Tuesday, August 3, 2010

To beat or not to beat

Korea Beat is one of my favorite blogs for the simple reason that the blog owner and some of his hench(wo)men take a good cross section of typical or prominent news items from the Korean-language press and translate them into English. It can provide a decidedly different view from many English-language blogs, which focus so strongly on English-language articles about expat-related issues (like English teachers, etc.), that they contribute to cognitive distortion about how much the Korean media actually focuses on native-speaking English teachers in Korea and their problems (or triumphs). The only downside to his blog is that he facilitates my laziness about reading Korean-language news items directly, but that's my problem.

above: Corporal punishment from long ago. 
I did a Google image search of 체벌 (corporal punishment), but a lot of the things I found were highly inappropriate for a family blog. [source]

Today he has the English translation of an interesting Korean-language article on the prospect that kids are more likely to receive physical punishment in hagwons (of which there are a whopping fifteen thousand in Seoul) than in public schools. An excerpt:
After the Seoul Office of Education announced its decision to eliminate corporal punishment, discussion has also focused on the use of corporal punishment in the hagwons of Seoul. Unlike public schools, which practice whole-person education, hagwons use corporal punishment solely to produce higher test scores, so parents tend to tolerate a certain level of it. That makes it all the more difficult to eliminate corporal punishment from hagwons.

Park Bu-hui, head of consultation with the parents' organization 참교육을 위한 전국학부모회, said, "there are an increasing number of complaints over corporal punishment in hagwons... corporal punishment in hagwons is much more serious since it has no relationship to punishment." However, "there are parents who don't believe corporal punishment is escapable if a good environment for schoolworks is to be created.... some hagwons are popular because they are rumored to have very severe corporal punishment."
I'm going to deliberately leave aside the prospect of whether one wants their child hit or beaten into a good student (I imagine some of these teachers see themselves as forging metal into a sword or useful implement of some kind), which I suspect will be discussed in the comments section at Korea Beat. I have reservations about using corporal punishment (체벌, ch'ebŏl), but I also have reservations about removing it from the school's toolbox as well.

Instead, I want to point out that this article represents some of the common things that annoy me about Korean media articles (and there are a lot of things that annoy me about Korean media). The first and most prominent one being the headline in quotes: "학교보다 학원 가선 더 많이 맞아요," which Korea Beat translated as "Korean kids say more beatings at hagwon than at public school."

But did they really say that? Did anybody really say that? A quote should be used to represent something someone actually said. In English, however, many people sloppily use them as "scare quotes" (Metropolitician, for example, did this in response to my comments in a way that made it look like I'd said something I actually hadn't, an odd practice for a self-described watcher of Korean media falsehoods). Meanwhile, many Korean headline writers or newspaper editors use them to sum up what they or the reporter think the main person (or one of the main persons) in the article might be thinking. When they do this with a direct quote from a single person, it really amounts to putting words in people's mouths by people trying to avoid taking ownership of their own speculative observations. Scary quotes, indeed.

above: Okay, I guess this choice of picture is sort of innocuous, but you do have to wonder about the teacher's motivation.  Maybe I'm the one being a pervertedly prurient pyŏnt'ae. [source]

My second common beef is that the headline's conclusion is simply not backed up with any solid data. We see this in some of the Korean- and English-language articles about native-speaking English teachers, but it happens with other issues as well. Indeed there are beatings at hagwons, or at least kids receiving corporal punishment. And it might be happening more than in public schools, but we don't know from anything provided in the article.

It is basically anecdotal evidence to demonstrate the author's point. It might be true, but it might just as easily be true that kids are more likely to receive corporal punishment from public school. It could even be possible that some hagwons are particularly bad, while most mete out little or no corporal punishment. The article doesn't explore it because there are no means with which to explore it. That's lazy, sloppy, and dishonest journalism. (And it's not the realm of just the Korean media, but that's another post for another time.)

Finally, there is the problem of translating 맞다 as beat or beating in English. As I learned it (which could be entirely wrong; I learned Korean from people who thought North Koreans had horns), the word can mean hit (as in one strike or smack, light or hard) or beat (as in repeated hard strikes), but the choice of "beatings" suggests kids are being taken into a room and struck repeatedly, perhaps until injury occurs, but the article doesn't really go into such detail to come to that conclusion.

Don't get me wrong, though: I am glad Korea Beat did this article and my beef is primarily with the bad habits of the Korean media which it exposes. Our man in Indianapolis and his occasional minions do a fine job and I hope they keep it up for a very long time.

I forgot to mention that this article sounds like it got the seal of approval from the government sector that is trying to take down the hagwons. For years, administrations left, right, and center have seen the hagwons as an enemy. In short, they:
  • sow the seeds of class conflict by helping to put admission to a top school out of reach for those who can't afford to attend them, 
  • underscore perceptions of inadequacy by formal school system while taking money away from efforts to fix those perceived problems, and
  • create a sort of brain drain from formal teaching and other productive work, while also preventing money from going to other important parts of the economy.
By pointing out that hagwons may be as bad or worse than public schools, perhaps they are employing a tu quoque argument that they hope will resonate with the general public.


  1. I`ve heard that the picture is fake. It does look sort of like someone photoshopped a guy playing golf into a photograph of three girls posing.

  2. I didn't even know it was a well-known picture. Like I said, I just checked Google images for 체벌 (which is a NSFW task, believe you me) and that popped up.

  3. I thought the teachers smacked the students' wrists with a ruler.

  4. I know at least that that used to be common, but I'm not sure about now. In fact, before I Google image searched 체벌, I searched for "stick of love," the common euphemism for the rod that was commonly used for corporal punishment, but I just got porn.

    And that leads us to the other meaning of beat. ;)

  5. I like the teacher's form. Did he ever play college or professional baseball?


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