[INSIGHT]Ignoring Differences for 'Equality'

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[INSIGHT]Ignoring Differences for 'Equality'

On a wall in the office of Choue Chung-won, president of Kyung Hee University, hangs the framed motto, "inequality is equality." In a society where egalitarianism prevails, proclaiming oneself an "unegalitarianist" is as courageous as proclaiming oneself a communist.

I think the most hypocritical egalitarianism in our society is the "equality of education" policy. This policy ignores the inherent differences between individual students. It fails to acknowledge differences among schools and distributes student groups of the same compositions to all schools, educating indiscriminately. Of course, the policy has merits, but on the whole it has backfired, as most students are only "equal" in low scholastic ability. People no longer trust the public education system, and have turned to private schools as a result. The "equality of education" policy is a typical example of policy made under the military dictatorship. It is another version of the military boot camp, where soldiers are forced to wear the same clothes, eat the same meals, wear the same badges of rank and sleep and wake up simultaneously? Egalitarian education might have a role to play in industrialization, but it is a barrier to progress.

The Kim Dae-jung administration has pursued educational reform, stressing educational variety and creativity, but it has not worked well. This reform tries to preserve respect for differences within the framework of "egalitarian" education. This does not work. I believe education starts by acknowledging that human beings are not all alike. Recognizing differences in intellects, environments and emotional makeups and offering tailored education based on these differences would be the wisest policy.

The ruling party is making much fuss about the need to revise private school laws. I think this is ill-considered. There are systemic means to deal with school foundations that engage in illegitimate activities. The government's urge to paint all schools with the same brush by branding all school founders and owners criminals and transferring their managerial rights to the principals, can be likened to the military dictatorship's uniform "egalitarian" policy. Let us remember that these foundations taught many of us and grew into today's prestigious universities. Crimes should be dealt with as crimes; they should be left in the hands of law enforcement agencies. Regarding well-intentioned private school managers as criminals and regulating private colleges by law is another case of abusing egalitarianism.

Last week, Paul Krugman, economics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, contributed an article titled "Hearts and Heads" to The New York Times. In criticizing the recent anti-globalization protests in Quebec, he quoted an old European saying: "Anyone who is not a socialist before he is 30 has no heart; anyone who is still a socialist after he is 30 has no head."

Mr. Krugman acknowledges that globalization is not always pretty - no one likes to think about the awful work conditions of Bangladesh sweat-shop workers. But he denounced Senator Tom Harkin, who proposed legislation banning imports from countries employing underage workers, calling him someone with no head, because the children who would lose jobs thanks to the act would actually end up in a worse situation. Mr. Krugman contends that exports in themselves are not bad; the important thing is to enhance working conditions. He argues that those who think rage against world trade is the sole solution to world poverty are not thinking, but are cutting down the entire tree when lopping off the dead wood would suffice. Let us look around. Aren't there too many of us who think with their hearts alone? Aren't we becoming an egalitarian, populist society where emotions always win over reason? It is time to prize the variety of differences ahead of the emotions of the concept of egalitarianism.


The writer is the editorial page editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kwon Young-bin

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