[Viewpoint] There are limits to student rights

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[Viewpoint] There are limits to student rights

The baby boomers who spent their elementary, middle and high school years in tightly-packed classrooms have trouble contemplating the present situation in our schools.

When I was in high school, getting through the main gate was a challenge every morning. The “student guidance team,” made up of the guidance dean and upperclassmen, checked hair length and measured hem length.

The school did not even allow longer crew cuts and forced students to shave their heads. If hair was longer than allowed, the teacher would cut off a strip with clippers on the spot.

A friend of mine got his hair shaved completely like a Buddhist monk. He ended up getting punished for being rebellious.

At any rate, we tried to be “fashionable” and came up with creative ways to dodge the strict policy, leaving our top buttons open, making holes in our hats and widening the hems of our pants to make bell bottoms.

On Jan. 2, 1982, the liberalization of hair and dress codes came into effect. It has been nearly 28 years since this historic change, so someone like myself who only wore black-and-white uniforms in school might not be able to understand the younger generation.

However, all freedom comes with responsibility, and just as today’s elementary, middle and high school students are respectable individuals, they are still immature and need guidance and instruction.

A few days ago, the Gyeonggi Province Board of Education announced a draft of a document called “Regulations on Students’ Human Rights.”

Length of hair should not be controlled, and even elementary school teachers are not allowed to read students’ diaries. Students should not be prohibited from bringing cell phones, the guide read.

Moreover, students have a right to refuse to attend after-school study hall and supplementary classes and should not be forced to write apologies or pledges against their beliefs or consciences. Students can also hold assemblies freely as long as it is not during school hours.

Many teachers have been stunned by the regulations.

One high school student gently criticized that the regulations mean giving up the school’s function of discipline, but another teacher said that the board of education was “completely out of their minds.”

The regulations could be inspired by good intentions. I do not want to get into the backgrounds and tendencies of the writers of the draft.

However, we need a sense of balance.

If they wanted to address the human rights of the students, they should have also considered ways to teach the students the responsibilities that come with such rights, and a law-abiding spirit.

Grown-ups were not regulating the hair length of students because they hated them.

According to veteran teachers, students behave better and exhibit better attitudes when a dress code is imposed. No one wants to turn the clock back to the military regime.

Why do we need regulations like these when schools can make decisions at their own discretion?

Currently, high schools transcripts have two parts. Records of attendance and grades are kept permanently, while the behavioral development section is discarded after five years. And schools do not keep records of disciplinary action or juvenile misdemeanors, since those could negatively affect college admissions.

Here, we need to look at the “zero tolerance” policy in the American educational system, which was introduced in the 1990s.

Using abusive language at school is punished immediately, not to mention violence and possession of weapons.

The Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology implemented yutori education, or education free from pressure, but experienced negative side effects. Now, since 2006, the ministry has focused on reinforcing student discipline.

An increasing number of schools check appearance at the entrance and turn students away if their hair is too long or has been dyed excessively. A high school in Kanagawa Prefecture provoked controversy when it checked the attire and hair color during admission procedures.

However, the social criticism came not because of the dress code but because the school did not notify the students and their parents about the procedure beforehand.

Student guidance measures are already very limited, and if human rights regulations lacking a sense of balance are enforced, school problems might turn into criminal cases. Would that really be educational?

Instead of enacting these guidelines, the educational authorities should work harder to correct the serious problems of drinking, smoking and abusive language.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Noh Jae-hyun
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