[OUTLOOK]Values can’t be negotiatedOver the past few weeks, we have had some embarrassing experiences concerning our children. The National Human Rights Commission said that checking students’ diaries at school is a violation of human rights and that putting restrictions on middle and secondary school students’ hairstyles can be construed as human rights infringement. In a similar context, first-year high school students staged a demonstration to protest the changed policy regarding college entrance examinations.
Things that would have been no problems at all in the past have now become controversial issues. Those who raised the issues and those who oppose them alike have their own logic. So when we hear this and that argument, both sides seem right.
We now live in an age of confusion. Parents or adults can hardly tell children what is right. We no longer live in an age when the words of parents or teachers were highly respected.
Children exchange information and knowledge via cell phones and on the Internet among themselves, enabling themselves to share the same emotion. Adults have a feeling of powerlessness, believing that all they can do is let their children live as they please. Only those who can touch their emotions and appeal to their taste can be popular. This goes for politics and business as well.
These days, people in their 20s and 30s as well as teenagers do not read newspapers. In advanced countries, the newspaper circulation rate among households maintains a 70 percent level but in Korea, it has gradually decreased to around 40 percent.
Young people do not feel the need to read newspapers, because they can easily access news on the Internet. But the avoidance of newspapers did not just derive from the convenience of the Internet; it has to do with current times. In the past, what newspapers said was important. People could judge events going on in the world after reading editorials and important columns.
But today’s younger generation does not acknowledge the authority of newspapers. They search and read only what pleases them among the infinite amount of information on the Internet. They do not pay any attention to information that is hard to understand or that has a tone of admonition. If it gives them a good feeling, they rush to read the information.
As information becomes diversified, things that were believed to be absolute in the past are often denied now. People see black where they once saw only white. But they do not know which color is right, nor do they try to find the truth.
Some even say, “The color of truth is gray.” These people say there is nothing absolute in the world and everything is relative. So we are confused.
The current controversies over students’ hairstyles and diaries also stem from confusion as well, over what the value called “education” and the value called “freedom” really mean. In the past, everything was permissible in the name of “education” but now students question, “Why do you force us when we say we don’t like it?” Shaving their hair would not solve the problem.
Should, then, everything be left to run its course? No matter how the world changes, there are values that do not change. At the individual level, values such as “honesty,” “diligence” and “faithfulness” are unchangeable, no matter how much the world changes.
At the societal level, a constant topic of conversation is about the value of equality and competition: “Equality sounds good, but without competition, all of us would eventually fall behind.” These values do not fade away even if they do not appeal to children. These values can endure and survive thousands of years because they deserve it. A society can have the strength to continue from generation to generation because these values are handed down.
Of course, some values are negotiable for a community. But essential values that form the basis of a society cannot be negotiated. The color gray cannot be an option just because it is difficult to choose between black and white.
The issue of checking students’ hairstyles and diaries should be solved. Children’s human rights and freedom should be respected. At the same time, the values of moderation, discipline and order are important.
For adults, former values can be more valuable. But for children, the fact that they are at a learning stage should be considered. Do teachers read students’ diaries merely to invade their privacy? It is to educate them. They teach children to be neat and behave for educational purposes.
This also applies to the problems regarding the college entrance examination. Competition is inevitable when many students want to enter good universities and only a limited number of students can be admitted. Students are confused because the Education Ministry keeps changing admission guidelines, as if that would create a world where there is no examination and a country where there is no competition.
Even if children hate to hear it, we adults should tell them, “We would like to hand down to you the precious values we parents have kept. We also believe this is the way you can live with dignity.”
* The writer is the chief editor of the editorial page of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Moon Chang-keuk