Thursday, January 27, 2011

Spare the Rod

Except for one brief trip downtown and five minutes in a tourist shop buying red ginseng and wooden spoons, my time here has been teaching, teaching and more teaching. But always interesting tidbits at mealtimes from my host and translator about Korean culture. She tells me about “helicopter moms” hovering over their kids and running every detail of their lives so that grown judges will call their mother to ask advice about how long a sentence they should give. I hear about “seagull dads,” who stay at home to work so their children can be educated in America or abroad at International Schools. I find out that Korea is the number one coffee importer and also has the highest divorce rate in the world.

Today’s tidbit: In former times in Korea, corporal punishment in school was commonplace. Students would be publicly humiliated and caned for anything from rudeness to lying to low test scores. Girls would go down on all four’s while male teachers caned them on their buttocks. Finally, the school system saw the light and decided to ban this barbaric and antiquated practice. The date of the ban?

November 1, 2010.

Need I say I was shocked? I went to Google to look into it further and was treated to various videos of caning in action (some apparently taken by students with cell phones). Wikipedia has an entry on the subject, but equally shocking is the map of the United States showing the states where school corporal punishment is illegal and where it is legal. Draw a line about halfway through the country from North Carolina to Colorado and look south for all the states that still endorse it. Ironically, mostly the areas called the Bible belt. (Do they think that that’s what Jesus meant when he said “turn the other cheek?”) Hmm.

Today’s news tells me that Obama included thoughts about education in his State of the Union address and expressed admiration, as he has done before, for the Korean system. I wonder if he has seen these videos or spoken to the kids pressured to work until 2 in the morning. Of course, I don’t know enough to judge the whole picture of Korean education and I am certainly impressed with the quality of the people in my course. But there simply is no justification for bodily harming children who fail to comply with or fall short of often-unreasonable adult demands. The one that I’ve heard—“how can we control them otherwise?” is so cynical and short-sighted that I wouldn’t know where to begin to answer this

Meanwhile, I’ve had four glorious days filled with beauty, laughter, powerful music and expressive dance. People have worked hard without fear of punishment and needed no rewards beyond the pleasure of the activities. They’ve helped each other out, given support when needed, expressed admiration when earned. They start the day eager to participate and leave with a song in their heart.

The more I see how right education can be, the more I lament how wrong so much of it is. 

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