Punish the teachersAbout 1,000 members of the Korean Teachers and Education Workers’ Union took off work early Friday to join a mass rally in central Seoul to protest a court ruling stripping the union of its legal status. They walked out their schools without attaining permission from their principals to participate in a rally that called on President Park Geun-hye to step down and stop oppressing the union. The liberal teachers’ union claimed they have not caused any disturbances to students because only two from each school took early leave and asked substitute teachers to cover for them. They also insisted they have the right to protest. They are saying they have done nothing wrong, but any teacher knows that classes are different with substitutes. A teachers’ place is in the classroom and their role is to teach, not to parade through the streets.
No union status gives teachers a right to neglect their students. To abandon their teaching to rally against the government cannot be excused under any circumstances. Teachers are legally government employees. Their jobs are guaranteed and they are eligible for pensions subsidized by taxpayers. Government employees must maintain political neutrality and cannot take collective action for their own interests. But members of the KTU have abandoned all their obligations. The teachers who defied their principals’ orders to join street demonstrations virtually gave up their role. If they wish to leave school at any time, they must relinquish their government employee status.
The court has set a precedent outlawing teacher demonstrations. Use of collective power to force their demands should not be tolerated. The education ministry and district education offices must take action to punish the teachers who walked out. All district education offices - whether they are headed by liberal superintendents who are sympathetic to the teachers’ union or not - must take uniform action. No teacher should be forgiven for breaking the law. The progressive teachers’ union ignores the rules because it has the protection of liberal education chiefs. The KTU no longer has legal status. It must not cause further trouble to students.
JoongAng Ilbo, June 28, Page 30