Politics in the classroomSome 140,000 additional people became eligible to vote in the April 15 general election after the voting age was reduced to 18 last year. A younger voting age is a global trend. But there is the risk of brain-washing in classrooms, given the political forces in our public schools. The Ministry of Education said it will develop teaching guidelines and materials on elections by the end of February before the school term starts in March, which is too short a time to ensure reliable standards. One possibility is a booklet on cases of violations of election laws so that students won’t break the law when they choose to exercise their voting rights for the first time.
Students may be the last of our worries. A group of students at Inhun High School in Gwanak District in southern Seoul disclosed last October that they were forced to chant anti-Japan rally cries and have endured scorn from teachers for any conservative comments. At one high school in Yeosu, South Jeolla, an end-of-the-year test gave an example of Democratic Party lawmaker Rep. Keum Tae-sup, a law school pupil of former justice minister Cho Kuk, who abstained from a vote on a new agency to investigate corruption among public employees, to illustrate an old Chinese saying that means “bite the hand that feeds you.” (Cho was behind the bill creating the new agency, of course.) If teachers are politically biased, they can politicize education about elections. The education authority must prohibit one-sided political comments from teachers. Students are being deprived of their rights if they are denied of diversity and freedom of expression.
School heads must ensure political neutrality in classrooms. Those who are exercising their right to vote for the first time should be encouraged to do so, but others must not be distracted.
There must not be any political sway in election education. The purpose of election education should be in building balanced and critical minds and not just teaching students how to vote. Because politics have been taboo in schools, young minds have become more vulnerable to bogus teachings. In Britain, France and Germany, civic education programs are part of the curriculum to teach students the principles of democracy and civic duties.
Germans have strengthened political education so as not to repeat the tragic Nazi past and to teach young minds to be less opinionated. Individualism is respected so that students can build their own opinions. The basics of any education starts with a family. Kids should be allowed to express their opinions at home and come to their own judgments.
JoongAng Sunday, Jan. 11, Page 30