On April 26th, 2020 ethics professor at Youngshin Middle School in Pohang City referred to only as “A”, for personal privacy reasons, was convicted of child abuse and sentenced to 10 months in prison and had his teaching license suspended for 5 years. His crime: shaming a 9th grade student in front of the whole class after catching him reading a light manga novel, and causing him to end his own life, because of the humiliation.
Teacher sentenced to 10 months in prison for scolding and shaming student in class
South Korean media recently reported the disturbing case of a high-school teacher who scolded and humiliated a student in front of the class, causing him to take his life that same day.
The teacher’s sentencing sent shock waves through South Korean social media, with some users accusing the teacher of bullying, and other expressing fears that the case set a precedent that will put fear into other teachers, preventing them from being strict when they need to be.
The tragic events that led to the untimely death of young Kim Gun Woo unfolded on March 25, 2019. During ethics class, he was “caught” reading a copy of Wise Man’s Child, a light manga novel by Japanese author Tsuyoshi Yoshioka, by his teacher. A subsequent investigation later revealed that ‘A’ himself had asked the students to spend the class reading, but the ethics teacher reportedly had a problem with Kim’s choice of reading material.
After seeing that the illustrations in the manga novel Kim Gun Woo had borrowed from a classmate featured girls wearing skimpy bathing suits, he took the student to the front of the classroom and scolded him for reading a racy manga, accusing him of “looking at pictures of naughty girls in bikinis”. As punishment, he made Kim do push-ups in front of his colleagues for 20 minutes.
When the ethics class was over and his mates went out in the schoolyard for PE, the humiliated Kim Gun Woo stayed behind and scribbling a message in his ethics textbook. It was the last thing he did before jumping from a 5th floor window and ending his own life…
“I don’t want to live anymore… Thank you for giving my colleagues a perfect excuse to tease and bully me. You don’t even know what light novels are. It’s a whole sub culture, but you don’t care. How do you know they’re inappropriate? I know I am not without fault in this… but you have violated my privacy and I feel completely humiliated. Please don’t scold [the classmate who lent him the book]…” Kim Gun Woo’s final message read.
Police started an investigation into Kim’s tragic end immediately, and by August of 2019, in light of the uncovered evidence, the boy’s heartbroken parents filed a complaint against ‘A’. A year after the student’s death, Daegu District Court’s Judge Shin Jin Woo issued a verdict against the ethics teacher: 10 months in prison and then 5 years of having his teaching license suspended.
“The accused is at fault for psychologically abusing the student and causing him to take his own life. Plus, considering that the accused showed no interest in settling with the victim’s family, the verdict had been inevitable,” the judge motivated her decision.
It turns out that ‘A’ “had shown no regret for his actions” and instead “blamed the boy’s family for letting Kim read ‘books like that’ at school.” He also defended his previous record, telling the court that “in all his years of teaching at the school, Kim was the first one to have taken his own life after being confronted”.
The sentence sparked a heated debate on South Korean social media, with some people praising the judge and accusing ‘A’ of unnecessarily bullying and shaming Kim Gun Woo in front of his peers, and carrying the blame for his tragic death, and others claiming that the teacher had really done nothing wrong.
“That’s not teaching, that is using his position as a teacher to be abusive and violent,” one person commented.
“The book is not racy though. It’s PG-15. So there is really nothing wrong with Kim reading that book. At most, Kim should have gotten into trouble for reading in class. But honestly, I remember my teachers holding office hours and allowing reading. So personally, I can’t understand why the teacher reacted so psychopathically,” someone else chimed in.
But there were also those who defended the teacher, and called the sentence unfair.
“If Kim’s death is this teacher’s fault and he deserves 10 months in prison, the teacher I had in high school should have been sentenced to f*cking death,” a person wrote.
“This limits schools and teachers from doing what they need to be doing. Yes, the scolding may have been over the line. Yes, the student may have felt humiliated and made a choice to take his own life. But to blame the teacher and make them pay the price? What kind of a verdict is this?” an outraged social media user wrote.
Kim Gun Woo’s case has once again drawn attention to sensitive issues like student shaming and corporal punishments not only in South Korean schools, but all over the world.
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