Thursday, June 16, 2011

“English is the end all, be all.”

Just wanna share a blog entry written by my Korean-American friend Eddie. I also share the same sentiments with him. I hope this will serve as an eye opener...

That’s a bunch of bullshi*.
Look, living in Korea no one can deny that English is an obsession here, essentially one of the “keys to success” without which one might as well forget about any upward mobility in the future.  However, just because a certain state of affairs exist does NOT make it right.
I have a love/hate relationship with CDI.  On the one hand, they offer me a cushy job with decent pay and minimal frills.  On the other hand however, they make teachers at time feel like they’re depriving 11 and 12 year old kids of an actual childhood.  If you are or have been a teacher at CDI, you know exactly what I mean.
Now is that our fault?  Of  course not.  I could rattle off factors like obscene Korean competitiveness in this new “globally driven” era, or the border-line fanaticism of Korean mothers concerning education, or the fact that these students are actually just another  ”part of the system” and are therefore feeding into it by paying their 학원 tuition.
But that would miss the entire point, which is that the system itself is morally wrong  and unfair (that’s right I said it) and overlook those who are really suffering from all of this: the students.
That’s right.  The students.  They’re the ones who, and quite honestly it’s a legitimate tragedy, that are really suffering from all of this.
While I understand that Korea is determined beyond any doubt to become a “modernized” country (however one may define that or whatever that is to the government here) I don’t understand how depriving an entire generation of the freedom to enjoy oneself and develop as human beings is really a national formula for “success.” (being myopic here in this regard isn’t just a Korean phenomenon — I mean, look at US politics.  Massive default anyone?)
I can’t count the number of times I’ve asked students what they’ve done on the weekend, and I’ve simply heard “sleep” or “homework” or “nothing.”  Now I’m not saying that’s all of the students, but you ask the majority of CDI students that simple question, I can promise you a large number of them would respond with something along those lines.
To me, this is unforgivable.  While I understand that cramming for tests with the hope of getting a good score and then going to a good university and THEN getting a good job and THEN becoming “successful” (aka rich) is essentially the Korean Dream, I can’t help but ask myself: at what cost?  Will all of this be worth it for these kids 10 years down the line?
And the sad part is, yes it will be, and in many ways, no it won’t be.
I say yes because of what the Korean Dream is.  Good academies = Good grades.  Good grades/test score = Good uni.  Good uni = Good job.  Good job = Money.  Money = Happiness.
“But Eddie, America is the same exact way.  YOU HYPOCRITE!”
While it’s true that America is similar on the surface, beneath it all it really isn’t all the same.  Yes, Koreans have taken the most ruthless parts of capitalism, Korean-ized it (meaning taken it to an extreme), and mass produced it on a societal scale, but in the process they’ve placed human development (i.e. extracurricular activities, family time, hell even getting enough sleep for kids) on the back burner.  If you don’t think this is true, spend one year working at any private academy — where the supposed “future” leaders of the country study.   It has truly become a society where grades, test scores (numbers, essentially) and “English” have become the end all, be all.
And where are the students’ voices in all of this?  Where can their concerns be voiced? Their hopes, dreams, and desires?  Nowhere to be found.  In this Korean generation, students are told what to dream, what to study, and what is right/wrong, good/bad — which, in itself, is essentially what is deemed appropriate in the eyes of others alone, not their own sense of morality. (Another topic on the concept of individualism vs. collectivism in Korea and how it’s changing.)
I’m fed up with it.  I don’t want to teach about topics like “American Cultural Imperialism” and ram it down my students’ throats that without English, they are damned to second-tier status.  It shouldn’t be true, ever.  But sadly in Korean society, it is.  And these students,  these kids, deserve so much more, so much better.
If I could change (Korea) the world…


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