[VIEWPOINT]Private school, heal thyselfThe law only defends virtues that are worth protecting. The same logic applies to the independence of private schools. Of course their freedom must be protected, but the general public will rise to its feet to defend that freedom only when the schools prove that they deserve the effort required to protect their rights. If the independent operation of private schools only leads to further corruption and tyranny within the schools’ foundations, the Korean people will not rally to preserve their independence, but only stand by cynically.
The revised private school reform bill is an anachronism and must go back to the surgical table. The main reason for this is that the bill is definedly anti-democratic. For a mature democratic culture to firmly plant its roots, the government must promote the independence of the private sector. There must also not be any government interference in the press, civic groups, religion and private schools. Even if a problem does occur in a sector, the government must let that sector find a solution without its assistance. Once the government starts intervening in the freedom of private schools, the probability of it intervening in other sectors increases and eventually democracy itself could be in danger. The government already holds a firm grip on public broadcasting companies and is in the process of expanding its influence to the Supreme Court and Constitutional Court, which is why the general public worries about what might occur next, should private schools join the list of government-seized sectors.
Another reason for objecting to the reform bill is because it goes against the advancement of Korea. Currently, countries around the world are trying to improve their competitiveness by expanding the private sector’s creativity and independence, because no person can fulfill his or her potential without these two conditions. Even socialist China actively promotes private education in an effort to enhance the creativity and independence of its private sector. There are also no such regulations on the foreign private schools that are to be established within the Incheon Free Economic Zone. It is obvious that restriction-laden domestic schools stand no chance of coming out on top if they have to compete with their overseas counterparts. This is why some civic groups with no interest in private schools actively oppose the bill.
The private schools that the groups are defending are not the ones that are full of corruption and tyranny, but those that possess values that are worth defending. The driving force behind the recent reform bill was the Korean Teachers and Educational Workers Union. But we must remember why nearly half of the Korean people still support the bill when everyone knows about the union’s left-wing bent and unimpressive popularity. The answer lies in the fact that a surprising percentage of the general public considers the problems in private schools to be a bigger problem than the teachers union.
This is why private schools must face reality. They must reduce their dependence on religious groups, who oppose the bill in the name of preserving the freedom of religion, and civic groups, who strive for democracy and development. It is impossible to persuade the general public if they can’t reason with the people they employ. The board members and teachers at private schools must work together and find a solution to free the schools of corruption and tyranny while preserving their independence. Then they must request that the private school reform bill be reviewed.
Only after the wrong-doings in private schools are abolished will most of the people realize that schools should not be influenced by the teachers union, that political power must not restrict private schools and that the private school bill needs to be redone for the development of the sector. The current administration and ruling party will then be left with no other choice but to come up with a new bill.
We believe the assertions of private schools, which insist that most schools do not have any problems. But the level of corruption a person feels heavily depends on which private school the person works at. And as always, things go against the interests of the majority because of the wrongdoings of a select few. That’s why the opinions of private schools ― that it is possible to solve the problems under the current laws or that most schools are sound ― are insufficient. They must deeply touch others by showing that they are making an effort to change. The schools must also pave channels of dialogue for open-minded discussions with the people who work or study in private schools. Only then will a conversation about reforming the private school bill commence. The schools must also stay away from blaming the government and teachers union without looking back on past acts and remembering that their past provided the motive to seek a new bill for private schools. For democracy to continue advancing and for the nation to develop, painful self-reform must be accomplished.
* The writer is a minister and a co-chairman of the Korean Sharing Movement.
by Soh Kyung-suk