Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Yusin lives on - at school

For those who don't know of the 1972 Yusin constitution, there's a little more information here. Needless to say it was one of the more unpleasant periods of the last 50 years to be living in South Korea, what with the ban on all public protest, people disappearing and being tortured at KCIA headquarters, etc. While this culture of punishment, and the stress that accompanied it, may be gone for most people, I can't help but wonder if it lingers on in Korean schools.

For example, a girl in grade four had this done to her by her homeroom teacher in Gapyeong in April of 2006:

This made the news a week and a half ago:

In the 38-second video clip, a teacher is seen striking the hips of two students in a push-up position with the sword. When one student stands up, unable to endure the beating, the teacher follows him to strike his back.[...]

The school, in Jeonju city in North Jeolla Province, said, "The two students often miss class without advance notification. The teacher spoke to them and the students promised not to skip class again but they didn't keep their word. The teacher punished them because they skipped class the previous afternoon, although it seems extreme."
I'm sure anyone who's taught here, even if they're not teaching in public schools, has heard stories of corporal punishment from students. It's not limited to middle and high schools, of course; one pointless story that stands out is of a girl who said she got hit on the hand with a stick by her teacher because of her test score. After I asked her what her score was, she said she got one question wrong. When I asked why she got hit, she told me everyone got one hit per wrong answer. Nice. One middle school girl I remember had had a teacher pinch her upper arm and twist his hand while doing so, leaving a purple bruise. There are also more mundane things like making students stand and squat while holding their ears. One student who received this punishment for being late was walking in obvious pain the next day. While that's not as bad as being hit, you do wonder why pain has to be used to discipline the students. One of my high school students told me she gets held back for 30 minutes after school and has to clean if she's less than 30 minutes late - a penalty which would seem to me to serve its purpose adequately, without need for physical pain.

This has come to light more in the past few years as cell phones with video cameras have become more common. Oranckay reacted as if this was a new development back in April of 2004 in a post titled "girls with video": "Teachers. Cops. Dirty old men. You’ve been warned!" Someone had taken this video of a teacher pummeling a high school girl in Suwon. Interestingly, this predates the Dog Poop Girl by a year, but then netizens weren't cyberstalking the teacher involved. At any rate, this may well be the first such clip. The video's also here on youtube.

A contemporary news clip about this video can be found here.

In November of 2006 another video appeared on the internet (it's also here):

The first-year high school student walked into her seventh period class late, where the teacher forced the girl to her knees and then struck her on the shoulders with a broom multiple times. Other students in the class filmed the incident with their mobile phones, and when the child’s parents saw the video they headed to the school the next day to demand a formal apology and the reprimand of the girl’s teacher.
Another video of a student being beaten (and I do mean beaten) by a teacher in Gimhae made the news in July of this year. A video can be seen here (hat tip to Occidentalism).

This example of a rather petty punishment was posted in February of this year, apparently from Suncheon. It seems more like a ritual to humiliate the students as much as possible, and may be an example of a teacher simply trying to waste time.

Speaking of humiliation, an article translated at Korea Beat describes the results of a poll of
1,248 middle and high school students across the country, finding that 11.2% had experienced having their hair cut by a teacher within the last three years, they announced on the 2nd. 16% of boys and 6.4% of girls had had such an experience, and 22.9% male high school students had.

They're not alway in the most fashionable style, either:

While the practice of grabbing young men with long hair and shaving their heads was, for the general population, confined to the era of authoritarian rulers (it ended in 1982), students in Korea still get to taste that little piece of the past in school. While so many aspects of the Korean education system were simply continued from the systems put in place by the Japanese (like this, for example), most students I've talked to will agree that one thing they like about Japan is the fact that students there can wear their hair however they like.

In mid-May of 2005 protests were held at Gwanghwamun against forced haircuts and calling for liberalization of rules on hair length, as this lengthy Joongang Ilbo article about the issue relates:
Students held a demonstration near Gwanghwamun in central Seoul on May 14, although teachers threatened that those participating in the protest would be subject to reprimands, and went to the area to try to discourage students from rallying. That day, 200 students gathered to protest, along with 400 teachers and, reportedly, 2,000 riot police.
Photos of a similar demonstration a week earlier, which protested against the pressure the system puts on students which often leads to suicide, can be found here (hat tip to the Metropolitician). For (many) more photos of shaved heads, and of bruises from beatings, to head over to nocut.idoo.net (this English page gives a bit of its history, and the photos can be found here). Or you can just watch this video, which compiles many of the photos from the site:

Worth noting is that, at least for most of the students I teach, hair restrictions have loosened a little, with both boys and girls allowed to wear slightly longer hair. Baby steps, I guess.

Going back to the issue of physical violence against students, this two part article from 2002, by teacher with a background in psychology and experience among Koreans in Canada, looks at the problem of corporate punishment in Korean schools (it's also in Korean here).
It has been my experience that the Korean educational system currently accepts, tolerates and legitimizes physical and psychological abuse in its schools. During the last two years, I have personally witnessed Korean teachers physically beat their students to the point that students bled.

On one occasion, a fellow Korean teacher slammed one of my student’s head against the teacher’s desk. This caused the student’s head to cut open and bleed. Other teachers kicked students in the stomach, or beat them with sticks, metal pipes, rods, and wooden bats. Female teachers pinched the cheeks of female students hard enough until tears ran. Elementary school students were beaten over their entire backside with a thick wooden branch while remaining in the push-up position. And on more than one occasion, students were sent to the hospital because of teacher abuse.

I have worked with approximately 180 teachers, and in my opinion more than 70% physically beat students as a method of classroom management and discipline. I have been told repeatedly, teachers beat students out of a deep sense of love. Oddly enough, teachers who beat students have told me they are fearful of sending their own children to the very schools that they teach because of this physical abuse. [...]
It's worth reading it all, even though I may not agree with everything. The second part of the article continues:
A new problem is now emerging out of corporal punishment. As role models, Korean teachers continue to demonstrate to their students that the most effective method of problem solving is through physical punishment. The lesson is simple: If you have a problem, use violence as the solution. Student-to-student violence, and bullying, is now becoming a national problem. These bright students learn more from what we ‘do,’ not from what we ‘say’ as teachers.[...]

The Korean government, on the other hand, has shown their position recently by endorsing physical abuse with specific parameters around the thickness (1cm) and length (50-60cm) of the stick, number of hits to the body (5-10), and so on. Thanks to the Ministry of Education, male students can now be lashed across the buttocks, and female students can be struck on the upper thighs.
The question of how institutional violence reflects on the behavior of students is one worth considering, but not in this post.

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