[Viewpoint] Why schooling matters

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[Viewpoint] Why schooling matters

Summer break is upon us. Every year we learn of the start of summer vacation from newspapers carrying photos of beaming children racing out of their schools in a full-throttled embrace of freedom.

Somehow the pictures always sadden me. From the expressions on their faces, you’d think the kids had been released from prison. What pain and boredom in classrooms could they endure to have such relief on their faces as they head out of the schools’ gates?

The lyrics of the 1990s iconic rap group Seo Taiji & Boys’ “Classroom Idea” still strikes a chord in the students of our society. “At 7:30 every morning we are huddled into a small classroom/ Into the heads of 9 million boys and girls across the country/ The same things are shoved in/ The walls all around you close in/ Eating you all up in one gulp/ In this dark classroom/ I fritter away my youth/ What waste ...”

Why has the learning process become so excruciating? There are surely many reasons, but the one that is paramount is that classrooms follow the mass production mechanisms of a capitalist market economy.

Students gather at a certain place at a certain time to be educated. Then a certain period arrives for them to be tested. Upon graduation, they seek higher education and find jobs in either profit-making or non-profit organizations that run on the same mechanism.

Most members of our society work at a certain place for a certain period of time, even though the type of work, of course, varies. They are tested, or their performance is reviewed, and they are promoted or demoted according to the evaluations.

In their school days, students are not only acquiring knowledge and skills required for their future work, but they are also being trained to have the right kind of attitude for their future workplace.

Classroom schooling is still emphasized even when online schooling is technically feasible, partly to familiarize the future work force with the law of the jungle of our society.

When a group of people are put in one place, various rules and regulations are enforced to keep order. Although varying in degree, dress and work codes exist in every organization as well as penalties for breaking them. Hierarchy necessarily prevails, requiring certain kinds of behavior, along with privileges, according to one’s rank in an organization.

When the order is infringed or ignored, various punitive steps can be taken. Awkward decisions in fashion or hair styles can lead to raised eyebrows and possibly a ruined career. To survive and thrive in an organization is that tough.

But returns from labor in such hard conditions can be rewarding, contributing to one’s personal development as well as that of the organization. The hopes and dreams of one day reaching the top also can be stimulating and relieve the humdrum nature of everyday life.

Recently elected liberal superintendents of education are poised to change all that by encouraging students to come up with a manifesto on their rights. The rights would abolish rules, hardship and the hassles of school life. Students will be given freedom in fashion and hairstyles, will be able to use mobile phones in classrooms, and even forgo tests.

I cannot help shaking my head, picturing students boycotting tests, teachers giving out the answers in advance and schools assuring students there will be no fallout if they refuse to sit for tests.

Who likes to be tested? If given a choice, no one would want to be tested. But when the time comes for students to become members of society, they can’t go on escaping evaluation.

Students should be trained to familiarize themselves with both challenges and evaluation. Would the same teachers that advise their students to skip tests be there to answer for their adulthood misfortunes from dodging evaluation?

Democracy and market economy systems are a valuable constitutional heritage that we must defend and sustain.

Today’s students must be nurtured to become future members of our democratic society, capable of living their dreams and contributing to social progress. Efficiency and accomplishment are as important as fairness and equality.

To uphold such values, the young in their school days should acquire basic intelligence and skills along with an understanding of their obligation and a respect for the rules of their community. They should learn to obey higher authority, respect order and control one’s freedom so as not to cause damage to others.

If public school classrooms “shove the same things into young minds,” that is surely deplorable. News of violence in schools also breaks our heart.

Yet somewhere in those spaces, future leaders are being nurtured. Classrooms have never been places of liberty. They are painful incubators that grow valuable seeds for the future. And through balance in order, rules, compassion and fair competition, classrooms can turn into spaces for hope as well.

*Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
The writer is a professor of business administration at the University of Seoul.

By Yun Chang-hyun
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