The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry has issued a notice to boards of education across the country, providing guidelines on corporal punishment. The notice lists examples of physical punishment banned under the School Education Law and also specifies permissible disciplinary actions for students.
Where should the line be drawn between corporal punishment and rigorous guidance? Lack of understanding among teachers breeds chaos. Keeping every teacher informed about the difference between the two could help eliminate physical punishment at school.
The notice cites the following acts as examples of corporal punishment: slapping rebellious students in the face, throwing ballpoint pens at those who act up and refusing requests for permission to go to the restroom while students are being kept in the classroom after regular school hours.
On the other hand, forcing students to remain standing in the classroom, giving extra homework and obliging them to help with cleaning have been confirmed as permissible reprimands under the guidelines. The guidelines also say that when one student is physically attacking another, it is acceptable for a teacher to grab the attacker by the shoulders to pull the attacker away.
This reflects the idea that the use of force by teachers can be permitted only for the purpose of preventing one student from inflicting violence on another. This is a commonsense way to draw the line.
The fact remains, however, that teachers encounter a wide variety of situations as they face students in everyday school life. It would be counterproductive if the notice were taken as a rigid manual that restricts teachers from taking flexible responses. There may be cases in which teachers must act firmly.
Many young teachers say they “don’t know how to scold pupils.” It is essential for them to cultivate their capacity for judgment so that they can provide adequate advice wherever necessary.
The notice also refers to proper instruction for sports club activities.
Club activities are part of school education, but there are no unified guidelines on them.
As a result, discipline is left entirely to the discretion of teachers who serve as advisers of such clubs.
The notice takes into account lessons learned from an incident at Osaka municipal Sakuranomiya High School in which a male student in the basketball club killed himself after being physically punished by the club’s advisory teacher serving as coach.
Criticizing the winning-at-all-costs attitude, the guidelines state that actions that impose persistent physical and mental strain on specific students are “not acts of coaching.”
In the case of school sports clubs, other teachers find it difficult to take issue with those seen as successful coaches and are liable to give tacit approval to physical punishments. It is natural that the education ministry notice asks principals and other administrators to supervise club advisory teachers closely.
Even if teachers apply physical punishment under the pretext of “a whip wielded with love” for students, it will only arouse a spirit of rebellion and fear among them. It will mold students who are obedient to teachers without fostering their ability to think and act for themselves.