Thursday, April 28, 2011

Korean School

Wangtta (Loser) and bullying are problems - some would say an outgrowth - of South Korea's strict school system, in which pressure to succeed is enormous. Rote-learning for college entrance exams is such that high schools are referred to as "exam hell".

Teachers of old were stern and unforgiving. Confucian ideas stressed that the "king, teacher and father are one and the same" (gunsabuilche). In old schools called Seodang, or "Houses of Letters", the teacher sat cross-legged on the floor, his hand occasionally sweeping his long beard. He wore a horsehair top hat, read dog-eared Confucian textbooks spread on a small table, and stared down at students with "tiger's eyes". Students knelt before the teacher and read their textbooks on the floor. Boys who failed to memorized poems and textbooks were summoned and told to roll up their trouser legs. The teacher's bamboo stick whistled through the air and landed on trembling calves. Other boys waiting their turn, winced at every blow. Hence, the expression, "If you have to be whipped, it's best to be whipped first".

Gyopyeon japda, or "picking up the educational rod," is the Korean expression for becoming a teacher. The paddle euphemistically referred to as the "rod of love."

All Korean men remember a punishment called "Wonsan Bombardment". The victim put his head on the ground and then raised his hips, forming an arch with his body. Only his head and two feet touch the ground. His hands were locked behind his back. With the student poised in this painful position, a teacher sometimes whacked his buttocks with a rod. It was a common punishment in the South Korean military as well.

Parents and children occasionally report bruises, burst eardrums and other injuries afflicted by teachers. The Education Ministry allows teachers to use corporal punishment only when it is "inevitable for educational purposes". It bans teachers from beating students with broom sticks, slippers, belts, rolled-up newspapers or attendance books.

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