Would Your Dad Make a Good Superintendent of Education?

Screen Shot 2014-06-01 at 3.45.29 PMWhat do you do when your father is running for the position of Superintendent of Education in Seoul? 

That depends: was he a deadbeat dad who never supported your education, who in fact cut you off as a child after he divorced your mom, never called, never emailed, never had anything to do with you at all–not a single email, not a single phone call?

Or was he an inspiring example to you, difficult at times to live with but someone who instilled you with good values and taught by example what dedication means?

Either way, you share your opinion online… yet another way the internet has changed politics in South Korea.

In the case of Candy Koh, an Korean-American university student (EDIT: see below) you go to Facebook and out the truth about your deadbeat asshole dad to the world. She posted about her father–who comes across, basically, as one of those dads best considered a “sperm donor.”

It will surely come as a shock to nobody that her father is right-wing politician Seung-Duk Koh, who is, I repeat, running for Superintendent of Education in Seoul:

Screen Shot 2014-06-01 at 1.41.38 PM

That’s only the first part of the posting, by the way. Here’s the remainder (or see it on Facebook): 

Despite this, I was able to go through college and graduate school as one of the top students in my class. To better apply my interest in public service, I also plan to begin law school in the fall with a merit scholarship. I am proud that I have managed to achieve this much without my biological father. I could not have done it without my mother who single-handedly raised both her children or my maternal grandfather—my mother’s father—who provided me the psychological support of a father throughout my life until he passed.
Meanwhile as I grew up in the U.S., I saw through the Korean media that Koh would give lectures to children on how to study or how to “succeed.” I also saw that he spoke to parents on how best to educate their children. When I first saw the latter in the early 2000s, I became angry, as he did not educate his own children, but rather completely disregarded them. However, I was still a child, barely in my teens, and I was also living in the U.S. What could I do? I felt that I had no choice but to keep silent. Despite seeing the praises he received from many Koreans for his achievements and so-called brilliance, I kept silent because I didn’t think my voice mattered. I am also an American and perhaps felt I had no business engaging in dialogues particular to the Korean political scene. However, Seung Duk Koh’s running for the seat as Seoul’s Superintendent of Education is crossing the line. For me to keep silent here would be to deceive the citizens of Seoul.
As a child he neither educated nor rarely even spoke to, I must inform the citizens of Seoul that he does not qualify for this position. If the role of a superintendent of education is to look after the educational policies and systems of a city, Seung Duk Koh is a stranger to this role. How can he act as the leader of education for a city when he is unwilling to teach his own flesh and blood?
Education is one of the most important things in the world. It shapes people in whose hands the future lies—the future of your city, your nation, and the world. I, his own daughter, never received support from him for my own education. As a former citizen of Seoul still with many friends who reside there, I trust that you will make the right decision for the future of your city and choose a candidate better suited for the position: someone who truly cares about the Seoul’s education system and someone who begins by caring for those nearest to him, his own children.Sincerely,Candy Koh

While she originally wrote that in English, it’s been translated to Korean and has gone viral on Facebook, and as of a few moments ago was dominating the internet news searches too.

Koh responded by crapping out the standard garbage and smearing it onto a webpage with a carefully-worded, histrionic, defensive reply basically alleging that she’s a dupe of “the rich” and that her posting is all part of a Big Conspiracy By The Rich against him personally, Because They’re Scared of His Policies or something. Also, her mom was rich and he was middle-class, and boo-hoo, life was hard for him after the divorce, and Rich People Aren’t Like Us (ah, um, newsflash for Mr. Koh: you’re not like us).

Oh, and he Really Wanted to see his Kids, but his ex-wife deprived him of that; notably, he doesn’t mention ever trying to contact the kids, just that he wanted to. Really, really wanted to. Can’t you see the sadness on his face?

Koh Seung-Duk: Target of a sooper-sekrit smear campaign conspiracy by the rich who are terrified that he might become the next Witch-King of Education in Seoul? Or just a deadbeat scumbag of a father? Which seems likelier? Click for image source.

Basically, the usual kind of simpleminded nonsequitur twaddle and histrionics that the older generation eats up like it was candy.

Meanwhile, the son of the left-wing politician Jo Heeyeon, who is running for the same position of Superintendent, also posted about his dad. Interestingly, he didn’t post the opposite. Not everything he says is positive: for example, he’s quite clear that his father can be a serious pain in the ass, but one thing he argues is that his father is a decent, moral pain in the ass who, unlike Koh, took an active part in his family, and in the moral and intellectual education of his sons. Jo complains that his father doesn’t seem interested in money–that he donates windfalls when he gets them, and constantly reprimands his son for any hint of selfishness; he talks about how tiring it sometimes was to be dragged along to volunteer helping the disabled, but how it also established for him a clear sense that, policy aside, his dad can be counted on at least not to just chase money or self-aggrandizement. (Unlike certain other politicians.) 

Jo’s sons supporting their dad.

Jo’s son also basically said that he’s frustrated because (a) elections work more like popularity contests, and (b) his father’s policies aren’t getting disseminated widely enough for people to evaluate the candidates on the basis of proposed policy, just on the basis of publicity. (And given the fact that Koh has been on TV many times, that bodes poorly for Seoul.) He admits that he’d rather not be known as the son of a political candidate, and that given the way politics works, he’d hoped his dad might not run for the position at all. But given that his dad is doing so, he at least wanted to say a few words about the man.

Predictably, the media is engaged in a sensationalist feeding frenzy over Koh’s daughter’s posting and Koh’s ridiculous response, at least in part because it’s perceived as a personal attack of a special kind: a child speaking out against her father that way is a pretty radical, gutsy move in Korean society.

Jo’s son’s posting isn’t getting anywhere near as much attention (a little, but not that much), and I don’t know if people are dubious about its veracity, or whether it’s just less exciting given that the content of the latter focuses on moral and ethical qualities the man possesses, without falling into unthinking praise.

(Hell, even my own post replicates this, though in part it’s because Koh wrote her statement originally in English, where as Jo’s is only available in Korea, and translating it is beyond my abilities. As ever, I rely upon the corrections of strangers…)

To me, though, this is interesting insofar as Korea seems to be at the cutting edge of how the internet will change politics. When one’s relatives have access to the media–and they obviously do, if an estranged daughter’s opinion can become front-page, top-search news–the vetting process is doubtless going to change. But it’ll change in complex ways: kids will start getting evaluated too. Predictably, shitty politicians will keep using their kids as they always have, they’ll just step up and have the kids’ public postings ghostwritten. The good politicians will refrain from doing so, and either their kids will step up, or their parents’ chances will be hurt by them not doing so.

That will be a shame, eventually: the crappy politicians will inevitably have the gloss-and-sheen advantage. Well… unless we get smart about it. Markov chain analysis (and IP tracing) of the kids’ social network accounts being run to see if their online profiles have suddenly been taken over by someone else; certain social networks being blocked or filtered “for National Security Purposes”; politicians early in their careers having their kids’ public identities crafted (or maybe enhanced with weak AI software) long before they ever run for office? The possibilities are endless.

I haven’t said much about the mayoral race in Seoul. Maybe sometime soon.

UPDATE 1 (2 June 2014): Slight correction: Ms. Koh isn’t a student at the moment, but is planning to enroll in law school in the fall. Right now she works as a writer and translator. Serves me right for trusting the Korean press to do my fact-checking for me…

4 thoughts on “Would Your Dad Make a Good Superintendent of Education?

  1. What stood out positively to me about Jo’s son’s post was that he didn’t seem to be asking for votes. I started reading with my guard up but was pleasantly surprised. He only asked that people take the time to consider Jo’s platform rather than simply voting for the person they recognized from the telly.

    1. Yes, I also was leery about it, figuring he’d been put up to it by his father or it could have been ghostwritten by someone, but–while impressions can be deceiving, and who knows, right?–it was pleasantly surprising the way he seemed to just want to highlight that it should be about the platform, not the popularity. (And, it felt real because, I think, no ghostwriter would dare include that stuff about dad being a pain in the ass due to his convictions.)

  2. What tomorrow’s regional elections mean for me is that I don’t have to be at my department’s weekly 8:30 am meeting and will therefore sleep until I need to get up for my lunch appointment. I love public holidays.

    Still, selfish late sleeping aside — nice post, Gord.

    1. Yeah, I hear you, Sanko. Frankly, I think a weekly department meeting at 8:30 is a crazy idea in and of itself. (Why not meet at lunch? Or in the afternoon? Plus… weekly meetings? What are you, planning an uprising?) I remember reading that most of the business conducted at meetings could be gotten through much more efficiently by email. (Of course, occasional meetings are good, but weekly seems excessive… to the point being more about feeling like one is getting things done than being about actually getting things done. But maybe your meetings are more productive, I don’t know.)

      Nothing wrong with sleeping late when the opportunity arises. You can’t vote anyway… or can you? I don’t remember how long you’ve lived in Seoul now. (Foreigners can vote in municipal elections, IIRC, but only after a certain length of residency… three years, it turns out, and you need a permanent residency visa too. I never got that, silly me, so I never got to vote.)

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