or pressure cooker, that is…
Yesterday, I stayed at work a little late because some of the teachers teach an after-school class, and we were leaving for the restaurant together. It was then that I saw the kids cueing for the lunchroom. Only it was for DINNER. I asked, Young-a when those children would go home. Turns out the kids staying for dinner often stay at school until 10 pm. And, she added, some of those kids then go to a hagwon for another class and don’t get home until midnight. They then have to get up and be back at school by 8 am.
When do they see their families? “They don’t,” was the answer, “It’s very horrible.” So I asked if it was like that for her growing up. She said yes, but that the competition is much worse now. I don’t know how these kids can remember anything, staying at school for fourteen hours. Then going to private classes for another two hours. I don’t know how they can do anything creative or be kids or have any life whatsoever. Real life must seem like a relief after this…and the main focus, which I am a part of now, is being able to speak English so you can land the best corporate job.
I’ve taken it upon myself to introduce some American culture to them. But I think I’ll leave out the part about the American educational system. That might make them cry. I guess all I can do – if they are awake enough – is to try and introduce some more creative ways to think about life and problem solving, rather than memorizing flashcards for exams. It’s not as if they are tied to their desks, and the lessons are not ALL totally dry, from what I see from the textbooks I’ve been sneaking peaks at, but there is this huge invisible machine pressing on all these kids. I knew this would be disturbing before I left for Korea. But the reality of it is sort of sinking in now.
The interesting thing is, they talk to each other and goof off much more than American students, who at least know to not offend the teacher and will be smart enough to write a note silently or something. But here, I think if it isn’t announced that THIS WILL BE ON THE SAT’s, then they choose to use that now value-less lesson to socialize. I’ve also been told that parents know they will be pushing their kids to the limit in school, so they let the kids run hog wild their early years. And this is where the beating stick comes in. So the respect for the teachers, which might have been confuscian based in an earlier day and age, must be replaced with the stick because the parents aren’t teaching the kids the social lessons they need out of guilt. ? Just the theory. Well, actually, I have also heard that guilt isn’t quite it either. It’s more that they believe SOCIETY itself will regulate the kid’s behavior at some point. Kind of like letting a child touch hot things until they get burnt vs. modeling getting burned and explaining that being burnt hurts.
Did I mention culture shock before? The other thing is, we are helpless to change this situation and we are also humble enough to realize that their culture has developed these mechanicsms for a reason. At least, I must give them the benefit of my doubts. Even though I am a byproduct of the failure of that system. I have to also wonder if their obsession with power through education has gone past the point of diminishing returns. I also understand that the American education system has been in constant overhaul for as long as I can remember. And yet so many are trying to join it. I’m trying to understand, but I’m totally at a loss.