Sunday, April 27, 2008

Two very good post from Michael at the Metropolitician. For those who know me, Me and Mike will never see eye to eye on a lot of things in our lives. We have different backgrounds, different ideas, different in many ways. In some things, we see exactly alike and this is why I have posted these 2 articles.

I would so much love to be able to teach history and to be able to help my students pass an AP exam or CLEP or DANTE (for college credit). I did Not know that it is now illegal to teach during school hours AP classes. To be honest, I am not surprised.

Last year I taught at a middle school of site and I loved it. Some of these kids were very smart and I could see them in Very good Korean High Schools. My supervisor told me that Woosong can not send any teachers because it is now Illegal. I am trying to teach English and the new presidents wants to increase English in the schools and now both of us Mike can't teach AP History nor can any of us teach in the school during normal class hours to help increase the English Knowledge. Seriously WTF?

At time I feel like John Adams, in 1776 musical, teaching here in Korea.

"Is anybody there? Does anybody care?
Does anybody see what I see?"

They want to me to quit; they say
John, give up the fight
Still to this failed English idea I say
Good night, forever, good night!
For I have crossed the Rubicon
Let the bridge be burned behind me
Come what may, come what may

Korean Foreign Language High Schools -- Heaven for Korean Students?

Oh, come on.

This is in response to the superficial puff piece written by the New York Times on the Korean school system. While the Times generally practices great journalism, the depth of inquiry in this piece was woefully inadequate, especially considering what a contested and troubled topic the education system in Korea is -- well, if you know very much about Korea, that is. (HT to the Marmot's Hole for posting on this one first!)

I taught at Daewon for a year-and-a-half before quitting in the middle of my contract (having an F-4 helps with that) because of me finally being faced with two roads -- participating in evil, or maintaining my sense of ethics. Beyond that, I can't elaborate. I've already waxed about it at my blog here and here.

Their rival institution, Waedae's boarding school in Yongin, recruited me once they learned I was quitting. I worked there for a year before choosing not to renew my contract after the Ministry of Education made it illegal for a foreigner to teach a non-language-based subject based pretty much entirely on a hack-attack job done on my school by a reporter from the Kyunghyang Shinmun because I was teaching an AP US History class taught during normal school hours. A disgrace to the nation! That made the morning radio news nationwide. Lovely.

I now teach at Ewha Girls Foreign Language High School, which is small and very much not a pressure cooker. I teach American History to about 20 girls, not 120 test terminators, which makes my life markedly easy. I'd never teach in a Daewon or Yongin again, since the kids' life is a living hell.

The reason I think the NYT article is superficial and lame is because it's just a recycling of the PR stats. The problem with these schools is that they apply the best aspects of the Korean system (test assassination) to the requirements of getting INTO American colleges (SAT, SAT II subject tests, and now the AP's which have become de facto required). The kids do remarkably well on these tests. But when they get to the American schools, they are woefully ill-prepared. But the schools don't have a vested interest in caring about that -- they just want their kids to get INTO famous schools, and it doesn't matter how they DO at them.

Daewon is one of the few schools that actually has the clout and money to attract sparkly foreigners and lets them teach a few "discussion-based" classes, which are, though, linked to an AP test of some kind. Still, though, most of the FLHS system in Korea is basically tests, tests, tests. One of the struggles in the FLHS has always been to actually teach them something substantial, rather than for the tests.

Now, I am in contact via chat and Facebook with many of my former Daewon students, whom I first met 3 years ago. They agree that their first year in American college was like getting hit with a Mack truck; I had always told them that it would -- "it's true for native speakers attending their own American colleges, so it'll be triple-true for you." They always kinda rolled their eyes. Now, they get it.

Anyway, I did what I could to prepare them, and it was always a struggle, fighting against the stream. Other teachers fought the same battle, and usually got attacked by the Korean teachers for it. Most of the foreign teachers at these schools quit after a year. When I was in Daewon and Yongin, I was not the first teacher at either school to quit before the year ended. Turnover rate is nearly 100% per year for foreign teachers. And Daewon paid an hourly rate of $100 per hour, average part-time teaching load 12-15 hours per week. How bad must it have been for people to quit, or not renew their contracts? Don't just do the math -- try to imagine the extreme suck of one's life to consider quitting a job that paid sometimes as much as $6,000 per month for (technically) half-time work.

Won't find that in the NYT article.

 Hanhakmoon Findingkorea Findingkorea16 Images Daewon Sleeping

Nor this pic of my Daewon kids taking the chance to do what they have so little time to do, which is sleeeeeeeeep.

Basically, your life sucks at these schools for 3 years, but the kids and parents swallow their pride and ire, since it is the fast-track to America's best schools. Period. That's the exchange. But it absolutely brings out the worst of the Korean school system in a soul-crushing nightmare of pain that many students realize only gets them to the door of the institution they wanted, but has woefully under-prepared them to make it through.

I can't believe the Times was comparing the SAT scores of Exeter and Daewon, playing into the "Asian powerhouse" myth. Scores aside, a school like Exeter prepares you to think, gives you a spectacular education. Because you're not spending all of your time sitting in a chair.

And if the Times reporter actually thinks THAT school approves of rock bands (or the cheer leading squad that was summarily crushed by the principal when I was there) or anything non-academic that isn't a 1-hour-per-week weekly meeting so the kids can put it down on their college apps as filler without it technically being a lie, I've got a bridge on the Han River to sell him.

And now, more grist for Daewon's PR and human test factory mill, since the NYT writer didn't think to insert nary a dollop of critical social context into the sweet and savory soufflé he was baking. Intentional or not, this piece on Daewon couldn't have been written better by a well-paid PR firm.

  1. They’re definitely acting out. In the classic sense. I used to work with kids like that at the alternative school, where they turn around surprisingly fast, relatively. Basically, they just have to be shown, for the first time, a responsible environment with adults in which the adults are not constantly scolding them and telling them they “can’t” or “you’re nothing” or some other form of constant negative.

    You hear it enough, well, it becomes true. And in my experience at the school, a lot of these girls are sexually abused, either by an older male relative or a stepdad. Or they simply go in this extreme direction as a way of rebelling — and given the ease in which you can mix burgeoning sexual curiosity with making a buck, say on the internet, well…

    You see how this goes. In an a way, I see it as Korean society being so rigid in terms of the lives of kids, it’s easier to rebel in prescribed ways. Curse, litter, date. Voila! Now, you’re a “bad kid” beyond hope! Now, you can look forward to being summarily kicked out of your school (as several of my kids had been, in middle school) and effectively ostracized and stigmatized by your elders. Turn your increased anger into increased efforts to lash out at this process. Rinse and repeat.

    Basically, our alternative school (which uses media to give kids something useful and later, marketable, to focus on and learn) had real counselors, with real backgrounds in social work (not homeroom teachers with a certificate) being extremely patient with the kids, until they realized that the adults were not going to yell at them and call them names, let alone hit them or worse. Some kids turn around; some don’t.

    One girl with whom I recently worked was a girl sorta like that. She chewed gum, thought she had sass, was loud, and cursed too much. And that was IN class. I could easily see her with her friends on the subway, egging each other on.

    But she took a love for photography for some reason, and she had an eye. Who knew? Well, that’s the point of the alternative school. For one kid, it might be photo; another video; another, tweaking pics in Photoshop; for another, 3-D animation.

    She was taking really bizarrely wonderful pics with her digital camera, and she was starting to get really possessive about using MY camera. Although handing this bouncy and too-carefree kid my camera and lens made me uncomfortable at first, she did treat the camera far differently than anything else, especially anyone else’s. She was ginger with it, and took time to take her bizarro-angle pictures with my wider lens.

    She wasn’t from a poor family, but from an average family that simply had been having trouble handling her. They bought her a camera, the same DSLR model I had, which I recommended she get now used, instead of the sparkly, newer-version of the same. She took too it, and is a photo nut last I checked (haven’t taught this semester).

    These kids can be helped far more easily than say, kids who are stuck in a subculture of drugs, gangs, guns, and other kinds of structural violence you see in the US. These kids just need to be provided an alternative path, instead of the “conform or die” path offered them in Korea. Unfortunately, the school I worked at serves about 10-15 kids at a time. That’s all they can handle, really.

    I’m glad you were able to see things from a broader perspective than the “punk kids! get off my lawwwwn!” many tend to see them from. And maybe someday, some of ya’ll would like to volunteer at a school like Guarantee it’ll be rewarding, albeit sometimes frustrating. Caveat: the more Korean you know, the better. Not for the adults, but for the kids, who generally have no English, given that most of them aren’t exactly the Korean wunderkind you hear about in the NYT. Anyway, whatever — I’m sure that the help would be appreciated, especially from foreigners…expensive foreigners.

    Although it would be likely not actually resulting in the kid learning any English on a real permanent level, anyone teaching English there would be vastly appreciated. It would be a madhouse trying to keep the kids focused, but you’d have fun and actually get to know the kinda kids Joe talked about in the subway. And you wouldn’t be speaking all that much English, anyway. It’d be just sort of another “teaser” for the one kid who might latch onto it, or have the experience with a foreigner spark another mental connection or jumpstart an interest. Media activities IN English would also be fun…

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