[Viewpoint] One for the textbooks

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[Viewpoint] One for the textbooks

I have never read anything sadder in my life. A middle school student in Daegu who killed himself after being bullied by classmates has left the most tragic suicide note. I would suggest that everyone who can read Korean run an Internet search - use the terms “suicide note of a middle school boy in Daegu” - and read it.

After being harassed and beaten up by two classmates, the 13-year-old boy wrote the note one night and deleted his own phone number from the contact list on his mother’s mobile phone. The next morning, he said good bye to his mother, a teacher who had to leave for work early in the morning. He cleaned up the living room and left the note in the place where his mother always put her purse. Then, he threw himself off a balcony.

The suicide note gives a detailed account of his panic and suffering caused by the bullying. “In December, I had urges to kill myself a number of times, but every time, the thought of mom and dad kept me from going through with it. I am truly sorry. This is the end of my story. I will leave this world first and wait for my family forever, whether it takes 100 or 1,000 years.”

Before he killed himself, he repeated a warning to his family twice, “I have to ask one last favor. They know the door lock combination to the apartment. Please change the combination.” It was as if the combination and his family’s safety was more important than his own life.

“Farewell to everyone. Tears are welling up as I will no longer see my family in return for ending the days of harassment. Please don’t be sad because I am not here any longer, and please don’t kill yourself like I just did.” His closing: “from the youngest one who loves this family so much.” And then he added: “PS I’ve never said how much I love you, but here it is. I love you Mom and Dad!!!!” What did he mean to say with four exclamation marks? In Korea, the number four symbolizes unhappiness and death.

As the details of this boy’s tragic story came out, his mother realized that when her son texted her to ask, “Mom, when will you be home?” it meant his friends were beating him up in his own apartment. She wept. But just as the boy requested, she has stopped crying now. She said that she had prepared pizza, her son’s favorite food, for a memorial service for the boy.

She says that by making the story public, she is trying to make sure her son’s death will not be in vain. It is now our responsibility to respond to her wish that her son should be the last victim of school violence. We need to promise three things.

First, it would be desirable for President Lee Myung-bak to personally pay a condolence visit to the family. This is not an isolated tragedy. It is a challenge for every one of us raising children in Korea. Representing all citizens, Lee should convey his strong will to prevent any further tragedies of this sort. In the United States and Europe, it is very common for the head of state to make a personal call after social tragedies.

Moreover, the next administration is not likely to be committed to resolving the issue. Park Geun-hye, the most promising conservative presidential hopeful, is a single woman, and Seoul National University Professor Ahn Cheol-soo sent his daughter to the United States when she was in seventh grade. She is now studying at an Ivy League school. President Lee Myung-bak has to end the school violence. As he likes to say, “You can talk about Korean education after raising at least three kids in Korea.”

Secondly, Maple Story, the online game by Nexon that is at the center of the tragedy, should take a certain portion of responsibility. The police investigation found that the classmates had forced the boy to log on with their IDs to help them boost their performance in the game and acquire more rewards. Those IDs were later hacked, and that’s when the really violent bullying began.

Nexon likes to boast about the record number of users simultaneously playing its game. And the founder’s stake in the company is valued at over 3 trillion won ($2.6 billion). It has to cleanse itself of the stigma of nickel-and-diming children. The company has every right to have a successful business. Nevertheless, it can try to play a responsible role in preventing game addiction among youth and helping victims of hacking.

Lastly, the number of families with both parents working is bound to grow. While corporal punishment is banned and the student rights’ regulation is in effect, school violence is on the rise. The same old prescriptions, such as adding more counselors, are presented as a solution.

However, violence in school has tripled in six years despite those prescriptions from experts. In Japan, Haruki Murakami’s “The Silence,” a short story about bullying, is included in textbooks. Maybe Korean schools should include this poor boy’s suicide note in their textbooks without adding or omitting a word.

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

By Lee Chul-ho
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