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Korea: Cleaning Up Classrooms: Duty or Violation of Human Rights?

I remember when I was in school, every year I had to bring to class rags that my mother made with old clothes. We students had to push heavy wooden desks and chairs to the edge of the classroom and then crouch down and wax the wooden floor. On a weekly basis, groups of students took turns tidying up the classroom that seated 50 or 60 students. Recently, I heard that my older sister regularly visits her children's primary school to clean up the classroom instead of her children.

Through a news report on “Cleaning up classrooms: Is it a part of education or a violation of human rights?”, the topic has recently become hot in Korea. Teachers appeal that it is getting hard to make students clean up and that parents give pressure to schools not to let students clean up the classroom because of their busy schedules with after school tuition courses. On the other hand, human rights organizations focusing on teenagers and the Korean Teachers & Educational Worker’s Union insist that forcing students to clean up is a violation of human rights. While these groups argue that the statement that cleaning up is part of education is for administrative convenience, the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education emphasizes that students need to learn a sense of responsibility.

Bloggers are divided on this issue: While some of them consider cleaning up their own classrooms to be practice of good behavior, others regard it as squeezing labor out of children and criticize teachers’ attitude.

Chang-gong asks what ‘human rights’ have to do with this issue.

‘인권’이 무엇이길래 이렇게 아무곳에서나 나타나는가?
자신들이 사용하는 물건, 공간을 청소하는 것이 당연한 것 아닌가?
자신이 사용하는 물건을 정리하고, 교실이나 화장실, 운동장 주변을 쓸고 닦는 것을 가리키는 것도 교육이다. 청소원을 양성하는 것이 아니라 당연히 해야할 일을 가리키는 것이다. 그렇게 함으로서 거리에 쓰레기를 버리면 힘든 청소를 해야한다는 것도 느끼고 쓰레기를 버리지 말아야 한다는 것을 인식하고 그렇게 행동할 것이다. 즉, 교육인것이다. 하기 싫어하는 것을 시키면 인권침해인가?

How come we make such a big deal about ‘human rights’ on any issue?
Isn't it natural to clean up things one uses and space one belongs to? Education involves tidying up things we use and sweeping the classroom, toilets, and playground. It doesn’t mean training janitors, but teaching things students should do. Through it, they recognize that throwing trash on the street means someone should clean it up and they learn that they should not behave like that. It is education. Is making students do what they don't want a violation of human rights?

Another blogger suggests the real problem of education, authority.

학교 청소를 거부하는 아이들이 많아지고 있다는 인터넷 기사를 보았다
네티즌들의 반응은 다양한듯 하면서도 대체로 하나로 모아지고 있다
누구는 학교다닐때 그런생각 안해본줄 아나. 애들이 제정신이 아니다. “교육”의 근간이 무너졌다. 그러나 사람들은 문제의 본질이 무엇인지 간과하고 있다. 문제는 청소가 교육의 일환이라는 인식에서 출발한다…

I read an article that students refuse to clean up their schools. Netizens’ responses are various, but their opinions generally have an agreement. Who would want to clean up when they were at school? Kids are crazy. The basis of education has collapsed. But we disregard the real source of problems. The problem starts from the prejudice that cleaning up is part of the education.

그러나 과연 얼마나 많은 교사가 진정 학생이 학교의 주인이라고 생각하며
학생이 자기가 학교의 주인이라고 생각할까?
스피커에서 장학사가 온다는 교무실의 전달이 떨어지면 부리나케 일어나 교사의 지시를 받아 니스를 칠하거나 양초로 학교 마루를 열심히 칠해야 했던 초등학교(그때는 국민학교)시절. 책상을 뒤로 밀고 애들이 청소를 하는데도 같이 도와주는 선생님? 아쉽게도 나는 단한번도 본적이 없고 선생님은 그런 일을 한다는 것을 상상해본적 없다. 물론 하고싶어서 하는 애들이 몇명이나 되었을지도 모르겠지만 왜 선생님은 안하시냐고 묻는 애들도 못봤다. 하라면 해야 하니까.
반항이나 대드는 것은 상상할수도 없다. 물론 예의에 어긋나는 것은 경계해야 한다. 그러나 “왜” 하는지는 적어도 알고 해야 한다. 그러나 우리나라 교육은 그것을 악으로 보았다. 인간은 본능대로 행동하는 개 돼지가 아니라 왜 하고 왜 하지 말아야 하는지 고민을 하는 이성을 가진 존재인데도 그것을 철저히 무시한 것이다. 그것이 현재 한국 교육의 가장 심각한 폐해이다.
그리고 그 권위의식…
쓰레기가 떨어져있으면 지나가는 애한테 “야, 주워”라고 말하는 선생님은 봤지만 자기가 쓰레기통에 넣는 선생님은 글쎄 …나만 못봤는지도 모르겠지.
존경받는 스승들은 자기가 그만큼 학생들에게 뭔가를 깨닫게 하기 때문에 존경을 받는 것이지 뭔가를 많이 하라고 해서 우러러 보아지는 것은 아니다.

But how many teachers think that students are the central figures of the school and how many students think that they are the central figures of the school as well? I remember at my primary school if there was news that school inspectors would arrive soon, we had to wax the classroom floor with candles instantly. When we pushed desks and chairs to the edge of the classroom and cleaned up, were there teachers helping us? I never saw the scene. It was impossible to imagine teachers doing such a kind of job. How many students would like to do that job? Of course, we students could not ask why teachers don't clean up. Because we had to do if they ordered us. It was impossible to resist it. We have to watch out about not being polite. But at least we should know ‘why’ we have to do it. But it is regarded as the evil to have that question in our education. We’re not dogs and pigs to follow their instincts. We think about why we have to do something and why we should not do other things. But our basic thought is disregarded. It is the most serious problem of Korean education.
And that perception of authority…
I saw teachers who ordered students to pick up trash, but never saw teachers who do so by themselves. Maybe I’m the only one who doesn’t come across such a kind of teacher.
Teachers are respected by students because they make students recognize through the teachers’ behaviors, not how much they order students.

On the other hand, there is the opposite opinion.

그냥 하기 싫어서 선생들이 시키는 꼴이 보기 싫어서(그 권위라는게 싫어서) 선생들이 사용한 공간까지 내가 청소해야되나 싶어서 이런 간단한 이유를 나름대로 논리들로 포장해서 시부렁시부렁 되는데 그런 학생들 보면 참 안타깝다. 교사는 급식지도, 청소지도 등등 수업말고도 맡은 바가 많다.
우리나라 도덕교육에서 가장 중요시 되는 부분은 ‘습관화'이다.
초등에서만 강조되는 것이 아니라 개념들이 중요시되는 고등교육에 있어서도 이 ‘실천을 위한 습관화'는 매우 중요하다.
“자신이 거쳐간 자리를 깨끗히 하는것.” 이것은 매우 중요한 덕목중의 하나일 것이다. 도덕시간에 그런 덕목들을 배우고 습관화 하는 것도 중요하겠지만 우리나라에서는 그런 시간이 매우 부족하다 여겨 가정과도 연계하여서, 청소, 급식 등등의 학교 생활 내에서 꾸준히 습관화 할 수 있게 하도록 하였다. 이런 좋은 의도를 단지 자신이 하기 싫다는 이유로 나도 인권이 있으니 명령받을 필요 없다는 이유로 거부하는 우리나라 학생들이 참 안타깝다.
물론 쓰레기를 줍지 않는 선생님 등등
나쁜 선생님들도 있다는 것에는 동의한다.
하지만 그런 꼴 때문에 화가 나서 “나도 안 할래!”
이건 아니라 본다.
저 사람이 무단 횡단 하니 “나도 무단횡단 할래!” 이래야 되나?
무엇이 옳은 자세라고 생각하나? 스스로 자신이 있었던 이곳 저곳을 청소하려하지는 못 할 망정 “청소부 아줌마를 고용하자.””선생들도 청소 도와라.” 라는 말부터 먼저 나오는 요즘..
요즘 학생들의 정신상태가 과연 진보된건지 바르게 커가고 있는지 궁금하다.

They just don’t want to do it. They just don’t like teachers’ authority. They just think why do we have to clean up the space used by teachers. With these reasons, students argue. Watching these students, I feel hurt. There are many things teachers should do from teaching to instructing students how to eat meals and how to clean up.
What we regard as the most important learning in our ethics class is ‘practice’ in secondary school as well as primary school. “To clean up place where you use” is one of the most important virtues. It’s important learn it through ethics class, but due to the shortage of time, we learn it from family to school activities, such as cleaning up and meal service.
It is painful to watch students who refuse it because they just don’t want to do it and they don’t want to get ordered under the pretext of human rights. I agree that teachers who don’t pick up trash are not good models. But because of that we are angry and say we don’t want to do it, it doesn’t make sense. It is the same as when you see jaywalking, you say you will do so because others do. Is it the right attitude?
Students insist, “let’s hire janitors” and “Teachers, you should clean up too” rather than cleaning up by themselves. I wonder whether students at present grow up properly.

Another blogger agreed with this opinion.

네이버뉴스에 참.. 욕나오는 기사를 읽게 되었습니다.
내용인 즉,
교실 바닥을 청소하는 것은 받아들일 수 있지만 복도나 화장실 등 공동이용 구역을 청소하는 것은 부당하다는 것입니다.
“왜 제가 해요?” 반발하는 학생들이 생기고 있으며 선풍기를 닦으라는 선생님의 말에 아이들은 “사전 통보되지 않은 청소를 왜 내가 하느냐”고 따졌답니다.
결국 선생님이 남아서 청소하고 갔답니다.
이런 폐해를 막기 위해 한 선생님은 자발적으로 애들이 교실청소시 기타를 치면서 노래를 불러주고 있답니다.
왜 이렇게까지 되었습니까? 이게 도대체 뭡니까?
도 어릴적 선생님에게 많이 맞기도 했고 미워도 해봤습니다.
그러나 이건 아닙니다.
이렇게 까지 해야합니까?
학교는 인간을 교육하기 위한 방편입니다.
예로부터 학교라는 단체는 가장 효율성이 좋은 사회화 도구로 여겨져 왔습니다.
그런데 이게 뭡니까?
아무리 자식이 귀해지고 사회구조가 평등, 인권존중, 개개인의 존엄성 확립으로 가고 있다고는 하나 이건 정말 말도 안됩니다.
선생님이라는 분이 왜 이렇게 나약해졌습니까?
이 사회가 구조적으로 모순을 향해 치닫고 있다고 생각하지 않으신지요..
미웠던 고마웠던 나의 선생님들이 눈 앞에 그려집니다.
정말 이 사회의 구성원으로서 하염없이 분통해집니다.

I read some ridiculous news. It was about how cleaning up classroom floors is fine, but public places, such as halls and toilets, are not fair for students.
“Why do I have to do that?” There are students who are against it and some students even refused when teachers ordered them to wipe out pans, ‘Why do we have to clean up even though we didn't get any notice in advance.” In the end, teachers cleaned up. In order to prevent this conflict, one teacher plays guitar and sings songs while students clean up the classroom. What on earth is going wrong?…
When I was at school, I was scolded by teachers a lot and hated them too, but this is way too much. Do we really have to do this? The school is a means to educate humans. From the past, schools have been regarded as the most effective means to be socialized.
But what is this? I know children are important and our society turns into an equal society, respecting human rights and privacy. But this issue doesn't make sense.
How come teachers become so weak? Don't you think that this society is contradictory? I think about teachers I liked and hated. As a part of this society, I feel mad.

It seems that this argument leads to the issue of conflicts between teachers and students. A blogger, marimo, says,

난 다른 곳은 그냥 다 쓰는곳이니까 그렇다쳐도 교사들이 쓰는 곳은 스스로 청소했으면 좋겠다.그러니까 교무실이나 교직원 화장실, 교사 휴게실 등등..
용역을 주는곳도 있지만, 기사보니 아직 학생들이 청소하는 곳도 있는 것 같다.
지금은 학교 졸업했다만, 학교 다닐때부터 마음에 안들었다. -_-;
스스로 할 수 있는일을 왜 굳이 시키는걸까.
그렇다고 애들이 교실청소 안하는 것도 아니고 ‘자기가 쓴곳은 스스로 청소한다’ 라고 가르치려면 교사들도 그래야 하지 않을까.
선생님이 직접 대걸레 들고 하는거 보면 애들중에도 그거 보고 알아서 하는 애들이 있겠지.

I hope that teachers clean up places they use, such as teachers’ lounges, teachers’ restrooms, their rest area and so on. Reading the news, it seems that students still clean up those places.
I didn't like it when I was at school. Why do they order students even though they can do it by themselves? Students clean up their classrooms. Don't they have to teach students ‘Clean up places you use'? If teachers carry cleaning towels, there must be students who will follow.

3 comments

  • Actually, there is a tradition of letting students clean the classrooms in Denmark too. Generally, students have rotating weekly shifts where one person is in charge of wiping the blackboard, pushing in chairs, making sure the room is free of clutter, and bringing in the government sponsored milk (!) for lunch. Pedagogically I think it makes sense to have students take ownership and care of their space. At one alternative school I attended in Copenhagen, they fired the cleaners and created a work program for students to make money. If you arrived at school early, and cleaned a few classrooms you were paid a fair wage. Many students took advantage of this offer (including me). One would hope it resulted in students taking better care of their classrooms – but most of the time it just meant they were not very well-cleaned.

  • Damine

    So pleased to hear about the milk!. In Australia we had it until 1960s – it was a carry-over from England in WWI, when they realised they didn’t have enough fit young men to feed to the war machine – so the government began to give free milk. Australia, as an English colony, continued the tradition, but in summer the milk was often warm from sitting in the sun. some boys used to have competitions about how many bottles (about 1/3 pint) they could drink, because others didn’t want theirs. I forget the record, but it was a lot.

    As for cleaning, surely if you are part of a class, or a school, or an office, you must take part in the cleaning. What? Don’t adults clean their offices? Well, i think they at least put their rubbish in the bin. Where Did they learn that? Who would discipline them if they didn’t?

    So really, it is all about a system that teaches people to be responsible citizens, and co-workers – not cannon fodder.

  • adam

    Interesting post.

    To some extent I agree with allowing children to clean the classrooms in order to foster a sense of responsibility. In theory it’s a great and socially-minded idea.

    However, the astonishing piles of trash in the streets of any Korean city centre on a Saturday morning prove the theory doesn’t work in the Korean case.

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