중앙데일리

Union faces criticism over ideology

Nov 04,2005
[First in a series] Following the furious public criticism of the ideologically biased classes of the Korean Teachers and Educational Workers Union, the JoongAng Ilbo is running a series of articles that offer a closer look into the past and present of the union. ― Ed.

When it was launched in 1989, the Korean Teachers and Educational Workers Union had the lofty vision of pursuing “true education.” The launch itself made big headlines, as public school teachers had formed the union illegally.
The union was based on a group called the Association of Teachers Nationwide for Democratic Education, formed in 1987.
This group pursued “teaching to promote the democratization of education, and education for the nation.” Cheong Jin-gon, the founding member, said, “We gathered our strength from our no-bribes-from-parents, no-corporal-punishment stance and from proper teaching.”
Two years later, however, the group decided to change itself into a labor union, after a heated, three-day debate. Many members left the group, opposed to the decision, including Mr. Cheong, who is now an education professor at Hanyang University.
The decision also led the government to crack down against the fledgling union, and 1,511 member were fired from their teaching jobs. It was only in 1999 after Kim Dae-jung took power that the union was legalized.
Despite the mass dismissals, the union carried on. These days, the union has 95,000 members, one fourth of the whole teaching population here, and has branch offices in 81 percent of schools around the nation.
In a time when bribes and corporal punishment were rampant in schools, the birth of a union promising to do away with both was considered a refreshing and even courageous step. The union earned its long-awaited legalization in 1999.
Today, it has developed into a 95,000-member nationwide group. The left-leaning union these days has again surfaced as a headline-maker, but this time, it has nothing to do with its lofty visions of 16 years ago.
The headlines are over a video that the union recently prepared to be used as teaching material, espousing leftist rhetoric against globalization and the United States. The union claimed that the material revealed the dark side of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation and would give students a balanced view.
Critics, however, said it was the union’s material that needed balance, as it was ideologically biased. The union has not yet used the material in actual classes.
In Wednesday’s general meeting of the National Assembly, the major opposition Grand National Party offered more examples that highlighted the union’s history of bias.
In a class on a public uprising on Jeju Island in 1948, the union showed a drawing with the caption, “The US Army regarded the people’s commission as a pain in the neck.” This material was available on the union’s Web site, www.eduhope.net.
The opposition party is not the only group denouncing the union. Many parents are voicing their concern over the union’s teaching methods. After teachers presented a class on South Korea’s dispatch of troops to Iraq, some parents said the union was attempting to brainwash rather than teach children, constantly putting forward anti-American ideas.
The union is also confronting the Education Ministry over a new system introduced to evaluate teacher performances.
Public criticism of the union over this matter has focused on allegations that it has developed into nothing more than a simple self-interest group.
The transformation is even sadder for those who remember the idealistic beginning of the union.
The union, of course, has contributed in doing away with corruption in education, but many are critical concerning the change in the union’s new political stance.
The union’s spokesman, Han Man-jung, said in the union’s defense, “We exist to revolt against education swayed by vested interests of a specific power. We pursue education for the majority of the people.”


by Special Reporting Team


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