If you have 13 minutes, this documentary made by Korean students is really thorough.
As a teacher in the public schools I find it interesting how the public schools get so much of the blame, since the teachers did not create the level of apathy evident when a third of the heads are on the desks and another third are ignoring the lesson. The real culprit seems to me what this film suggests – everyone having the same goal, and that goal being in a position to make money, and that goal only being attainable by the already economically advantaged: the small window of opportunity for advancement by merit being accessible by commoners only against incredible odds.
And yet – as my co-teacher, unsolicited, was consoling me after a presentation by saying that the same amount of students sleep in her class, too, all I could think was, “and you ALLOW that to happen? This is YOUR element. How did you allow them to marginalize you like that?” So in many ways, behavior-wise, discipline-wise, inspiration-wise, I DO blame Korean teachers for not rising above the system.
Recently, having exhausted the national curriculum, yet with another month of classes to go, I’ve taken to being determined to get my students to have real conversations, and I try to show them how to open, ease into the topic they want to explore, how to acknowledge and interrupt and be proactive about reaching understanding and communicating. Of course the topic of hating studying came up and I asked them if it wasn’t only a problem in their mind. They were totally confused, and I then told them how I LOVE studying, and there were some gasps in the room, and then I gave them some examples of taking an interest and trying to learn everything about it, and that invariably those interests need knowledge that we’re supposed to get as basics in school, that it was only my mind-set that made learning a good or bad experience. And I told them how much more interesting it is when you’re learning new things and how boring it is when you’ve stopped. The students were like, well maybe it’s not the studying, but it’s how long we’re in school. And I asked them well – what came first? Long hours at school because the students were wasting their time in class? Or sleeping in class because the students were in school so long? They weren’t sure, and maybe being in school wasn’t so bad, but they wanted to learn extracurricular subjects in the evenings instead of studying the same subjects. So I challenged them – maybe if you took those subjects seriously during the day, then extra study wouldn’t be necessary at night. But, they explained, it’s how it is and it’s impossible to change it. And I told them nothing is impossible: you can influence your parents, and when you are parents you can influence the school districts and make this better for your children.
Anyway, I hope these little seeds I plant make a difference in some small way. Right now Korean students almost unanimously say they would like to stop being testing machines and start learning for meaning. They would love to develop their personal interests, but sadly have no compass. But I think the larger question is can Korean parents and teachers learn to inspire vs. pressure their children, and center the erratic and hysterical pendulum swing between draconian rigor and guilty indulgence.
BUT in the meantime, the 수능 goes on and tomorrow all students but seniors will be at home. As will most teachers. Me, I get to volunteer with G.O.A.L.’S first trip home program this year. That’s an annual effort to experience their birth country for the first time and to get full assistance with their birth family searches. I was going to apply for this myself over three years ago! Who woulda thunk I’d have ever been in this place and would be on the other side? So that’s a nice feeling before I leave.