Confusion and concern rushes through me whenever I hear comments like these:
I know my teacher cared because he hit us with his stick when we didn’t get the answer right.
If I fail a quiz, my teacher hits me with a stick. I don’t mind this because it makes me think of what I’ve done wrong.
Although I didn’t like it at the time, when I look back, I know he hit me because he loved me and wanted me to learn. This is how he motivated me.
Both Korean teachers and students have shared such stories with me, and each time I hear them, I’m left baffled. I have a hard time wrapping my head around the equations: hitting=love and hitting=learning.
Maybe I react this way because I put myself in the shoes of the student being threatened or hit. There is no way that my 12 year old self would understand these equations. I’m pretty confident that 16 year old Josette would rage with hatred if that stick of love came down on her palms. And I’m equally sure that 10 year old Josette would cry home in shame.
I also realize that not everyone would react like me. For the sake of trying to understand, I’ll set aside my prejudices for a moment. What if students want to this type of punishment? It seems some believe they do. But what about the Josettes in the class? If my intention is to show care, I would need to make sure that my students respond to this kind of care. Would teachers need to get feedback from students to determine if they need the “stick of love” discipline? It surely would make for an interesting needs assessment:
Circle the answers that match your needs.
I want to be hit with the stick of love when I make a mistake or fail a quiz/test.
If you want to be hit, how many times do you want to be hit with the stick of love?
- 5 strokes
- 10 strokes
- 20 strokes
If you want to be hit with the stick of love, where do you want to be hit?
- back of the legs
- soles of the feet
I don’t think this kind of feedback is being collected.
My intention isn’t to make light of this. I know it’s a sticky subject and will conjure up plenty of mixed feelings. I just needed to write this out of concern for students who don’t respond positively to the love stick (so hard to write that sentence. I can’t imagine anyone truly responding positively. What about the long-term consequences? What does this do to their spirit? “Squelch it” comes to mind.) And of course the question comes up, even if they think they need the stick, are they capable of making a rational decision at this point? I know students out there who don’t want to be hit. They want love. They want warmth. They want to feel safe.
I also know that there are teachers out there who just don’t think they have an alternative. I have heard many times that this is part of the their tradition. This is how Korean teachers have been motivating students for centuries. They can’t imagine another way to encourage students to study. Plus, taking away the stick means giving the stick to students. Check out PRI: The World for more on this point: South Korea debates students discipline.
I think there is an alternative. I think it involves listening to students. I realize there is a lot in that sentence. What does it mean to listen to 30 students who don’t want to be in English class? What does it mean to listen to students when they are depressed, and you are exhausted because you have far too much paper work to do and still need to monitor students until midnight?
How do we listen? It’ll take a major shift in the system, but I think it can happen. It needs to happen. Too many students are in pain. Too many students are chronically depressed. Too many students are dying.
The stick of love won’t suffice. I think teachers and administrators need to learn about the power of compassion and understanding. They need to be trained how to listen compassionately. They need to learn how to see students as human beings. More counselors are needed whose only job is listening and caring. Of course, a lot more than this needs to happen (maybe a complete overhaul of the system), but this could be a start.
I think everyone in the Korean educational system could benefit from being heard. I think everyone could benefit from a little more love…minus the stick.
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