Education system in jeopardy
A new controversial issue has flared up in the students’ rights ordinance, with the ongoing national scandal on school violence.
This law stipulates the specific rights for middle and high school students to rally on campus as well as to choose their clothing and hair style. Ostensibly, this ordinance is beyond criticism. It would enhance the inalienable rights of students, including freedom of speech. However, there are many concerns on the feared spillover effects of the radical ordinance.
I remember a horrific event at a comprehensive high school where I taught 20 years ago. A student who was angered by the discipline of his homeroom teacher rushed out of the school, only to return a couple of hours later completely drunk. While he was shouting in the playground, many of his peers came to watch.
Many students who were curious and enjoying the moment were out with him. Surprised, teachers came out and asked the students to rejoin their class. Then, a teacher in charge of school discipline scolded them in a loud voice. This provoked a defiant student to break a window in the corridor. His aggressive gesture emboldened many other students who, spurred by mob psychology, became uncontrollable. The school descended into chaos, filled with the noise of breaking windows.
After this incident, our school was devastated physically and mentally. Students and teachers suffered enormous guilt: teachers for not having properly disciplined students with due care; students for having perpetrated such mindless violence. Thinking back, that incident might have been almost inevitable.
Most of those students had grown up in dire family situations. Parents who were in so-called marginalized groups could not take proper care of their children, which resulted in a state of complete absence of home education. With no academic standing, students had to enter that comprehensive school regardless of their wishes. Therefore, they had little interest in learning anything.
Their abhorrence of study must have developed in elementary and middle schools where they had been isolated because of their mediocre ability and poor family backgrounds. They may have always been full of resentment against society. At that time, the country endured dramatic changes in various socio-political sectors provoking strikes and demonstrations in protest against pervasive injustices and corruption. Local news was inundated with scenes of violence. Watching the violence inured immature students to immorality. Adding to their numbness to immorality was a series of violent films mocking teachers and showing scenes of bloody destruction.
Twenty years after the incident, our schools don’t seem to have improved much. Students’ suicides caused by bullying and mass harassment are sensational news throughout the country. News of defiant students beating their teachers in class frustrates all teachers. Talking about the dignity of teachers in public has become an obsolete story.
They could be stigmatized as incompetent teachers when they get low standings when assessed annually by immature students and parents, most of whom are faceless.
Ironically, or predictably, it may be homeroom teachers or teachers in charge of student discipline who get the low grades. This may suggest that many students dislike teachers who strive to correct inappropriate behavior. In this no-win situation are teachers still expected to dare to scold students crossing the line of immorality? In terms of hierarchy, teachers in Korea seem to be no higher than peers among students.
In this degrading situation where teachers have already lost any power to discipline or control unruly students, the students’ rights ordinance could well further degenerate school environment.
The writer is an English teacher in Gimhae Girls' High School in South Gyeongsang Province. His email address is email@example.com.