At any rate, a week later he was back in class, though even now he has a large bandage with elastics stretched between his 3 fingers and his wrist.

I decided to do some googling and found an interesting case in Texas in November 2003 involving a Korean-American student:

When she was growing up in South Korea, Sumi Lough says, she used the traditional pencil sharpener that all children there used: a 2-inch-long blade that folds into a small handle. But what may be considered a routine item for schoolchildren there was alarming enough in the Katy school district to get Lough 's 13-year-old daughter in deep trouble. School officials viewed it as a potential weapon.

Christina Lough, a straight-A student at Garland McMeans Junior High School, was punished after a teacher saw the sharpener in class on Oct. 8. In addition to being ordered to attend a special disciplinary class for seven days, the girl was removed as president of the student council and honor society.
It goes on to describe the parents' lawsuit, which criticizes the school's zero tolerance policies. There's a follow up article here, (and google results) and the outcome of the lawsuit is here. A traditional Korean pencil sharpener apparently looks like this:

It's described as "a common implement for students in South Korea," but I've certainly never seen one. The only ones I've seen look like the one above that's plunging into Japan. I'd have to guess that with a folding blade, the incident in my class I described above would never have happened. The ease with which a boxcutter's blade extends and retracts is part of what makes it so dangerous (and useful).

No comments: