When I was in my second grade in elementary school, a friend of mine, who was nicknamed a troublemaker for his mischievous behaviors, tripped me while I was running on my school playground and sent me to the emergency room. My body floated in the air and fell hard on the ground. I could not get up. A doctor from the hospital showed me the X-ray image of the fractured clavicle. I came home wearing a thick cast that shaped like a Mobius band around my shoulders.
That night, the doorbell rang. My mom swung the door open, and the troublemaker and his mother were standing in front of the door. I could see from his face that he had been scolded badly. His mother looked like she was at a loss and said, “I am so sorry.” I expected my mom to scold him really hard but was disappointed to hear my mom saying, “You must be surprised, too. You shouldn’t do that again.” His mother left leaving a bottle of orange juice as a token of apology.
It was fortunate that the troublemaker was only an elementary school student back then. Because it would take much more than a sincere apology and a bottle of orange juice if something like this happened now. “The Act on the Prevention of and Countermeasures against Violence in School” proclaimed in 2004 mandates that all violence in school, which includes all acts causing physical, mental, and property damages, be handled through the school’s Committee for Countermeasures against School Violence (CCSV).
It is required that a CCSV should consist of 5 to 10 members and parents should make half of the committee. The rest of the members should include a vice-principal, teachers, a lawyer, a policeman, and a doctor. According to the manual, all violence in school must be notified to the CCSV through a principal. What is important is for teachers to report the case rather than to discipline students so that the case can be “handled under the law.” If a school does not immediately report violence to the CCSV and tries to talk to the students, it will be punished through an annual inspection by the Education Ministry.
The CCSV listens to both sides and decides what is right and wrong. If a case is determined as violence, the perpetrator receives a nine-step disciplinary action, ranging from written apology to expulsion, which is recorded in the school record.
In many cases, what the victim wants from the perpetrator is a sincere apology and repentance and a promise to not repeat it again. But perpetrators under the current severe punishment policy often become brazen.
No wonder the victim’s parents get dumbfounded. Perpetrators and their parents say, “It takes two to tango.” Some perpetrators’ parents even hire a lawyer. They even go to court. A fight between kids turns into one between parents. In the process, more important matters, such as healing the mind of victims or guiding perpetrators towards appropriate behaviors are often put on the back burner. Their classmates, who have to watch all the process, are often get hurt, too. But no one cares about it.
Flagrant school violence that makes the headlines these days makes one think that the perpetrators deserve more than disciplinary action. They should be punished under the criminal law. But many of the school violence still require dialogue, guidance, close attention by teachers, and support by friends rather than strict punishment. Schools these days are much like a prison as Michel Foucault said in his book “Discipline and Punishment.” There are no empathizing with each other’s pains, apologizing, or growing through this process but only trials, punishments, stigma, and monitoring. This is why one rather misses old schools, where there were sincere apologies and a bottle of orange juice.
Woo-Sun Lim email@example.com