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Protests by Elementary School Students

Posted August. 01, 2010 08:49,   


In late 2008, a sixth-grade teacher boycotted a scholastic assessment test and took his class on a field trip. The teacher and members of the Korea Teachers and Educational Workers` Union staged a protest at the school entrance, with eight elementary school students waving banners saying, “Don’t rob us of our teacher!” The school principal took the banners away because the demonstration disrupted student traffic and a political demonstration was deemed uneducational.

The National Human Rights Commission of Korea said the principal infringed upon the students` right to expression as stipulated in Article 21 of the Constitution. The commission recommended that the principal conduct education sessions to ensure the protection of the right to expression. “The Constitution and the treaty on children’s rights guarantee a student’s right to freely express his or her opinion,” it said. Based on such reasoning, young students cannot be blocked from staging protests that confuse society or freely expressing their beliefs despite being under the control of adults or due to their lack of capacity to judge. Young students, who are immature mentally and physically, should not have the right to expression to the extent that adults do. If students argue that this is wrong on educational grounds, they should be scolded and have their banners taken away.

The Korean Federations of Teachers’ Associations criticized the decision, saying, “The commission made the decision without considering at all the judgment capacity and intellectual development of elementary school students, the reality at schools, and educational aspects.” It also warned that if students associate with “external forces,” schools could turn into political arenas. Even if students take to the streets voluntarily, teachers are obliged to block them. Issues on educational ideology, such as the boycott of the student assessment test, are not for students to step in and interfere with. Such a practice will inevitably draw criticism that the progressive teachers’ group is exploiting minors to realize their ideology.

The commission has repeatedly sparked controversy through rulings that do not reflect reality. Its former head remained silent while illegal demonstrations against the resumption of U.S. beef import raged in 2008. Yet he said at the funeral of former President Roh Moo-hyun, “The freedom to protest is being contracted,” causing a stir. The incumbent commission head Hyun Byung-chul, who assumed the post a year ago, was also seen sympathizing with illegal protests. He said, “People in and outside of the country express worry,” commenting on the indictment of the producers of the investigative TV news program “PD Notebook,” who instigated the anti-U.S. beef protests by carrying misleading and erroneous news reports. Hyun, the chief of the relief from infringement committee 2 Choi Gyeong-suk, and commission member Jang Ju-yeong should say whether they would approve if their own children or relatives participated in protests supporting illegal demonstrations.

Editorial Writer Kim Sun-deok (yuri@donga.com)