Min Young Hahn: "Lack of Individuality"
About one week ago, I finished teaching a summer course at Ewha Womans University for the EPO. In that course, we focused on education in Korea, and most of the students had generally negative things to say about the Korean education system for middle and high schools. I was quite interested in the students' papers, so I asked if any would like to have their remarks posted to my blog. I had wanted to write an entry of my own using quotes from the various papers, but that turns out to be impossible. The only student to send her paper was Min Young Hahn, who wrote a paper titled "Lack of Individuality," so I'm pasting it below in its entirety:
I changed my school two times, once middle school and then high school. In first case, the reason why I transferred was for a better curriculum. I attended a very good private primary school, so my parents and I could not be satisfied with public school. The next transfer, in high school, was to get fairer teachers as well as a better curriculum. Through these experiences, I learned that near Seoul, you can have an improved curriculum with more honest and more competent teachers. In spite of the better education, however, overall Korean education seems wrong to me. Having a better school is not enough for a good education if it is not based on individuality.Several other students wrote similar essays on Korean schools, so I'm inclined to think that a problem of excessive restriction does exist. For this and other reasons, my wife and I are thus going to homeschool our kids. Sa-Rah will begin homeschooling in January 2010, and En-Uk in January 2011. Later, they will probably go to American universities.
First of all, getting the best grades is everything at school, but grades should not be the goal of students at all. The real goal should be the learning that helps students to open their eyes toward society. When I was in middle school, I was one of the worst-graded students, so teachers ignored me and had bias against me. Most of them did not try to teach me anymore. The attitude caused me to repeat a vicious circle: I got bad grades again and again. Even when I became one of the highest-graded students in high school, I had to study for my grades, not for my knowledge. If I went to ask teachers things out of curiosity, they said, "just memorize." Even if you get good marks, it does not mean you know much, it means you memorize well. And according to your marks, you'll be regarded well or badly.
Secondly, school teaches students to obey. I learned it from the inspection of students' uniforms and haircuts at the front gate of school. Sometimes it did not fit my character. I agree that sometimes, obedience is important to keep order in school, but it must not trespass on my personal rights. Particularly, I had to cut my hair in compliance with the standards of school despite my body being mine. While I was being inspected in front of the gate, I could not stop thinking "Why on earth do they want to decide the length of my haircut?" The reason may be that the school had decided to dominate students thoroughly regardless of their individuality. Hair became a symbol of personal freedom to me. Having to be examined from somebody itself was disagreeable, too. School should distinguish between obedience necessary for order and obedience that infringes on students' rights.
In addition, wrongful conformity is the worst violation of individuality. On the surface, school looks peaceful, and students cooperate well. Because they come to a situation to spend their whole year with the same friends in a small classroom, they try to make conversation with other students so as not to be isolated. As a result, they follow general trends passively. Therefore, it is not cooperation, but lack of individuality and wrong conformity. I was a gregarious student. At least I believed I was. However, I realized that I was nothing more than adapting myself to conformity regardless of myself. The blinding effect of this hypocrisy disgusted me and wore down my self-respect also. Conformity without one's own individuality is harmful compared to real cooperation.
In conclusion, although Korean education appears to be advanced, it still lacks respect for individuality. Because of the extremely oppressive education, I misunderstood the concept of freedom. I yearned for freedom so much that as soon as I graduated from high school, I did things without restriction or duty. This resulted from pursuits radically reversed to my former education, for it was full of restriction. I wandered to find my individuality for a long time. If I had had an education based on individuality, I could have saved some time.
Incidentally -- though this is not the fault of Korean education -- in searching for pictures of Korean school uniforms, I encountered some deceptively labeled sites that I'd have preferred not to see, for there seems to be a fetish about such uniforms, but I finally found a safe site with the image provided above.