Corporal punishment in Chinese schools

Big picture: in looking across K-12 schools in different cultures, I’m struck more by similarities than differences.

Example: Whether Kenya, China, or USA, all schools have reduced physical (corporal) punishments over the years.

The “dividing line” of what is permitted occasionally “pops up” as a newsworthy debate.

In much of the USA, that line has reached “zero” when it comes to corporal punishments, and in fact there is a movement (Restorative Justice) which often results in no punishment at all.

In China, the issue rekindled recently.

From Mandy Zuo at SCMP:

Seven-year-old Haohao changed primary school this summer after spending his first year being taught by a teacher who his father believed had a propensity for violence.

Haohao was often pinched on the face or leg for failing to finish his homework on time or talking in class at Kaixuan Primary School in Linyi county, in eastern China’s Shandong province, according to his father Zhang Zhaobao.

“I’m OK with some minor punishment as a warning to my son, but this was too much, and she didn’t communicate with us in advance,” Zhang said, referring to Haohao’s head teacher, whom he declined to name.

My 9-year-old in Boston “is yelled” at by the teacher, she says, when she chats with a friend during class. Not finishing homework might result in, from her a point of view, a cutting critique from her teacher.

Under the proposed regulation, teachers at primary and secondary schools could use standing in front of the class, or jogging, as a punishment for behaviour including throwing hard objects, pushing, making excessive noise and plagiarising homework.

In a poll by Southern Daily on Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter, over two thirds of the 28,000 respondents said they did not consider those sanctions to amount to corporal punishment.

…Zhang said he would spank Haohao when he did something terrible, and would generally consider it acceptable for his son to be sent to stand in a corner at school.

But he said Haohao’s teacher “would let him stand in the hallway for a whole morning. He then wouldn’t know what his homework for that day was, and as a result couldn’t hand in the homework the next day, which led to another round of punishment”.

Jessica Liu, whose nine-year-old daughter attends a primary school in central Shanghai, said things were “better now” than in her schooldays.

“When I was young, every classroom had a bamboo stick called a ‘teaching stick’, used by the teacher to point to the blackboard,” Liu said.

“But another important function of this stick was to punish those who were disobedient. They would be hit on the head. This would be unimaginable today.”

When I was young, a few of our teachers in Pennsylvania had paddles, and would spank students in the hallway. I was never paddled. Already that was on the way out, 40 years ago, and the few teachers who persisted at that time seemed to, in my eyes, have a sadistic streak.

Maggie Zeng, mother of a grade-eight student in Shenzhen, said she once helped her daughter do her homework because she feared the daughter would be punished if she could not hand it in on time.

“At the start of her junior middle school [grade seven], her teacher would order students to do squats, 80 or 100 times, if they didn’t deliver homework on time,” she said.

“Now he has stopped that and uses other measures, like cleaning the classroom or the blackboard, which is fine to me.

“I think it’s difficult for a teacher to judge precisely a student’s physical condition, so there is the possibility of damaging their health. A student who had not eaten breakfast, which the teacher would be unaware of, might pass out if they were ordered to run in the morning.”

Cases of mistreatment of school and even kindergarten
pupils have infuriated the public, but the government is trying to ensure teachers have authority by giving them the right to hand out punishments.

In a directive in July, the State Council, China’s cabinet, ordered local officials to “make detailed rules to clarify teachers’ rights in exerting education-oriented punishment”.