Ethical Reflections for Teachers (From “The Red Teacher”)

The movie gives me a glimpse of promise that writing can prevail even in the toughest times of our mortal lives.

What can teachers give to their students?

People would most probably answer: knowledge and wisdom.

But sometimes teachers can give their – almost – whole livelihood and future career, like Tae-nam.

Depicted as a young, faint-hearted man who happens to teach at a local small school for girls, he is not a favorite teacher among students. Instead, he won the heart of the authoritarian principal to pave a smooth way to his future career.

But things were about to change after Tae-nam found out a red book at a small bookstore. The book tells a fictitious story of a Korean general, and most importantly, the romantic affairs between his wife and a good-looking young officer that directly reported to the general.

There was not supposed to be any problems for reading the book. However, the book was banned by the government as it was assumed to humiliate the Korean leader at the time.

Tae-nam knew this and stealthily devour the book, from cover to cover and immediately got rid of that the next day.

Unbeknownst to Tae-nam, Soon-duk who was his student and had a difficulty to respect authorities at school and showed a tendency of being a rebel found the red book (it was called so as the cover was red in color) and read it, too.

Non only was the book read by Soon-duk, it was also read by the entire class.

The story escalated when the classmates could hardly wait for the next sequel of the adult novel.

Soon-duk, having a streak of literary talent in her, tried to compose her own sequel of the novel to quench her classmates’ thirst of romantic stories.

Using her late father’s typewriter, Soon-duk finished her novel and published it on her own. Copies of Soon-duk’s prose were then circulated and sold by her trusted circle of friends.

[Spoiler alert!]

The conflict arises when the principal found Soon-duk’s novel after Tae-nam accidentally threw the book out of the classroom’s window.

An investigation was then launched to discover the writer. A band of government agencies got involved in the process of investigation. They studied the copies and found that the typewriter had a certain defect on it.

Being guilt-ridden, Tae-nam helped Soon-duk hide the typewriter so she could escape the punishment: being expelled from the school.

Instead, to protect Soon-duk better, Tae-nam confessed that the typewriter belonged to him and it was he who wrote the sequel of the novel. His motif should be to save Soon-duk from the government sanction, which could make her future life even more miserable. The fact that her father used to be a suspect of the similar offense also made her position even more difficult. Once she was caught and brought to trial, her social life seemed to be over. Soon-duk would be stigmatized for the rest of her life.

No students knew this confession as Tae-nam left the school without prior notice.

Soon-duk’s life went well. She even went to university years after. And somehow she found out that Tae-nam had to work at a smaller private school with a much lower salary, making even harder for him to be confident to find a woman to marry.

But then a questions arises:

Is Tae-nam’s action an ethical one?

Though Tae-nam is described as a teacher that finally took the best decision to protect his student, ethically it is not right.

By taking the blame, Tae-nam did not allow Soon-duk to learn her lesson. The hard way of course. But at the very least, she could take charge of her own bold action of publishing such a novel.

However, Soon-duk was also unaware of the fact that the book was banned and thus whoever wrote it could be sent to prison.

In this case, Tae-nam took charge of his fault for letting Soon-duk know about the book (by not properly disposing of the book, by burning it down, for example). And it was also his fault that the principal found the copies of Soon-duk’s novel.

Socrates said: “The truly wise man will know what is right, do what is good, and therefore be happy.”

I’m wondering whether Tae-nam was happy with his own decision. But what I am sure of is that he is proud of his own bold actions for taking side with the oppressed young soul. (*/)

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