Thursday, August 8, 2013

Character Education

"I know that Daegu is a violent city where students fight and easily give up on life," said the superintendent of education for the city of Daegu. Interviewed by the Peace Weekly, he went on to say that "Daegu students are carrying the cross for Korean students. If I didn't have my religion," he admits, "I would very likely have resigned, but I consider my position as superintendent of education as God-given, along with the pain that comes with it."

When his father died, he said he cried, and when he read the suicide note left by a 14-year-old  student who couldn't stand the bullying of his classmates, he also cried. He called together the 350 persons who work in the department of education and read the note left by the student; everybody was in tears, he said. He went to the funeral hall to console the parents and promised them that this would never happen again. He wanted to wipe out the stigma of bullying in the school system and said he would work to increase the "happiness index" of his students.

Up til now, it has been standard thinking that sweetness comes after pain: Students should study and be unconcerned about attaining happiness now, but look forward to success later in life. The superintendent said that it is time to change this thinking with a positive understanding of education. They have started to do this in second-year middle school by encouraging closer relationships between teachers, students and parents.

From the time he became superintendent, he has been aware of the prevalence of bullying in the school system. He has taken it very seriously, knows it is not limited to the schools, and has brought it to the attention of the government, with the warning that without its eradication the education system will not move forward. Though he assumes "all the responsibility" for the current state of the school system, he wants all of society to become involved, and pleads with the press not to have live broadcasts or reports of suicides.

We are merely "on-lookers," he says, at what is happening in society. He recalls a time when he was a college president with little interest in education on the grammar, middle and high school levels. The way we selected students for college, he points out and now regrets, has had devastating effects on the morale of our students. We should have been teaching them how to live with one another, instead of allowing them to step on others to advance their own goals.

It is time, he says, that schooling should primarily be for character formation. And what the schools can't do, religions should do.  A good school should be a place where students feel safe, a place where they can devote themselves to study, foster a sense of self-worth and confidence, and where they can dream and realize their potential.

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