Are South Koreans Done with Corporal Punishment?

We’re almost in the family way, so there are a plethora of conversations about kids and discipline in this house. The old adage “spare the rod, spoil the child,” seemed fairly operative in a lot of my Korean friends’ childhood memories, including my own. In seminary, I remember sitting around with other Korean and Korean American students jokingly exchanging stories about the terror we felt when moms and (mostly?) dads would get that look in their eye whenever we did anything wrong – although maybe my mom was actually much more creatively torturous, as confirmed by Stuff Korean Moms Like.

Someone spoke of how often he’d have to actually run and get the particular tool for discipline. These tools would range from wooden rulers, spoons, hangers to leather belts or just a palm of a hand. I remember my Korean piano teacher would always smack my hands with a wooden pencil whenever I didn’t use the right fingers for specific notes during our lessons. I have to admit it was effective. Still, all this is probably not so funny but that was often one way to sort of “deal” with the stress of class and papers – to laugh about another kind of suffering.

Child Services would probably have had some kind of hey-day if they really knew what was happening in some of these homes, but it was just a part of growing up in a Korean household. Apparently it was a part of regular Korean culture – was being the operative word now since there was a ban on corporal punishment in schools that was initiated in November 2010. I know that corporal punishment isn’t something just unique to Korean or Asian cultures and that in the US there are actually stories of similar kinds of disciplinary measures way-back-when. (Or is that just in the movies?) But it is seen and understood differently in Korean culture…perhaps, simply more ingrained in this culture.

Though it looks like dialogue about banning corporal punishment in schools has been ongoing for the last year – for example, there was opposition to banning it back in July – it appears there is a movement towards much more humane methods that recognize the basic human rights of children and adolescents, which can only be positive and helpful in the long run. In raising my own children, I certainly will be doing things differently (the recent Tiger Mom phenomenon is a conversation for another time). I also look forward with hope that Korea’s education system will still produce bright students without the paddle or the switch. However, changing a whole culture’s system of educating, and in effect, raising children will take time and discipline.

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About Mihee

Mihee lives in the Mid-West with her husband, toddler-aged twins (yes, terrible twos is actually a thing), and baby #3. Though her reserve of brain cells is seriously depleted she is still passionate about Asian American culture, religion and social justice for marginalized people, stories about Korea, sports, and power naps. During the day, she spends a lot of time trying to remember which baby needs to eat or get a diaper change, mentoring and ministering to college students, occasionally taking a walk, writing, watching Sportscenter, or grabbing coffee. You can read her blog here.
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