[Viewpoint] Give the vote to the children

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[Viewpoint] Give the vote to the children

If a song lyric mentions “alcohol,” it is now considered harmful to our youth, and prohibited to be purveyed to kids under 19. May I suggest something else that our innocent schoolchildren should be shielded from? The thorough corruption of our educational authorities by politics. Nothing shows this more starkly than the dirty money deals involving the former and incumbent superintendents of the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education.

The educators, who should be setting examples for our youth, acted more slyly than the professionally corrupt bureaucrats and political schemers. Their motivation for grabbing leadership positions in the educational field was driven more by political ambition than educational passion.

What is the role of politics in teaching and learning? The educational authorities have been tainted by the shabby dealings common in political struggles. The half-life of the pollution spread to our schools may be years. Parents feel extremely frustrated for their innocent children, who, after all, simply want to go to school to learn and get ahead.

As long as educational superintendents and council members are chosen in elections, there is no guarantee that such corruption won’t happen again. An election costs money. As long as you are running in an election, you have to raise money to finance your campaign. And that money can be used to pay a rival candidate to withdraw from the race on your behalf.

However, unlike other elections, the superintendent and educational council member elections can be conducted fairly. The system could be changed to give voting rights to the children. Education is a matter of children and the future. It determines the lives of the children who will lead the next generation. Teenagers, children and toddlers should be allowed to vote.

Let’s not get overexcited and say that children shouldn’t be drawn into politics. The children would not be casting votes on their own. Mothers could vote for daughters, and fathers on behalf of the sons. Families with underage children should get additional votes. Families may hold a discussion session to reflect the opinions of the children. Or the parents could cast votes as they wish. The point is to give more voice to the children and parents, who are directly affected by education policy.

Not all elections should be changed in this way. The new system should be applied to elections related to education. In addition to the education superintendent and council member elections, referendums on educational issues, such as school meals, can use the new system.

Many would object, saying this is against the principle of equal election. But, a local-level election related to education is completely different from presidential or National Assembly elections. The votes are cast on limited issues in a limited region, so this would not undermine the frame of democracy.

Instead, it would encourage candidates to prioritize interests of students and parents over any political motivations. In order to get more votes, they would have to work harder to develop policies for children and parents. Also, parents would think more carefully and thoroughly as their decisions would count more.

This is not my new idea. Founding Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew claimed in Foreign Affairs magazine in 1994 that the one-man, one-vote principle is not necessarily ideal. He argued: “We would have a better system if we gave every man over the age of 40 who has a family two votes because he’s likely to be more careful, voting also for his children.”

American demographer Paul Demeny made a similar proposal. He came up with an idea to give votes to children to reform the system for the future. It would be proxy voting by parents. Demeny also thought that it would be an effective way to boost the birthrate. Of course, no one will have more children to get more votes. But the politicians would work harder to make policies for parents and children, and as a result, society would become friendlier to children.

In fact, there are exceptions to the one-man, one-vote rule. In the election for the president of Seoul National University, each professor casts one vote, but the staff members’ votes count as one-tenth.

In order to change the educational reality with voters’ power, we need more inventive ideas.

*The writer is social news editor of the JoongAng Sunday.

By Nam Yoon-ho
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