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Finding superintendent in a maze

Posted June. 03, 2014 05:09,   


The election race for the Seoul metropolitan education superintendent, which was kept in low key due to the dominance of election of mayoral and gubernatorial election, is drawing attention belatedly after the daughter of candidate Ko Seung-deok posted a message on Facebook. People easily say that the qualifications for father and education superintendent are different each other. But is that so? Without any career or experience in education, Ko has ranked first in approval rating in opinion polls because voters expected that he would be good at educating children. It is misguided to think that just because the superintendent is “master of studying,” my own children will become “masters of studying” as well. Nonetheless, Ko has been widely benefiting from such misbelief. At least it has been the case thus far.

Children do not necessarily respect parents just because of high social status. It is quite common that a farmer or street cleaner is respected more than a minister or chaebol (superrich) as father. Old saying has it that children grow watching the history and acts of parents. While determining whether one cannot be a good superintendent just because he failed to play a proper role as father may be in the realm of individuals, but it is inappropriate to make an accusation of “conspiracy politics” against a rival. In contrast, candidate Cho Hee-yeon for the liberal camp is using his son’s letter emphasizing Cho as a great father in his election campaign, but we all know that a great father will not necessarily be a great figure in society as well.

The logic that privacy of a civil servant should be separated from his or her capability at work often does not make sense when it comes to an education superintendent. Unlike from a lawmaker, mayor or governor, people tend to have high expectations for higher standards in value judgment and humanity from the education superintendent. It is because the post is an important position that nurtures civilized people. Former Seoul Education Superintendents Kong Jeong-taek and Kwak Noh-hyun were not quite eligible for the job, because they were not educationally honorable on their own, rather than buying favor from a rival candidate is a crime.

It is difficult to figure out gauge one’s personality. Then, how can voters single out eligible superintendent? This answer may be too obvious, but election pledges are a matter of importance. As for the election of Seoul education superintendent, the upcoming election will likely be the worst case ever of “election without knowing candidates’ eligibility,” because there is no partisan nomination of education superintendent candidates, with too many candidates racing fiercely each other to grab the opportunity. Ignorance is dangerous in that it brings about arbitrary collective decision-making by a small number of people. Chances are high that voters will cast ballots for a candidate whose name sounds familiar as they scam through the candidate lists on the ballot. Voters in their 50s and 60s and those at advanced ages are more likely to be lured to the visibility of candidates, because the former doesn’t know what special purpose high schools and innovation schools are.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, we have many superintendents to refer to when making choice of next superintendent. While it is difficult to figure out whom to elect, but it seems to be clearer as to whom we should not vote for. Figures we must exclude before others are those who taint education with politics. Former Seoul Education Superintendent Kwak Noh-hyun polluted education with ideology by bringing free school meals. Former Gyeonggi Provincial Education Superintendent Kim Sang-kon resigned as education chief to run for Gyeonggi governor. Like these people, we should never elect people who bring in politics to education, or use career as education superintendent as a steppingstone to secure a higher-level government position. At least such figures are “out” of my list.

The second group of candidates to rule out is those who like to promise “free services.” Majority of candidates are making a flurry of promises to offer things free, including maintaining of free school meals, free breakfast, experience-oriented education, school bus service, study subsidies, and school uniforms. They seem to be truly creative when considering how they come to even think about giving such extraordinary items for free. How can we afford to give free breakfast at schools where students often avoid using bathroom due to filthy environment, and air-conditioning is not provided due to lack of electric utility budget? Those who make this kind of election pledges are people lacking knowledge about the reality in schools.

The third group for voters to drop is figures who lack commitment to reform teachers’ community. While a superintendent should make efforts to protect teachers’ rights and improve their working conditions so that teachers can focus on teaching, but he or she needs to reform teachers’ community where teachers are guaranteed of job security irrespective of their capabilities. There is already strong resistance in teachers’ community against purported reform of teachers’ pension system. According to this criteria, heads of teachers’ unions or those who served as leaders at such organizations should be ruled out. However, if a voter continues to rule out candidates one after another as if engaging in performance audition to find talented artists, we wonder whether we will have anyone left on the ballot to vote for.