Keep students off the streets and in class

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Keep students off the streets and in class


For students, the strongest method of expressing group decisions is a mass walkout. It has the effect of a workers’ strike or market closure by merchants. The effect of a walkout is the same, whether past or present, East or West. The students at Sungkyunkwan, the highest public academic institute of the Joseon Dynasty, staged a walkout. It was one of the weapons the students used to make demands of the king and the government, along with hunger strikes and mass departures from the dormitory. Walkouts were organized to impeach high-ranking government officials or criticize unjust political decisions. The king usually responded by accepting their demands, but in some cases, the ringleader was expelled from the academy.

During the Japanese occupation, students used walkouts to resist colonial rule. It was a key activity initiated by the student leaders of the March 1st Movement. During the Gwangju Student Independence Movement, most high school students in the Gwangju region participated in closing their schools. Individual schools organized walkouts to demand the use of Korean language and to oppose educational discrimination by the Japanese. In 1925, 281 students at Dongrae High School in South Gyeongsang organized a walkout. Of them, 234 were suspended and some were expelled.

After the liberation of the country, the student movement in universities was key in initiating social change. Student walkouts were motivated by various issues, including punishment of those responsible for the violent suppression of the Gwangju Student Movement.

Walkouts are common in other countries as well. The driving force behind the May Fourth Movement in China in 1919 was a strike of three groups — students, workers and merchants. In Imperial Russia, a series of strikes by university students challenged the absolute monarchy after 1899 and inspired the revolutionary spirit. In the late 1960s, anti-war protests by American students were fueled by walkouts. Students at over 40 colleges and universities around the world are about to participate in a walkout to demand cuts in college tuition.

For students, education is a valuable right. It is truly regrettable that students would give up this right and protest out of desperation. Nevertheless, the group walkout should not be repeated again for such a cause. And it will be up to politicians, the government and universities to keep the students in the classroom.

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

By Kim Nam-joong
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