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School CP - August 1994

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Los Angeles Times, 30 August 1994

Sparing the Rod in South Korea

Once widely accepted in the military, prisons and schools, the use of violent punishment faces rising challenges

By Teresa Watanabe
Times Staff Writer



South Korea's new civilian government, inaugurated last year by former dissident Kim Young Sam, is producing a striking reform: a significant reduction in violence as a means of social control.

Once omnipresent among the military and police, in the legal system, the schools and at home, beatings and other physical forms of coercion are being firmly rejected by a growing number of South Koreans. In a measure of the strides made by this newly democratic nation, everyone from soldiers to parents is speaking out against the use of force -- and the protests are being heeded by the institutions that once ruled unchecked.


Schools, which have long used corporal punishment, are curtailing the practice in the face of growing parental protests, according to authorities.


South Korea's rising affluence and education levels -- as well as Western encroachment on traditional Confucian teachings to honor superiors -- are also instilling a greater resistance to violence, officials say. Choi Joon In, a Board of Education official in Seoul's southern district, said the growing ranks of professional parents, who are more educated than many teachers, are the most vocal in their protests.

"They don't ask their children why they were beaten. They simply get angry and abuse teachers with harsh language," Choi said. "They believe anything their child did was right and the teacher was wrong."

Such modern attitudes sharply contrast with the long tradition of corporal punishment in South Korea. The word for teaching itself, gyopyon , means "teaching with a cane" in the characters used in Korean writing. Many teachers, and some parents, still support the judicious use of the cane to whip disobedient students on the palm or calf. But critics say too many teachers lose control and resort to brutality.


Educators, however, say the growing public sentiment to "spare the rod" is producing spoiled brats and juvenile delinquents. Both substance abuse and violent crime among teen-agers are on a sharp upswing. Last year, for instance, youths accounted for 54% of the nation's sexual offenses, up from 35% in 1992, and for 48% of violent crime, such as murders and robberies. The number of teens involved in crime increased by 16.2% in 1993 over the previous year, according to Justice Ministry figures.

Lee Chul Man, a teacher at Choong Dong High School in Seoul, argues that the growing social disorder is a direct result of too much parental laxity. He recalled a recent scene at a bookstore, where a child was making a fuss. When a middle-aged man scolded him for misbehavior, the child's mother snapped at the man, "Why are you breaking my child's spirit?"

"If this is what democratization produces, I think our young generation and our society will undergo a chaotic period," Lee said.

At Dae Kwang High School in Seoul, a recent student body presidential candidate campaigned on the slogan "Abolish beating by teachers" and won. As students have become more vocal, teachers have curtailed their corporal punishment, said sophomore Park Pyong Min, 17. But Park, who has been whipped by his teachers on the backside for scoring poorly on exams, said some corporal punishment is necessary "because there are guys who won't behave otherwise."


Chi Jung Nam of The Times' Seoul Bureau contributed to this report.

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