[VIEWPOINT]Teacher's Day Tears That Told Volumes

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[VIEWPOINT]Teacher's Day Tears That Told Volumes

May 15 was Teacher's Day - a day when students honor their instructors with thanks and gifts and celebrate the joy of learning.

But outside Kyongju prison, South Kyongsang province, it was a solemn affair.

Thirty buses moved quietly toward the prison at 11 a.m. There was a heavy presence of local police and prison officers, watching and waiting for trouble. Tension shrouded the air.

As the buses pulled up, there was silence. Students stepped soundlessly off the buses, clutching carnations - flowers that symbolize gratitude - in their hands.

With heavy heads, the 1,500 students and professors from Handong University and 200 parents stood calmly in front of the locked prison gates. Some sobbed, while others made no sound as tears streamed down their faces.

For them, those tears marked the start of Teacher's Day. The ceremony, usually held on campus in Pohang, had been moved to the prison when on 11 May, the university's president and vice-president, Kim Young-gil and Oh Seong-yun, were detained after standing trial and being found guilty of embezzling university funds.

The students began to sing "The Teacher's Song." The melody spread through the air, mingling with the sobs. That day the words of the song, which describe the sublime love between teacher and pupil, were in stark illustration.

Finally, leaving the carnations and placards bearing the words "We love you, president and vice president, for ever" standing forlornly against the gates, they left.

Such a Teacher's Day ceremony, where every student, professor and parent shared the same thought, has never before been seen in this country. The policemen, steadying themselves for violent protest, found themselves touched by the scene instead.

Handong University campus has an atmosphere like no other, filled with the vitality, freshness and smiles of youth.

Handong University is a college where an oath of premarital purity is taken, where examinations are taken without the supervision of proctors and where the educational aim is to nurture honest leaders to lead this dishonest society.

We live in a society where public education has hit rock bottom, where significant numbers of parents feel compelled to emigrate to give their children the education they need - and where sometimes families are separated for this reason. What does it mean in this society that parents of Handong University students participated in the ceremony in front of the prison gates? We can all see plainly the collapse of the education system. We all know the difficulties that private schools are suffering.

A lot of people know the trials Handong University has undergone since it was established six years ago. In this educational situation we should have encouraged the teachers who were doing their best to provide a true education. But these teachers were jailed.

My ignorance of legal affairs prevents me from criticizing the court. But many people have vouched that Mr. Kim and Mr. Oh did not commit crimes in their own interests and would not betray their duty to the students or the school.

They are devoted teachers who will fulfill their duties to the end. I am afraid that the imprisonment of the two teachers will sour students now training to become educators and anger those connected to the university. I really hope it does not.

I am asking our society why teachers who gave their best to education have been thanked with imprisonment. Shedding tears, I console those students who shed bitter tears outside the prison.

I want to let them know that their tears are not in vain. Their tears stream light into a dark future.


The writer is a novelist

by Chung Yeun-hee

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