Education and politics don’t mix

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Education and politics don’t mix

Moon Yong-lin, former education minister and conservative candidate for superintendent of the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, pledged to win his Dec. 19 election after shaking hands with Kim Moo-sung, the chief of Park Geun-hye’s presidential campaign, at an opening ceremony for his campaign office Tuesday. Moon served as vice-chairman of a committee to enhance people’s happiness in Park’s camp before running for Seoul education superintendent.

Given such a background, he could only receive congratulations from an official of the ruling Saenuri Party. But the image of him grasping the hand of an official of a political party appears inappropriate and could be a violation of the election law. Lee Su-ho, former president of the liberal Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union and Moon’s challenger for the Seoul education chief job, has an unseemly side too. He went so far as to publicize what was discussed between him and Park Jie-won, floor leader of the opposition Democratic United Party.

The ruling and opposition parties always admit it is against the law to express their official support for candidates running to be Seoul education head. Yet they habitually emphasize their personal ties with the candidates, and politicians adroitly sidestep the law which bans them from intervening in superintendent elections. Candidates gladly take opportunities to reveal their political orientations.

Differences in political positions often lead to totally distinct education policies, and it could be valid for candidates to expose their political colors before being chosen by voters. Despite such a discrepancy, however, candidates must respect the current law until it is revised.

First of all, political parties should resist the temptation to pick education heads. We cannot leave unattended the situation in which education circles are left to carry on a proxy war in a sharply-divided political arena. Candidates should not represent their supporters only, as their political inclinations alone cannot solve the daunting challenges of education. Under former Seoul education chief Kwak No-hyun, who is behind bars for a bribery conviction, schools in Seoul had to suffer massive problems due to differences in philosophies between him and the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology. The education law demands political neutrality for superintendents. They’re supposed to get down to basics when it comes to education. Political parties and the candidates they like must not turn this election into a mud fight.
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