[OUTLOOK]Choose your teachers wellIn days gone by, people believed they should choose the right teachers to learn from. That was because they feared the wrong teachers would have a bad influence on their learning and behavior. Yi Hwang, known by his pen name Toegye, said to his pupils, “Watch the situation and behavior of your teacher, because when you learn even one letter you are influenced by your teacher. If the person is wise and diligent, then you choose him as a teacher for your sons and grandsons.”
These days, people follow the old scholar’s instruction only halfway. Most parents would do anything to move to southern Seoul to find teachers with skills, if not necessarily with virtuous character. Such teachers are good at teaching what students should know to pass university exams. Meanwhile, in public schools, teachers are dispatched randomly. Whether you meet a good teacher or a bad one depends solely on your luck. If you have a teacher who teaches you that the Korean War was the invasion of North Korea by South Korea, if your teacher shows that there is nothing wrong with violating the law in order to make your point, it is because you were unlucky to meet such a teacher.
It seems that there are quite a lot of unlucky students. Otherwise, there is no other explanation for why many students answer in interviews that our major enemies are the United States and Japan and that violence works better than the law.
Students probably learn these things at private tutoring institutes for writing essays because it is said that former student activists prevail at such places. A parent I knew said that when his child handed in an essay at a private institute, his instructor said it was well written but had one problem; he had the same logic as a conservative daily. It is not a serious problem with private schools because parents can always choose another. But people cannot go to whatever school they want. To do so, they need to move, and that is easier said than done.
Parents and students can’t choose teachers or schools at their will. Whether they like it or not, they get what they are given. If they don’t like the system, there is only one way out; to leave the system. That is why an increasing number of Korean students and their mothers go abroad for better education, leaving their fathers behind in the country to support the rest of the family.
In the United States, teachers’ unions and Anglo-Saxon progressive politicians oppose the idea that more people should be allowed to choose the schools they want to go to. These politicians send their children to expensive private schools but oppose the working class’ right to choose schools for their children among public institutions, as Milton Friedman, the economist and Nobel Prize laureate, pointed out. The case is the same in Korea. Korean high government officials send their children abroad or to elite high schools, but cry out for an egalitarianism-oriented education system.
Mr. Friedman believed that if poor people could choose the schools they want to attend, it would give them hope for a better life. He was right. After people were given the right to choose schools, many public schools with bad reputations hired more teachers, reduced the number of students in each class and had more and better extracurricular classes. One principal promised that if an average grade for his school was below the standard, he would take a pay cut. As people are allowed to choose schools for themselves, the effect of market competition is felt.
If it is hard to introduce a system to allow people to choose schools, we can start with giving them the right to choose teachers. Japan is a good example. Last year, Marunouchi High School in Kochi Prefecture introduced a system in which students and parents can select which teachers they want to learn from. The system was applied to freshmen first. Looking at the plans and goals of education of 20 teachers, students and parents were allowed to choose from whom they wished to learn. They wrote four teachers on their lists. If that didn’t work in some cases, a mediation committee found a solution. Students certainly became more motivated and showed better performance, although teachers might be unhappy with the system.
There is no reason that we can’t do this. Some teachers oppose the evaluation system on teachers, which is not even a serious system. But we should not be afraid of this situation. It was a bad thing not to grant teachers the right to go on a strike. We should not emphasize their duties when we do not give them their rights. Teachers should be allowed to demand their rights as workers. If we can choose great teachers for our children, we will be able to trust them, even if they go on strike for one or two days.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Hoon-beom