Korea: Corporal Punishment and Student Growth

Officially, today, on November 1, 2010,  the Seoul Public Education System banned the use of corporal punishment upon students by teachers. This sounds like something long overdo. Gyeonggi-do (the ‘state’ that wraps around the Seoul Metropolitan Area outlawed physically disciplining students way back in… uh… maybe April or May of 2010! We’re forward thinkers outside of Seoul.

I don’t agree with corporal punishment; never have, never will. But I do believe that actions have consequences. Neither Seoul, not Gyeonggi-do apparently share my vision, because currently, officially, there is no way to discipline a student who acts in a disruptive or violent manner.

This is a problem.

Especially because as dense as some of the teenagers I teach seem to be, they aren’t dumb. They’ll figure this out sooner rather than later and that’s when teachers need to get creative or fall back on old (now outlawed) habits.

Fortunately my advantage lies in the fact that I work in a tiny school. I know them, they know me. They can’t hide from me or hide in a sea of faces. I know all my students on a first name basis but I have friends with hundreds, even over a thousand students. What do they do in a class of 38 when two bullies begin abusing the class loser? Officially, nothing. Unofficially, I don’t know. I know I’d intervene.

Which brings me to my school.

There is one student in particular who I feel great empathy and sympathy for because he is the school loser. I wish he had something going for him but he’s not cool, not athletic, not smart, not studious, not hard working. He’s been dealt a 2-7 poker hand on the genetic scale. (That’s the worst starting hand in Texas Hold’em Poker.) His prospects aren’t bright.

When I first arrived at the school he was picked on constantly. Unrelentingly. He didn’t do a thing to defend himself. When I tried to engage him in any topic he grunted out an answer. I did what I could but even in a tiny school there weren’t enough eyes to protect him all the time.

But recently, things have changed.

The other teachers, wisely, confided in his classmates, who then let the other grades know about his condition. His body produces elevated amounts of female hormones, he is, quite literally a woman trapped in a man’s body.

My students infuriate me many times, but this time they displayed a real humanity and caring. Students have gone out of their way to tease him less, to invite him into conversations, to play ping pong with him. He’s terrible at ping pong, doesn’t say much and still sleeps on my couch between classes but the other students understand him better and accept him for who he is.

It used to be he had two friends, both females, who took that extra time to listen to him and console him. One of those girls is not a good student, but I’ve liked her from the outset for her compassion for others, this student in particular. Now however, her load has been lightened considerably, the others may still tease this student but he’s no longer the object of derision but is included in the joke.

It’s heartwarming.

Last Friday the morning was our sport’s day and this student ran the ‘honourary’ leg of the three-legged race with the principal to include him while excluding him from the actual race proper. That’s smart. Then after lunch, there was ‘recreation’ which meant norae bang (singing room) and with the help of one of his closest friends (she was tucked behind a curtain) he got on stage and sang in front of the whole school!

That wouldn’t have happened 3 months ago.

When he finished he received some of the largest applause of the afternoon. He’s been accepted; warts, odd hormones and all.

It’s easy to look at teenagers and see them in a negative light.

Luckily for me, the teenagers I teach showed me just how kind and compassionate the next generation will be.

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