[Viewpoint]Total education

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[Viewpoint]Total education

About this time every year, tens of thousands of students begin the new school year. Campuses are filled with hope and great expectations for the future. But will these dreams be realized? Will students get a first-rate education?
Unfortunately, there is nothing new to say about the collapse of the education offered at public schools. Quality education long ago became a matter of monetary transactions through the private education market.
The intrinsic value of education has nearly disappeared, replaced by the law of the jungle. This does not apply just to elementary and secondary education. Even the higher education taught at colleges and universities has turned away from the original purpose of education in order to meet market demands. This deterioration in education does not lead to only the deterioration of an individuals’ character, it also portends a gloomy future for a society and country run by such individuals. This is why we must not fail at the task of education.
There is often a misunderstanding here, a belief that education is a matter of force-feeding information to students. It is as if we feed toothless infants with hard food to make them fat while they also suffer from malnutrition.
We stifle our young children under a pile of fragmentary knowledge that becomes a heavy burden on their little heads, narrow shoulders, and weak backs. We press them to learn what we think they must know before they learn what they should really know.
But education is not something that is only provided from the outside. It is also drawn from within. If the teeth grow strong, they can chew anything for digestion, and if the body is healthy, it can bear even heavy burdens with ease.
Everyone is born with his or her own talent. And the development of talent should not be solely dependent on past information searchable by a single click. To be effective, education needs to enable children to be able to learn, rather than trying to force learning on them. In this way, it can help their talent blossom.
Another misunderstanding is the idea that education should force a student to conform to certain views and attitudes. It is strongly argued that whatever this is called ― custom or tradition ―education must make young people conform to familiar ways of thinking and doing things. This nightmare of collective education, a remnant of Japanese colonial rule or military dictatorship, is reproduced in orientation sessions for new students at some colleges. An individual’s value or dignity is too often thoroughly ignored and violence or mockery is used to create a false sense of unity within the group.
This can turn what should be a hall of intellect into a hall of barbarism. But education should not turn an individual into a slave to a fixed idea. It should open a process of mental enhancement that allows a person to become a more valuable being. The exercise of self-denial that confines an individual to a given frame of reference and makes the individual endure that frame cannot be called education. Rather, individuals need to break out of their shells and meet a new world.
How is such education possible? A human being is born with spirit, soul and body. We should awaken and enhance the talent of children by appealing to their entire nature in order to unlock their latent potential. To do so, they must experience things of their own accord. Education, therefore, should help them feel, realize, and act for themselves.
For example, it is not important to simply memorize how many plays Shakespeare wrote. But when students read his plays aloud and cry and laugh together with his timeless characters, they can appreciate the rich vocabulary that expresses human feelings.
When we watch flowers bloom and wilt, our human nature fills us with emotion. Education does not teach us to feel this way. It may be necessary for us to learn the technical name for the components of a flower or to study the seasonal changes that cause flowers to wither. But if our education does not also teach us to appreciate the emotion one feels upon seeing the beauty of a flower, it has failed.
To help students realize their potential, to carry themselves with dignity and to display what is best in their personalities is the original essence of education.
For Korean education to survive and flourish, it must find a way to realize this ideal.

*The writer is a professor of constitutional law at Korea University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kim Seon-taek
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