There are two topics which expatriates in South Korea have been debating recently.
One is the question of imprisonment from five months up to two years for those who commit adultery – but this is not the one I wish to focus on today.
The other topic literally surprised and automatically outraged me as soon as I heard about it for the first time! I’m talking about a newly passed law that at last forbids teachers to hit their native students. No, this is neither in the eighteenth or nineteenth century nor in some village lost in time, but in the South Korean capital of Seoul in the twenty-first century!
Because of the loss of the tradition of harsh punishment, Korean teachers are now so desperate that they do not know how they should behave in the classroom towards bad behavior by the students, who start showing their claws when they are 12 or 13 years old. It is worth mentioning that for them bad behavior translates into simply talking during class, almost falling asleep, or maybe responding to a teacher when they dare to have a different opinion on a subject. Unlike parts of Europe and the U.S., or even Brazil, students in Korea never threaten the teachers either verbally or physically.
The first time I heard about the Korean school-punishment practices was from a Canadian English teacher about a year ago. I was shocked, but recent articles in newspapers show that the rumours have been true.
Since my son doesn’t attend a Korean school, and his extracurricular activities are taught by Korean teachers in – let’s say – international institutions, I have never noticed anything wrong, at least until one day that something did happen. My son was running around, playing with his friends on the grounds of his taekwondo school shortly before his class started when he slipped, fell, and hit his mouth on the ground, skinning his lips, his gums, and even making him lose two milk teeth (thank God!) a couple of hours later. Anyway, his face was covered with blood from the nose down. Since I had seen what happened, my automatic response was to take him to the ER, but I only realised the next day nobody at that school even cared to ask what had happened. Instead, the Korean teachers started the taekwondo class right on time, as if nothing was out of the ordinary. Their lack of humanity towards a small child left me shaken and deeply irritated, and then my son and I decided to change to another establishment. I don’t blame the instructors for the incident itself, but I do blame them for their lack of compassion.
To tell the truth, I’m still shaken, but reading some recent articles, and even protests in the form of books and blogs by native teachers calling for the old law and the right to inflict physical punishment, has made me more aware. The most intriguing thing of all is that most Korean parents agree with these nonsensical, archaic educational tactics!
How can the Koreans be so kind and so cruel at the same time? If I were still in Russia I’d expect this sort of behaviour somehow, but not in the Land of the Morning Calm!
Still, once again I am reminded of the importance of hierarchy in these lands, which is as vital as breathing. As it happens, the majority of the people unfortunately can’t really deal with this kind of power, which leads them into behaving like gods or super-heroes and forgetting to keep watch on their evil side when it takes over from the sweet and human side. Love is the thing that makes us parents weigh our actions, even when our kids have crossed the line, but among most of the Korean teachers there is no love, but still plenty of bad temper. That’s why it is so remarkably easy for them to call for violence. Let’s remember that the Koreans are known here as the Italians of Asia.
It’s only fair to mention that physical violence does not reign absolute around here when we see that so many people have suffered in the past and still suffer from bullying. It may be something that only became a fashionable topic of conversation recently, but it’s been around for a long time. I must also point out that many teachers create embarrassing situations for students during class, providing the fuel that some devilish kids need to torment others in the schoolyard after the bell has rung.
Bullying is of course unacceptable, especially when it might degrade many and leave more marks on the soul of a teenager than physical punishment inflicted by a teacher, for instance, but I still find it more difficult to accept violent punishment by schools than the mental torture that kids inflict. Actually, the question is why I should accept it or learn to live with it. Both forms of violence are simply unacceptable!
Being a mother, I know how difficult it is to teach a child the importance of inner values, but despite my many flaws I’ve learned that at least with my son, who is stubborn by nature, the most appropriate way to teach him stuff is to make him understand the situation and to see that for everything in life there are consequences – consequences and not necessarily punishment. I tell him, for example, “If you don’t eat vegetables you will be hungry, weak, and ill, and therefore you won’t be able to do sports or play with your friends. If you don’t study, you won’t graduate, you won’t get a job, and you won’t make enough money to do things you like to do, besides surviving.”
The Soviet Communist Party, among other villains, has already proven that the politics of terror and of fear does not produce positive outcomes, but leads instead to riots, hatred, and even more anarchy in one way or another, whether visible or invisible to the naked eye. This being so, why can’t human beings learn from the mistakes of others?
One of the reasons why the Koreans defend physical punishment so much is perhaps because they are proud of what they became through that system. All right, South Korea today is modern and developed, at least in terms of general civilization and infrastructure, but its people urgently need to learn to put some prehistoric traditions behind and realise that although human progress is slow and almost imperceptible, mankind does develop!
Luciana B. Veit