New York Times , February 4, 1999
South Korea Doesn't Spare the Rod
The Associated Press
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- Lim Ke-sook's 12-year-old daughter nearly lost the sight in her right eye after a science teacher threw a textbook at her. Outraged, Mrs. Lim went to the authorities and the teacher was charged with battery.
Little did she imagine the consequences.
Her daughter's classmates pelted the girl's house with stones, overturned her school locker and refused to play with her. Then, hundreds of parents and teachers signed a petition defending the teacher.
The teacher did not mean to hurt young Hee-soon, the petitioners told the prosecutor -- only to discipline her.
``Educational motives'' drove him to throw the book at Hee-soon to stop her from chatting with a classmate while he was handing out homework, the petition said.
``I am so dismayed,'' said Lim, 36, whose suit over the incident last October is pending. ``People think my kid just had bad luck to stand in the way of a raging teacher.''
For centuries, South Korea's school credo has been: ``Spare the rod, spoil the child.''
But brutal punishment at the hands of educators has become so widespread in recent years that the Education Ministry issued a directive in October ordering schools not to ``beat students with broom sticks, ice hockey sticks, slippers, belts or attendance books.''
As a result of the government action, more children and parents are now reporting bruises, welts, split lips, broken ribs, burst eardrums and other injuries inflicted by teachers in the name of discipline.
Still, public support for corporal punishment in schools remains widespread in South Korea.
``My teacher always carried a knobby bamboo root,'' says Lee Ki-myong, a 33-year-old father of two. ``Whenever we broke rules, the stick would come out. It whistled through the air and it stung.''
``He hit you if you were late, if you had a runny nose, if you pushed and shoved in line, if you couldn't add or subtract. ... Now I know he was right. He was a shepherd guiding 50, 60 wayward kids all by himself,'' Lee said.
Surveys show 80 percent of Korean parents physically punish their children when they misbehave. Last year, Park June-chul, father of South Korean professional golfer Se Ri Pak, openly admitted to slapping her when she slacked off on practicing as a teen-ager.
By law, corporal punishment is permitted in South Korean schools only when it is ``inevitable for educational purposes.''
But it is so widely practiced that the Korean expression for becoming a teacher is ``picking up the educational stick'' and the paddle is euphemistically referred to as the ``rod of love.''
``Many teachers don't know the difference between discipline and abuse,'' said Lee Eun-ok, co-chairwoman of Parents' Solidarity for Humane Education, which is dedicated to preventing child abuse in schools. ``In many schools, we a see a rule by violence.''
Numerous complaints filed to Lee's group make clear that slapping or spanking students is routine for even such minor infractions as pierced ears or dyed hair.
In 1996, a 17-year-old girl drank pesticide and killed herself after her teacher whacked her head with a rolled-up newspaper for wearing a skirt deemed too short.
Last May, a teacher in the island province of Cheju dragged an 18-year-old high school student to a graveyard, flogged him with an ax handle and then dug a hole and buried him up to his chin.
Kim Sung-kook, a teacher of 20 years who requires his students to stand up and bow deeply when he enters, admits there are ``quite a few crazy, psychopathic teachers.''
But, he says, that should not justify depriving teachers of ``effective means of classroom control.''
``Government authorities don't know how disruptive and disrespectful today's students are. Without the stick, they will take ... charge themselves,'' Kim said.
Even some students support corporal punishment to a point.
``So stubborn are some of my classmates that they deserve some whipping,'' said 19-year-old high school student Choi Min-ji. ``But sometimes I can't help wondering if the teacher is beating us just because he had a bad breakfast.''