Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Korean Punishment: what happens to the trouble makers.

Corporal punishment in Korea can be an interesting subject, especially when you aren't from Korea.  When I was thinking about writing about punishments students get here in Korea, I really wanted to make sure I wrote about it in the right way.  I want to make sure it is clear that Danny and I don't think hitting a student is ever warranted, however we know that because this isn't our culture, we have to realize that we can't go imposing all our thoughts into the Korean mindset. The first time we had to think about it was when Danny and I were interviewed for our first job teaching in Korea and we were asked how we would respond when seeing different kinds of punishment that we weren't used to.  In America you can't even touch a student let alone hit them, so we really didn't know what to expect.

Punishment to students has different degrees, and thankfully many laws have  recently been passed to start banning corporal punishment in Korea.  I won't be talking about punishments where there is contact between the teacher and student, just about the silly positions they are put into when they do something wrong.  Most punishments Danny and I have seen are more comically pathetic than anything.  Here are a few of the top ones seen in schools today...

Kneeling with hands above their head is a "favorite" for many students.  This punishment is one that we have seen a lot and it is usually accompianied by a very stern looking teacher busy scolding the students.  The students may also have to hold a position resembling the "downward dog" yoga pose.  Usually the students only have to do this for a few minutes but I imagine that if you are really mischievous you probably are gaining some toned arms in your school career.  I had to laugh that when we asked some students to "model" these punishments for us because they instantly got a defeated look on their face instantly like they've done it before.  Oh, boys.

Crouching down in a squatting position is also another common punishment to see.  You might think that boys are most familiar with all the usual consequences of wrong-doings, but these girls seemed to know just what to do when I asked them  ; ) 

I wanted to make sure my face REALLY said, "I'm sorry!"

Danny and I are really glad that we landed a great job at Andong English Village where there is absolutely NO forceful punishment done. The usual punishment we see going on (usually multiple times a day ; ) is the classic "standing against the wall, contemplating what you did wrong" position.  It's kind of a daily curiosity of mine to walk by the main office and see how many students are "enjoying" a little wall time.

The last and more comical one in my opinion is the "waddle" punishment.  I first encountered this sight last year as I was walking into to school in the morning.  Apparently students were late to class so their punishment was to waddle like a duck all the way to their classroom.  I feel in some ways that it is counter productive since it takes a long time to waddle, and they were already late, but again hey, who am I to judge?  I think I would choose this punishment if I had to just because at least it would get a laugh!

There is one thing in common with all punishments given to students, and perhaps you may have noticed it in all the pictures... students always keep their heads down and won't look you in the eye.  Coming from a culture the highly values eye contact, I think this is one of the most subtle and interesting cultural differences between western and eastern culture.

The "American" stare down.

As an American, I am very familiar with the phrase, "Look me in the eyes when I'm talking to you!" as I suspect many of you are as well, when consequences are being dished out.  We westerners see it as rude and disrespectful to look away especially when it comes to being punished.

Korea is not that way at all.  I had to laugh as we set up to take this picture of one of our students, Gabriel, as the "teacher" and Danny posing as the "student".  Gabriel perfectly embodied what a Korean teacher looks like when he is punishing a student: stern face, hands in the pockets, looking at the top of the offender's head.  It would be extremely rude for Danny or any student to try and have eye contact with their teacher at a moment like this, and that is still something we have to get used to.  If you try and correct a student, they will instantly look away, and because of my culture, I always want to tell them to look AT me!

Bad boy, Danny.
I think as time goes on, corporal punishment is disappearing from Korean culture, but unfortunately we know it still exists (from experience).  As many Koreans would agree, there are many things that need to be looked at and changed in their education system, and hopefully those changes will come soon.  At least Danny and I have learned that it is important to remember that you can't force your value system onto a country in which you are a guest, but it is also important for us to try to use our job as a chance to show these kids a fun and loving environment.  Kids will be kids and make lots of mistakes so consequences will always exist, however I think maybe loosing all the blood in one's arms can soon be replaced with different and equally effective punishments.  Let's just hope Koreans don't adopt their evolving punishments from the Wilson or Doerksen family... let's just say that a wooden paddle spanking wasn't fun either ; )

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