[Viewpoint] Violence begins at school

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[Viewpoint] Violence begins at school

We have all been shocked and demoralized by the news of the extent of violence in our schools. Since when has this country become incapable of protecting our kids and ensuring safety on school grounds? We have been busy congratulating ourselves for accomplishing industrialization and democratization, hosting the Olympics and World Cup, and evolving from being a recipient of foreign aid to becoming a donor. But we are now rudely awakened from self-indulgent celebration to find our communities and schools wracked by rapid dehumanization, incivilities and violence among the innocent young.

We read and hear various analyses on how to combat violence at schools. But we first need to stop and re-examine our circumstances if we want to restore warmth and humanity in our society. Our society has been in collective pursuit of overcoming poverty, ignorance, servitude and violence to advance politically and economically. How far have we come on the scale of freedom and equality?

In terms of absolute poverty, we have made great strides. We boast one of the world’s highest levels of educational accomplishments, including literacy, tertiary education and even specialized learning in information technology. Ignorance is no longer a national stumbling block to freedom. In sports and the entertainment field, our young generation, with their supreme confidence in taking on challenges, are no longer on the envious periphery but are the heroes of millions of global fans. Koreans have overcome poverty, ignorance, and to a certain extent self-consciousness, but have yet to conquer the violence in their hearts.

Violence can brutally impair human freedom, rights and dignity. We lived through an age in which we feared political violence and abuse, and overturned that age. But today, the violence has gotten closer to our everyday lives, threatening the safety of our very children. School violence can not only rob children of innocent youth, but jeopardize the future of a free civilian community. Without combating the problem, we cannot assure a healthy state of social development.

James Heckman, who won the Nobel Prize in economics in 2002 and is a professor at the University of Chicago, has been campaigning for better class and racial justice through narrowing the gap in wealth and welfare. In a seminar in Seoul last summer, Heckman said society must place top priority in investing in welfare for children and teenagers to precipitate social progress.

Welfare spending for adults can solve immediate problems but does not ensure future growth and stability. But aggressive investment in welfare for the under-19-year-olds can guarantee a freer and more equal society in the future. Instead of subsidizing college tuition, the money would be better spent if it went to cheaper child care and various youth facilities.

Violence in schools does not just involve the kids’ parents, but the entire population. But politicians and parties who should represent the people are silent or ambiguous on the problem. Despite immense public interest and concern, we do not hear a politician, party or promising parliamentary or presidential candidate raise his or her voice to promise action on the problem.

What’s really disappointing is that we also hear of no antiviolence campaign from the associations of teachers who are responsible for what happens on school grounds, including the usually outspoken Korean Teachers & Education Workers’ Union. Human rights and civilian organizations that jump on any issues related to violence have also been unusually silent on school violence.

School violence is associated with various inequalities and restrictions of our society, and therefore no solution can take place overnight. But we must make radical endeavors to raise awareness - starting at a young age - that violence committed against another member of the community is an act of surrendering your standing as a citizen and a crime against our entire race. We must start efforts to oust violence from schools this year to enhance the freedom of the Korean people.

*The author is former prime minister and adviser to the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Lee Hong-koo

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