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The right to choose schools

Is it possible to compete on equal footing in Korea without choosing socialism?
Oct 25,2017
In the 1990s, Donald Trump was “Principal for a Day” at a New York City public school, and as he got out of his limousine, he told the students that he would get them Nike sneakers. Then the germaphobe took out a tissue in order not to touch the stairwell railing. As he left, he gave the school a fake $1 million bill as a donation. The next day, his assistant called about the actual donation. He only ended up giving $200.

Washington insiders like to cite this incident to criticize Trump’s impulsive nature and tendency to do whatever is on his mind. Interestingly, no one links Trump’s decision to educate his five children at private schools to his disdain for public schools.

In fact, Jimmy Carter is the only recent U.S. president to send his children to public schools. Barack Obama chose a private school with an annual tuition of over $40,000 dollars for his two daughters. According to the Heritage Foundation, 44 percent of U.S. senators and 38 percent of congressmen send their children to private elementary, middle and high schools — these numbers are dozens of times higher than that of the average American. However, politicians are not criticized for how they educate their children. People think that they have the right to choose a school for their children. Not everyone can afford $40,000 a year. This is capitalism in education, whether it is right or not.

When I was a correspondent in Japan, a Japanese friend agonized over failing to send his son to the renowned Keio Kindergarten and Elementary School. He thought his son was not admitted because of the financial capability category covered in the interview. But, he did not blame the system and instead set a nine-year plan to send his son to Keio High School. In Korea, parents and politicians would condemn the school for setting this kind of selection criteria.

At the parliamentary audit session, opposition lawmakers said the administration seems to think autonomous private high schools and foreign language high schools should be removed, and asked if the students and parents who chose these schools were evil. The superintendent of education responded, “The autonomous high school and foreign language school system provides educational inequality of privilege and special favors and should be discouraged in the educational system.”

Is it possible to compete on equal footing in Korea without choosing socialism? Is “educational socialism” the right path? If it is right, why haven’t the United States and Japan taken that path? Have Koreans given the right to the politicians to deem autonomous independent schools and foreign language high schools privileged?

People are the only assets Korea has. The key in education is nurturing talented and attractive people to navigate the age of the fourth industrial revolution. Instead of the easy task of advocating liberal values and closing autonomous independent schools and foreign language schools, the hard task of improving general education high schools should be prioritized, as entire classes at those schools are filled with students taking naps, except for a few.

This is the right order and essence. No developed country would do it in the reverse direction.

A few days ago, I saw a story on the news about someone who used a flamethrower to kill a spider in their home and ended up burning the entire house down. I couldn’t help but think that this is how some lawmakers are trying to handle education.

Former U.S. President Barack Obama said that Korea’s passion for education was exemplary. If he learned that Korea is considering scrapping autonomous independent high schools and foreign language high schools, he might say that even impulsive Trump wouldn’t do that.

*The author is a Washington correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

Kim Hyun-ki