Tuesday, February 21, 2006

To the New Teacher: Join the Fucking Union

So you're a teacher, prepared with social and cognitive learning theories and pedagogical techniques, and determined to inspire young minds with your wisdom and wit.

What they perhaps didn't teach you at Gyeongin University, but is obvious if you read the paper or watch the news, is that your new profession is under attack: we are told teachers are "irresponsible," "selfish," "incompetent." That's fine, you might think, I'm prepared to put up with this, I know how important the job is, I will maintain a noble posture under fire.

If only it were so simple, that it were a matter of individual teachers persevering! For it's not only you and your profession that is being attacked, but the entire structure of publicly-funded education itself, upon which you stand, that is being attacked, undermined, constantly. And, foundations weakened, it's beginning to sway.

Don't feel it yet? To an outsider, the proliferation of hagwons, and legion of private tutors, in this country speaks very plainly that public education isn't working. And look at the new free economic zones, and now the new 'charter schools.' This is the trend--this is the future that is being prepared, with careful intent and ideological zeal: allow publicly-administered education to deteriorate, and let the companies move in, to pilfer resources and scoop up the most advantaged students.

Parents know that things are bad, and of course they blame teachers. As they should.

But perhaps you protest here--I'm only a public servant, I must remain neutral! And if you really believe this, you deserve parents' blame. Parents don't care what your ideals are. They know that their children are not getting the education they need at school. They feel that your first responsibility is to the children you teach, not your employer the state that is abandoning the most vulnerable of its citizens (the kids in Gangnam will be fine regardless, thank you).

In 1966 UNESCO made a number of recommendations concerning the status of teachers and the teaching profession. Perhaps you learned of these in university? UNESCO recommended, among other things, that teachers be allowed to form professional organizations in member countries. By professional it means self-regulating, self-governing. Teachers decide who will be teachers, and teachers decide who is promoted, and disciplined. Countries that are serious about education follow the recommendations--for who better understands education than teachers? And the experts who drafted the recommendations understood that education would always need passionate advocates, and that organizations of professionals would serve this function.

This is why, in Canada, any time a conservative government attempts to cut funding to education, teachers organize to defend it, to remind parents and media of how essential it is. Of course when teachers must strike, when schools are empty and parents are struggling to find people to care for their young children, the government and conservative media outlets call teachers "selfish" and "irresponsible." This is inevitable. Teachers know what they're doing is important.

Koreans spend more money on education than the people of any other UNESCO country. If teachers had the resolve, Korea's education system could rival that of Denmark or Norway. Unfortunately, it appears that Korea will soon have a system that resembles that of the Philippines. Unless teachers organize.

Your silence, your noble posturing, means complicity, and nothing more.

UNESCO Recommendation Concerning the Status of Teachers

Saturday, February 18, 2006

The End of Public Education?

The Chosun Ilbo reports ministry plans to fund "charter schools," starting next year.

Never mind that public funds will pour into places where the public is not welcome, and never mind that charter schools often under-perform public schools in the U.S.

It's pretty clear what's happening in Korean education: public schooling is to be allowed to deteriorate further, so that independent, for-profit companies will be welcomed in, to pillage resources and suck up the children of the upper and middle classes. And with "international schools" in the 'free' economic zones opening soon, a three- or four-tier education system, and a brave new republic.

Wealthy enough to emulate a system like Denmark's, Korea will end up with a system like the Philippines'. Nicely done.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

the Free Teachers Union?!

What is the Dong-A Ilbo talking about? "A new teachers’ union opposing the Korean Teachers and Education Worker`s Union (KTU) will be launched in March."

Wishful thinking? Agit-prop? Somebody fill me in?

How to globalize the labour movement?

A good entry to the Global Labor Strategies blog. Unfortunately, most KTU membership has never heard of Education International, still the best vehicle for building knowledge and solidarity networks across borders.

Calling all English-using members: Promote EI! Translate stuff that interests you for KTU media!

Thursday, February 02, 2006

This is the Uri government.

The Ministry of Government Administration and Home Affairs tells public service workers that their decision to join the KCTU is "illegal": "its collective action of voting is not allowed," said Lee Doo-pyo, an official with the ministry.

They are petulant children, stamping their feet and pouting when people don't listen to them. The KTU response is here.

Find some dignity, gentlemen. You're embarrassing your country.