On April 26, 2020, a Korean teacher “A” was found guilty of child abuse and got sentenced to 10 months in prison with 5 years of teaching license suspension.
According to the news coverage, A — who teaches ethics at Youngshin Middle School in Pohang City — “caught” the 9th grade student Kim Gun Woo reading a book during class on March 25, 2019. The investigation later clarified, however, that A had instructed the students to spend the period studying and hence, Kim opted to read a copy of the Japanese light novel Wise Man’s Grandchild which he borrowed from his friend.
When A found Kim’s book, A openly “scolded” him for “reading a racy manhwa (manga).” Kim tried to explain that it is a work of fiction with illustrations, but A continued to “shame” Kim for “looking at naughty pictures of a girl in a bikini“. Ultimately, A physically punished Kim by making him do push-ups in front of the whole class for over 20 minutes.
Following that period, Kim decided to stay behind instead of going out to the field for his physical education class. Completely humiliated and convinced that he will “get bullied” over the incident by his classmates, Kim scribbled his final words in his ethics textbook…
I don’t want to live anymore… Thank you for giving the classmates a perfect reason 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 have some fault in this… but I feel completely humiliated and violated. Please don’t scold [the friend who lent me the book]…
— The Late Kim Gun Woo
… then threw himself out of the hallway window from the 5th floor of the school building, taking his own life.
The police began looking at the case immediately. By August 2019, Kim’s parents — torn over the sudden loss of their son — drafted a petition on the Blue House National Petitions page, pleading for a thorough investigation of A. As the petition shed some light on the case, netizens kept their eyes on the result.
A whole year later, the case closed with A being found guilty. The Daegu District Court’s Judge Shin Jin Woo ruled, “The [teacher] is at fault for psychologically abusing the student and causing the student to take his own life. Plus, considering that the [teacher] showed no interest in settling with the bereaved family, the verdict had been inevitable.” When such reports became released to the public, some allegations hinted that during the investigation, A had “shown no regret for his actions” and “blamed the family for letting Kim read ‘books like that’ at school.” A is also said to have dodged the blame by commenting that, “In the years of [his] teaching at the school, Kim is the first one to have taken his own life after being confronted.”
With the news of A’s final verdict, however, netizens are fiercely divided over whether or not the consequence is “reasonable“. Many criticized A for his “insensitive method of guiding the students.”
- “This isn’t only about the fact that Kim was physically punished. I think the fact that Kim was openly shamed about his choice of reading material is what really broke Kim’s heart. Of course he would get teased about it, they’re middle school students. In fact, even if it had been an adult book, the teacher should have opted to talk to Kim separately. It is absolutely nonsense for a teacher to publicly humiliate a student like that.”
- “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.”
- “If the teacher really shamed Kim in front of the whole class, and then actually blamed the family for his death, I don’t see why he didn’t get longer time.”
- “Wait, so Kim was reading during a free period? He was doing what students can do during a free period…? It’s not like he was being interruptive or anything… Why did the teacher even pick on Kim in the first place? And even if Kim did something wrong, he should have been called to the office later or something. It’s not right to put a student in the spotlight and humiliate him in front of everyone.”
- “That’s not teaching. That is using his place as a teacher to be abusive and violent.”
On the other hand, some argued that A meant no harm and didn’t deserve to lose his teaching license. These concerned netizens voiced that such a verdict “would set a precedent” and potentially “threaten the teachers from being strict with the students even when needed.”
- “I read the entire thing and I still don’t get what the teacher did wrong. Why does the teacher need to serve time again? This is going to set an example and the teachers are going to be scared to call out their students behaving badly in class.”
- “If Kim’s death is this teacher’s fault and is worth 10 months in prison… The teacher I had in high school should have been sentenced to f*cking death.”
- “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 put that on the teacher and make the teacher pay the price? What kind of a verdict is this?”
- “For a teacher to call out a student’s wrongdoing is a necessity. A teacher who does not point out these things would be the negligent one. Punishing a teacher for scolding a student would be like… punishing the car makers because cars are causing road accidents…”
All in all, though, netizens mourned the death of Kim Gun Woo and wished that the situation would have played out differently for the young boy.