EDITORIAL: Society must change its attitude toward corporal punishment

September 27, 2013

An Osaka court handed down a suspended prison term to a former teacher for inflicting physical abuse that apparently triggered a student's suicide.

A second-year student at Sakuranomiya Senior High School, run by the city of Osaka, hanged himself last December after he was slapped by his basketball coach.

The Osaka District Court on Sept. 26 sentenced the former teacher to one year in prison, suspended for three years.

While the court was concerned only with the physical abuse, it said the former teacher's actions clearly played a role in the 17-year-old boy's death.

The coach continued to inflict physical punishment in the blind belief that it was "an effective and permissible guidance method," the judge said.

It is unusual for such a case to come before a court, and thus the ruling weighs heavily. Those who believe in using violence as an effective means of guidance should view the ruling as a warning.

After the incident, the Osaka municipal education board defined the former teacher's action not as "corporal punishment" but as "violence." It determined that the repeated use of force for trivial reasons did not constitute "punishment" and could never be justified as a way to admonish a student's faults.

A nationwide survey by the education ministry found that in fiscal 2012 alone, 6,721 teachers inflicted corporal punishment against a total of 14,208 children. While the School Education Law bans corporal punishment, it has no punitive clauses.

Let us be clear about one thing. Violence that scars the body and mind is an act that must never be condoned. This is all the more true in schools. Corporal punishment is violence, pure and simple. Only when there is greater awareness of this fact can we expect to thoroughly eliminate violence.

In court, referring to the reason for using force, the former teacher said: "I wanted the student in front of me to grow."

Recently, cases of violence also came to light at Tenri University in Nara Prefecture and Hamamatsu Nittai Senior High School in Shizuoka Prefecture. The coaches and upper class students accused of using force said they did so because they wanted to "fire up" students to do better. Their excuses overlap with those of the former teacher.

People who resort to violence tend to forget the physical and mental pain of their victims. It is too late to think about them after the damage is done. Such people need to learn a lesson from this court ruling and take it to heart.

The Sakuranomiya incident shed light on another factor. It is the "chain reaction" of violence that transcends generations and creates a system where the use of force is "tolerated" to make school teams stronger.

The former Sakuranomiya teacher has used force ever since he joined the school in 1994. Looking back, he said: "I also grew up being hit."

Some of his students later became his colleagues at the school and looked the other way. While some guardians witnessed the use of force, no one made a serious effort to stop him because the teacher had established a solid reputation.

Violence in schools has been pointed out on numerous occasions in the past. But even now, it seems that quite a few people mistakenly assume that “young generations develop only when they endure physical punishment.”

After the court ruling, the father of the student who committed suicide gave vent to his chagrin, saying “Awareness has yet to spread in schools.”

Acts that have been regarded as “corporal punishment” are back to back with crime. Society as a whole needs to change its awareness.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 27

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Sakuranomiya Senior High School (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Sakuranomiya Senior High School (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

  • Sakuranomiya Senior High School (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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