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[Editorial] Tide Turning Against Teachers Union

Posted May. 12, 2008 03:07,   


Parents are the holders of educational rights when it comes to their children. At the same time, they are on the demand side of the educational service equation: they can choose which schools their children attend and their taxes pay for public education and teacher salaries. Nonetheless, their voices are rarely heard in the decision-making process of education authorities or in running a school. Recently, however, there have been encouraging signs of challenging the status quo in which teacher interests often trump those of students and parents. The Supreme Court has begun siding with parents in a number of cases where these interests clash.

One case had Haksamo, a group of parents advocating the rights of students and parents, take on the Korean Teachers and Educational Workers Union. The Supreme Court ruled that a list of unqualified teachers released in 2004 by Haksamo was legal. The quality of teachers is of great concern to parents because of its direct relation to the quality of education. The 61 teachers on the list were largely deemed inept as educators, with some of them physically assaulting students and parents or glossing over violence in the classroom. Other teachers were found to have accepted bribes or skipped work without valid excuses. Instead of admitting their incompetence, 46 of the listed teachers sued the parents for libel with the union’s full support.

The Supreme Court recognized the parents’ right to classify unqualified teachers since the matter, as an objective and public concern, affects the interest of the public. Despite being at an organizational and financial disadvantage to the systematic and moneyed union, Haksamo persevered through a four-year court battle that would have been impossible without a strong commitment to correcting education. For too long, teachers and educational authorities have brushed off parents, whose participation has often been considered interference. Such a reality is in stark contrast to the situation in advanced nations, where parents and community members actively participate in school management.

The Supreme Court also sided with parents last year who sued unionized teachers of a girl’s vocational school for refusing to teach while staging a demonstration. The ruling said the teachers infringed on the students’ right to learn and parents’ educational rights. These cases should teach the union the lesson that teachers can promote their rights only when they do not violate the rights of students and parents.

Immediately after the ruling, a parent sent computers and other office supplies worth 50 million won to Haksamo headquarters to mark the victory over the tyranny of certain union members. Haksamo should be proud to know many parents are behind it.