Upside Down Land

I canceled/eliminated my evening class today.  I had already planned for there to be no classes during the week before finals, but I was surprised when nobody showed up TWO WEEKS before finals!  wtf.  It just gets worse and worse…

Every evening if I stay late at school, there is a teacher walking the hall after dinner with his voice amped.  The bell rings and a few minutes later the whacking commences.  Its echoes reverberate down the empty hallways.  Happens every time.  You stroll down the hallways and the classrooms are full of students, wide awake, studying attentively in total silence.  It’s stunning how monkish they are about self study time.

Now, turn the clock forward twelve hours.  I walk into the classroom early and a third of the class is sleeping.  The bell rings but the last third of the class is missing.  They saunter in leisurely and it’s five minutes later before the last one decides to sit down and join all the private conversations going on.  Where is the enforcement of tardiness during the daytime, when there are actual lessons taught by live teachers?  What does it say about this educational system, when it’s accepted by even the teachers that they sleep during classes so they can be fresher for exam cramming and hogwan classes that end at midnight?  It’s not just my class. (I am not granted the power or authority to enforce anything)  It’s all the classes.

During the school day, the kids are sleeping, lethargic, disrespectful, and inattentive.  During the evenings, the kids are awake and at military attention.  There are serious consequences for being late to studying for your exams.  But there are no consequences for not paying any attention to a lesson from live teachers.  Totally upside down.

This was the crux of my ranting the other day.  I’m teaching to DEAD PEOPLE.  And it’s not their fault, it’s this whole whacked system.  The teachers all know it’s whacked.  The students all know it’s whacked.  The parents all know it’s whacked.  But the parents push and push and push and the school accommodates them and it gets even more pressurized every year.

I am particularly mad at the Korean teachers, shrinking near their principals, complaining about their civil rights yet allowing these abuses to childhood to continue.  “You have to understand our society,” they say.  Oh.  I understand all right.  I understand that change takes time and suffering is noble.  But they’ve packed 200 years of development into 50 years, are responding to it the way they would have 1,000 years ago, and yet they talk about the future.  This place gives blind ambition a whole new level of meaning.

And everyone complains and nobody does anything productive to change anything.  A protest here and there – but any work?  Any push to change legislation or school policies or oust leaders or crack down on Hogwans or put a limit on hours in public school for health and safety reasons?  No.  Children just have to keep committing suicide.  (Korea has surpassed Japan in suicides, has the highest rate of the OECD nations, and is 5th highest in the world)  I don’t know how many bodies it will take before someone does something, but that’s the only thing that’s going to change this mess.  That and maybe International schools that run sensibly yet have higher performance as an example.

No wonder couples are not having children.  They don’t want them to have to compete in this society.  They can’t afford to have them compete in this society.  In a society where class has meant everything for thousands of years, it simply has a melt down when faced with a free market system.  The hoards are scrambling, scrambling, to crawl up and make a buck.  But of course, only the elite can truly afford to educate their children in a robust way.  So it’s really a cruel joke, this promise.  And people are killing themselves their children for this promise.

The other day I was talking with a very liberal-minded Korean university professor who was raised with a silver spoon in her mouth.  Her son was attending an elite private pre-school, and she was toying with the idea of sending him to public school, because she never got to see how most Koreans were educated or got to experience the average  Korean childhood.  Her social sympathy was impressive, but she couldn’t see what a bourgeois perspective hers was, and that being able to have a choice, a choice born of privilege, means you fundamentally can’t know what it is to NOT have choices.  Ah well, let her wear peasant dresses like Marie Antoinette did, but when push comes to shove, she will most likely say, “let them eat cake.”

I shouldn’t be here.  We should none of us be contributing to this madness.  I try to temper it with messages about values, but the children can’t hear me because they have been bred to compete, like crows, for shiney worthless things:  it’s all they can see.

I try to plant seeds, but I despair.

“Do you want your own children to stay at school so late?”  I ask.


“What are you going to do about it?” I ask.


“Well, you just remember this and try and change it for them, ” I say.

2 thoughts on “Upside Down Land

  1. Is it a case of learning to take tests versus learning?

    Personally, I never liked school at all. Particularly the idea that I was working to pass a test, not working to learn something.

    I still managed to have a very good set of careers. Fortunately in the real world doing still matters more.

  2. PS, with my boys, I focus on 1) commitment and tenacity 2) creativity and 3) critical thinking. I want them to rule their own life so far as they can.

    I am always at odds with the education system, but I require they do well at that anyway. I think encouraging people to achieve is not something we really understand.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s