[Viewpoint] Why the secrecy?Afew days ago in a National Assembly room, a conservative ruling party lawmaker and the education minister had a heated exchange over releasing the names of teachers loyal to the Korea Teachers and Education Workers’ Union, or KTU.
Grand National Party lawmaker Cho Jeon-hyeok demanded access to personal files on primary and secondary school teachers affiliated with the group, a request which Education Minister Ahn Byung-man flatly refused, saying such a move could infringe upon individual privacy.
I would like to share some thoughts on this issue, which I feel is too important to leave behind closed doors.
First of all, I would like to inquire upon the reason behind the ministry’s reluctance to disclose the identities of KTU members.
The ministry follows a legal interpretation that the unveiling of the member list could undermine an individual’s freedoms of conscience, thought and conviction, which are guaranteed by the Constitution.
But that’s just the government’s excuse to avoid a clash with the belligerent teachers’ union since such an interpretation is contested by a great number of legal advisers.
In short, the education ministry is intimidated by KTU, which represents more than 70,000 of a total of 400,000 teachers across the nation.
The government’s trepidation is understandable, having witnessed the union’s uproar when a conservative civilian group unveiled the names of 49,000 members of the KTU’s Yangsan chapter.
But the KTU’s objection to going public is beyond comprehension.
Passion for “true education” has given birth to the KTU. The leadership prides itself on the righteousness of its conviction on the education and political front, and was very confident about its anti-American stance on beef imports and the free trade agreement, pro-North Korean activities and resistance to the government’s educational policies.
If the unionists are so right in their ideology and conviction, assured that their ways are best for students, they should be more than willing to proclaim their affinity to an organization they are so proud of.
Yet the body acts as if it were a clandestine entity and is protective of its members. And it would be delusional if the members want their identities hidden because some parents may disagree with their educational beliefs.
If they are aware that they are not welcomed by many parents, merely avoiding them cannot solve the problem.
And then they must seriously ponder why they are unpopular among parents and radically modify their approach. They must not be so impertinent that they assume they can educate parents, too.
Next, we need to consider if the educational faith and conviction of the KTU member teachers falls into the category of individual constitutional rights.
The organization stands on a collective educational ideology that shapes the beliefs of individual members. Therefore a member’s creed and views on education is not his or her own, but is molded by the union body’s canon of educational ideas and ways.
What parents want to know is the exact educational beliefs of the teachers following the hard-line KTU principles. They have the right to know the atmosphere in the classrooms where their children spend most of their days.
I would like to ask the KTU teachers not to deny calls to disclose lists of its members and instead use the momentum to break its shell and reach out to the public.
I sincerely hope the passion and intellect of 70,000 teachers can remodel the union group that can be widely loved by all.
*The writer is a professor of education at Chung-Ang University.
by Lee Sung-ho