Is Corporal Punishment Good or Bad?

Just the other day I had a class that would try the most even-keeled person.  The students were rowdy, getting up and walking around as they pleased.  The surprising part of it was that they were the youngest grade students of my middle school.  About 12 or 13 years old.  Usually, this group is a bit scared by the new surroundings and intimidated by the older students.  Not this bunch.  After class my coteacher randomly mentioned that Korea had rid of corporal punishment (hitting students) about three years ago.  That's all he said.  He doesn't usually say much, but when he does, it's usually pretty good.  His point being that if there was still corporal punishment in classrooms, the behavior problems we just experienced would not have occurred.

The whole conversation got me thinking - about Korea, about my experience as a student, about American schools.  When I was in elementary school in New Hampshire, I had a principal that would hit the boys when we got way out of line.  Like a quick slap to the back of the head or something like that.  It didn't really hurt, but it definitely switched our focus pretty quickly.  Now this is in the mid-80s (cough*) and in a small town.  This principal really cared about the students.  In fact, he was a bit of a father figure to many students as he also doubled as the coach for all the boy's sports.  He has since passed away but I can't recall a single student of his who doesn't look back at him with admiration.

On the other hand, we've all heard of situations and seen videos of the opposite.  Teachers taking out frustration on students meant more for venting than for correction.  Without question, out of line and inappropriate - illegal in some cases.

So I started a mid day reflecting moment before my 5th cup of coffee.  The majority of states in America, my home, have been without corporal punishment for decades.  In fact, I think we're on the verge of seeing stricter penalties for "spanking" in homes.  Have these decisions affected our country as the years carried on?  I'm sure more than a handful of opinions exist on this issue.

But how will this change affect Korea, if at all?

Today, I decided to casually interrogate my head coteacher.  A woman of 20 years at this school and now English department head.  Clearly her opinion is that removing this right, or tool, or strategy has already negatively impacted the classroom.  She feels that students are more prone to standing up to teachers and "rudely" voicing their opinions.  I've actually seen it to my surprise, though very uncommon.  Students are now aware that they can both speak and act more freely in class towards teachers and more aggressively towards other students.  She also went on to tell me that in light of the new Presidency this year, teachers in Korea are joining together to petition reinstating corporal punishment in the classroom.  I'm not sure if this is a formal thing or just rumblings in hallways and emails.  Nonetheless, it sounds like teachers in Korea are feeling as though their hands are slowly being tied.

I mentioned to her that the students they have now are likely in a transitional phase of a long term change.  Right now they are still testing the waters to see how far they can actually push the envelope.  However, in the years to come as new boundaries are better understood by students, Korean teachers will see even bolder changes.  In my opinion.  I also said that reinstating something that has already been taken away, such as corporal punishment, is typically very difficult if not impossible.

All that being said, I have a tough time even raising my voice at students of my all-girl middle school.  Some of them are really small and timid and I know I would scare or intimidate some of them unintentionally.  So I rarely do.  When I do yell though, it's met with complete silence - a room full of blank stares.  So imagining hitting a student is not an option for me.  I would assume that ESL teachers wouldn't have that right anyway, but just the thought of it is out of my scope at the moment.  Though I have had numerous situations that definitely warranted some sort of corporal intervening, though not by me of course.

My take on it is this.  Students are fully aware of repercussions for their actions, both positive and negative.  Even the young ones.  They are more wile than we may think.  We were too, but we tend to forget that. I have to believe that when the threat of physical correction is removed from a situation - strategies and actions will change.  In the case of classrooms, I believe it translates into the trouble students getting worse.  Which would probably flow over into affecting other students as intimidation and bullying will likely be amplified.

So is there a case for corporal punishment?  Possibly.  Is there an equivalent or more effective alternative?  That's what the argument is.  Should greater safeguards be put in place to avoid beatings where corporal punishment is allowed?  Obviously.  But that only applies if corporal punishment is in the equation.  In a country with the world's leading math students, it's no longer part of the equation.


the Red Dragon Diaries

ESL, Travel, and Judo!


Re: Is Corporal Punishment Good or Bad?

Interesting topic. Something I think about often. I've been teaching at a middle school for almost 2 years now, and the behavior I have seen is HIGHLY unacceptable. My first day at this school there was a fight IN my classroom. It certainly seems like the teachers, to use a metaphor, are dogs that bark but have lost their bite. 

It's so interesting to compare different classrooms and see how they behave differently depending on their homeroom teacher.

I have a class whose homeroom teacher let's the students sit wherever they want and has no desire to discipline/educate them on proper classroom behavior. Needless to say, when I go to this class, I can not teach, at all. We spend 20 minutes moving the students into a boy/girl arrangement, and then disciplining several students before we can actually get down to teaching.

I have a class whose homeroom teacher is quite strict, has actually used corporal punishment, and this class is SO EASY to teach! I go, they sit properly, do not start conversations with classmates, and actually understand how to behave.

Same school, same year, very different students.

To quote something I learned in school, there are two ways a leader can command the people. Fear or respect. If the students do not respect you, which most don't as a default, then they must fear you.

If they neither fear or respect you, you have absolutely NO control at all. 

Before coming to Korea, I was highly against corporal punishment. I would never dream of hitting a student, and to this day I never have. 

However some of these students could benefit from it. They need serious correcting. They do not understand the school, the classroom, their role as a student, and how to behave in the classroom. I have seen how effective it is, a few teachers will give the students a good smack (nothing too severe) and the students learn to fear the teacher and make sure to behave properly around him/her.

In Canada, I can't remember students being this bad in class. Furthermore, we were certainly NEVER hit. But we did have other punishments we HATED - detention! Detention slips. I have never seen this used in Korea, perhaps because the students have to jet off to a hogwan, but I find that when I was in school, we avoided detentions at all cost.

Just my two cents.


Re: Is Corporal Punishment Good or Bad?

The greater issue is not the classroom environment and discipline:  the true issue is what happens and what is taught to these young minds at an early age at home and the parental involvement in their education.   Yes, there is a correlation to their unruliness and the repeal of corporal punishment, but I think the root of the problem is the parenting at home--but don't go telling the parents this, oh no.   Parents have a tendency to treat much of this generation as princes and princesses--never telling them "no" and allowing them almost anything.   These children do not learn to discipline their wants and desires at an early age so when they enter school, trying to curb those feelings as a teacher is nigh impossible.  Then when the teacher does try to get the parents involved, many parents do nothing.   Korea is following suit with many western cultures in thinking that the teacher is the one who is wrong, and the children can never do wrong.   

Re: Is Corporal Punishment Good or Bad?

short answer to this is NO. corporal punishment is not a viable solution. its an excuse, a vice, by weak minded people (not necessarily teachers, but bullies, office senior staff) it doesn't matter where you work. i was raised by an overly abusive dad, i went to catholic school i was in a boys prep school. and i was never struck. was it fear, maybe, but also respect. my parents instilled in me the value that teachers are you interim parents. if i fucked up at school be it elementary, or high school. there was a fury waiting for me when i got home. I feel that is part of the problem. Adults today, my age (35+) are continuing the age old promise never to raise their kids the way they were raised. i was smacked around by my dad, i don't smack kids around. i remember well the teachers in korea. way back in the day, when they still smacked em around. i still see it in the chinese schools in malaysia. and i'm against it. its a bit like dog training. smack the dog once, it learns to fear it, you do it again, he's libel to take your hand off. weak people abuse weaker people. if you can't deal with a class of kids no matter the age, YOU ARE NOT FIT TO BE A TEACHER.period point blank! my advice, resign, and get a bloody office cubical job where you have no interaction with children. I believe the korean teachers only want it back because they can't handle the situation with poorly disciplined kids (in their homes). they weren't really trained to adapt i guess. thats the other side of the coin. education evolves. in korea, its much slower and possibly almost invisble to see on a large scale, any significant proactive changes. it is something that expat teachers should strive to show, theres so much shit flung on these forums about the crap working situations in korea. this sensitive subject just brings more of that i think. I train teachers, and they all struggle with mixed levels, mixed races, mixed religions. from indonesia, thailand, vietnam, phillipines, chinese malay, malay, tamil, and the list goes one. they all have kids with adhd, dyslexia, autism, abusive parents, single moms, crack mammas, and again, it goes on and on. and they all whinge about classroom control. in the most professional way, i tell them the following (here in blunt speak) the only thing you can and should control is yourself, the rest is well...obvious. if you can't see are the problem, not the children.