* Update: Well, the article is still on the site, under "Today's Column," but for some reason I can't get a link to the site to work right now, so I've copied and pasted it below. There is a mistake: in the 8th paragraph it says "While encouraging discussion . . ." and just kind of stops, though it should say something like "While encouraging discussion . . . can be a good idea, to coerce . . ." That was a mistake on my end, not theirs.
Korean newspapers have all been running stories about the candlelit vigils in Seoul, held in protest of American beef imports. Many, including this one, have run articles about students who attend them.
Some teachers have been encouraging students to attend the rallies, and according to a May 8 Korea Times article, the Korea Teachers and Education Workers Union (KTU) objected to the government telling teachers to ask their students to refrain from attending the vigils, at least while the safety of American beef is still under question.
The media have stories about the scaremongering going on over the imagined dangers of American beef. Some articles have refuted the baseless, unscientific claims, while other outlets have promoted them.
The MBC television program ``PD Notebook,'' for example, claimed that 94 percent of Koreans possess a gene that makes them more susceptible than Americans or the British to contracting mad cow disease.
The notoriously xenophobic and anti-American KTU has been given many opportunities to spout off against American beef imports.
However, plenty of English-language editions of Korean papers have run articles critical of this trend of anti-American hate-mongering, drawing parallels to the ugly behavior on display after two middle school girls were killed by an American military vehicle in 2002.
The Korea Times reported that 60 percent of those attending the candlelit vigils were middle school and high school students.
While encouraging discussion among able students on topics like the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and beef imports being unhealthy, to coerce students to attend rallies and to brainwash them with ultra-nationalistic propaganda is irresponsible, to say the least.
Perhaps some teachers harbor delusions about the role students play in Korea's protest culture, and perhaps others find the beef issue a convenient outlet for anti-American anger, and wish to pass that tension on to their students.
Most likely, many believe they are fostering civic pride in their students by asking them to take part in something their young minds do not fully understand.
Encouraging students to skip school to attend these candlelight vigils and rallies is not only inappropriate and outside the bounds of a teacher-student relationship, but it detracts attention from more pressing issues students are facing.
Namely, they are far more likely to be killed on field trips or while walking home from school than by contracting mad cow disease, which as of yet has claimed no Korean or Korean-American lives.
Last year five students from Maesan Middle School, located in my city of Suncheon, South Jeolla Province, were killed on their school field trip to Mt. Jiri when their bus plummeted down a steep hill.
The bus driver was trying to pass others in his caravan while going up a hill, and the excess speed made him lose control on the other side.
A follow-up newspaper article a few days after the accident said the grieving families asked authorities to take the proper steps to prevent such a senseless tragedy from happening again.
But nearly a year later another bus accident befell Suncheon. On May 7, two students from Hyocheon High School were killed when their bus lost control on Mt. Halla, Jeju Island, the highest mountain in South Korea. The bus driver was also killed and forty others were injured.
South Korean drivers consistently rank among the world's worst and most dangerous to pedestrians. Drivers and passengers routinely go without seatbelts and car seats, and habitually ignore traffic rules and regulations.
The country ranks at the top of pedestrian deaths among OCED nations, and was ranked 4th, at last count, for deaths of pedestrians aged 14 and under.
Ironically, the intense protests of 2002 also involved lots of students, but the aim of the rallies was not to mourn their lives or to call for better traffic safety, but rather to further an anti-American agenda.
Likewise, though some are spreading misinformation about the threat of mad cow disease, the issue at the heart of these rallies isn't food safety, but rather a convenient opportunity to target what is perceived as an American economic threat.
Very unhealthy behavior for military and political allies, as the United States and South Korea are, especially when the latter is angling for special treatment via the Visa Waiver Program.
It is encouraging to read that the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education will invite experts to speak to teachers about how mad cow disease works, and perhaps they will take the time to properly educate their students.
It is naive, sadly, to hope that citizens will forgo the knee-jerk reaction to absorb irresponsible journalism and will instead seek to educate themselves about what's really at stake here.
Rather than imitating ignorant teachers, as a teacher myself I wish my students and my colleagues would take more initiative with regard to traffic safety.
It's one that's hit Suncheon twice in 12 months, and one that proves far deadlier to teenagers than the imagined danger of mad cow disease.
I would feel much better if students were not mindlessly imitating the xenophobic behavior of their seniors, but were instead taking the initiative to fight a problem with real consequences and real victims.