Reasons to Stay

Makeoli 막 걸 리

or, as my radical adoption reform buddies call it, “truth juice.”

Fermented rice wine.

Excellent for bonding with displaced diasporas from all over the globe at late-night strategy sessions.

1,200 won for a half liter.   That’s $1 USD.  That’s almost half the price of a watery beer and it’s twice as good.  It’s like unfiltered sake but easier on the stomach because it’s half as potent.  (And, as my friend Lenn and Willie found out, don’t buy the ginseng Makeoli – it may sound like healthy booze, but it tastes nasty!)


So I was having my summer Korean English Teacher current events discussion class today, and the topic was Hagwons – those before and after school academies which break the banks of Korean families and render the students useless all day.

The Seoul school district recently put a limit on the hours of operation of these hagwons and set it at 10 pm.  Which I was told created 2 hour traffic jams in Seoul, as buses and parents competed to pick up all the students who had stayed until the very last minute.

Gyeonggi-do school district, where I work, recently proposed a 9, 10, and 11 pm limit on the hours of operation for elementary, middle, and high schools, respectively, in an effort to make education more equal amongst the upper and lower classes.  According to a post from the blog, Acorn in the dog’s bowl, there were huge protests by the hogwan owners.

I asked the teachers how limiting hours had ANYTHING to do with equalizing class disparity, and they explained that less hours available = less hours the lower classes would have to pay keeping up with the Jones’, because they WILL continue to send their kids as late as possible, even if they can’t afford it.  Korean logic for you.  However, the teachers in my class felt the proposed restrictions wouldn’t make any difference, as some hogwans had already compensated for the proposed evening restriction by opening up extra classes before school begins…What they did support was a restriction across the board on how much hogwons could charge.  (which still doesn’t improve the lives of children, under MY addled western logic)

In the economics of learning energy budget, there is, of course, only so much a child can absorb.  And in the case of the hogwons, they are basically duplicating all of the subjects the public schools teach by day – only in smaller class sizes and with more resources.  So the children are forced to absorb by night, because the parents are pouring so much money into the night classes.  And by daytime, they shut down, which of course would be the natural response.

Why don’t the Korean parents insist on their money supporting public education?  The money spent on hogwans, reappropriated, could make the most cutting edge, student-focused and accommodating schools in the world.  Answer:  because Korean parents don’t trust anything government run.  And the public school teachers themselves don’t believe there should be an end to hogwons, because it is too much a part of Korean culture.

…and here is where I go bat shit…

The only way to climb class levels historically was through passing civil service exams, which was dependent on a good education.

The best education was primarily only available to the yangban (elite class) which could afford private academies, thereby securing their position in society.

The economic miracle of Korea was orchestrated by descendents of the yangban (who have always had all the money) on the backs of the common people.

The goal is to compete (still) for the best jobs by way of passing exams to work in companies which are (still) owned by descendents of the yangban.

The economic miracle of Korea and the promise of capitalism has hoodwinked the common people into thinking they can afford academies, (enterprizes that have sprung up like weeds everywhere) which can compete with the descendants of the yangban who can still afford superior schools that the academies can not compete with.

So the whole capitalist system overlayed atop the neo-Confusionist class system equals a desperate goal, driven by a hyper effort to ascend centuries of suppression:  it is a vicious cycle made even more vicious by way of free market competition.  Education is not about learning at all here.  It’s all about being more than you are.  (and the irony is that most Koreans characterize Americans as being super-competitive self-serving people whose only focus in life is acquiring money)

So why is this grim situation under the post Reasons to stay?

Because I asked the public school teachers, if they accept this ludicrous scenario as Korean culture, what makes them come to school and want to be a teacher every day?   And the answer was that, with all that pressure to get ahead, somebody had to recognize the students as people and as individuals, with hopes and dreams and unique talents, and that they could encourage them, in some tiny way, to have meaningful lives.

God bless Korean public school teachers.  I mean, really, God bless them.

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