Steven S. Sin on Korean Education
Today's blog is a follow-up to my entry on corporal punishment in Korean schools from the perspective of my 12-year-old daughter, Sa-Rah, which I posted on June 29th. I'm 'plagiarizing' comments posted by Saber Fencer, privately known as Steven S. Sin, who has given me permission to 'plagiarize' if I write a follow-up:
Well, if you do write a follow-up article, please feel free to 'plagiarize.' :)With that permission, here follows my follow-up, in Steve's own words, originally posted as comments to my blog. Steve begins by noting my daughter's report of being forbidden on pain of physical punishment to ask "Why?" -- and quickly moves into a discussion of some intellectual consequences of this:
Watching and reading about this [experience of your daughter Sa-Rah] took me back to my elementary and middle school days . . . when I went to school here in Seoul before moving to the US.Well, that's certainly interesting -- and strongly increases my motivation on taking my daughter (and then my son) out of the Korean school system and letting them benefit from homeschooling. I would never punish my children for asking "Why?" As Steve notes, concern with the question "Why?" sets homo sapiens apart as thinking beings.
Although this post was about corporal punishment in Korean schools, it also brought two points forward for me: 1) asking the question "why"; and 2) shaking things up in Korea.
1) Korean school system not only tell the very young students not to ask "why," but this "culture of blind acceptance" persists all the way to the very highest level of education.
Allow me to give a specific example. My wife is a Ph.D. student at S university right now, where the professors constantly remind their students that they are the selected lucky few because they can attend this "prestigious" institution of higher learning (I hate to say it, but I think my alma mater, [i.e., University of Texas, Austin,] which is a state university, actually was ranked ahead of this school last time the top 100 universities in the world list came out -- and we know how much Koreans love to rank things). Anyway, this is what happens at that school when a graduate student asks the professors "why." The answer is usually either 1) Ah, that is because you do not understand correctly the subject of *fill in the blank*. You would know that what I said is true and would not have asked that question if you understood it correctly in the first place; or 2) You didn't understand what I said because you did not go to this school for your bachelor's degree. If you had, you would not be asking such an idiotic question.
What any of these really have anything to do with the original question of "why?" Simple . . . the professors have no idea themselves, but they reply using personal attacks so that other students would not ask the same question. Who can blame them[, i.e., the students]? I, for one, would not want to be personally attacked and humiliated in public like that for actually wanting to understand things.
The other reason for these professors' reactions, I think, are simple laziness -- mentally, I mean. My experience is that the question "why" is actually the most difficult question to answer and requires a lot of thought.
Finally, I am willing to bet that a large number of these professors actually never learned to ask and think about a questions this way either. After all, they are also products of the same education system where the student who asks "why" is the abnormal one.
Of course, according to my wife, there's not a lot of students in the graduate school who actually ask "why." Two reasons -- 1) The question will not be answered; and 2) Students themselves do not know how to think, even at graduate level, to ask the question "why."
Sad . . . I thought one of the things we humans differ from other organisms living on earth is because we are the ones who could ask "why."
OK . . . before I get flayed for saying what I said about the professors above . . . I am not saying all professors in Korea are like that . . . just the majority of the ones I know at the S university in Seoul. So, I suppose that my observation and my hypothesis why this phenomenon occurs is limited to that specific school. :)
Be that as it may, Steve followed this comment with a remark on what happens when one tries to shake things up in Korea -- a suggestion proposed by John Hugens in response to my report of the physical abuse used by one particular teacher on students in my daughter's seventh-grade class -- and here is what Steve reported:
Moving on to 2) making waves in Korea.I certainly don't think that Steve rambled. He speaks from experience and intelligent reflection. I'm still unsure of what to do on this second point. John Hugens has spoken from the heart about the courageous thing to do -- as also has Hathor, who remarked:
Interesting thing . . . in the US, if you make waves and point out something that is wrong in the school or the university (especially about a faculty member), usually the faculty member is either asked to leave or gets reassigned. In Korea, usually it is the student that gets asked (sometimes not so nicely) to leave the school.
Again . . . my examples goes back to the famed S university. A faculty member there published a paper in the journal in his name. A student protested, and showed the school authorities a paper that he wrote for a class (and the paper was graded and everything). Although the student's paper was written much earlier than the paper the faculty member submitted to the journal (and upon comparison, the two papers were exactly the same . . . word for word), the student is no longer a student at the university. What happened to the faculty member? he's still teaching at the university. Oh, if you want to know why the student is no longer at the university . . . it is because other faculty members of the department refused to allow the student to register for their classes following this incident. Since this meant that the student could not take core classes required for his degree, he had to seek other options . . . actually, only one practical option for him . . . leave the university.
So, with this kind of mentality, who would want to make waves? I suspect that the parents of Jeffery's daughter's friend are not saying anything precisely because of this reason. They don't want their kid to be the one that gets ostracized because they stood up for something that is right and just.
As I tell my wife all the time:I look at South Korea as a country and I see that it has all the right conditions and the ingredients to become a regional leader and one of the global leaders. Somehow, however, South Korea always falls short of its potential (almost at all things). South Koreans usually blame the external factors (or the other political party) for falling short. I would like to offer another view point . . . first try fixing the things like the ones I mentioned above before blaming everyone else for your problems.Well, that's my two cents worth of rambling . . . sorry if I just rambled on, Jeff.
I think I would try to do something about that social studies teacher, his actions might seriously injure or kill a student one day. I think you could find legal documentation of incidents that have caused harm.I'd like to think so on this point, but I know how much power teachers have in Korean society . . . and how little power I have. I'm therefore still unsure about what to do.
I would think Koreans would know the difference between assault and corporal punishment.
By the way, since Steve Sin is in the U.S. military, I should probably add his disclaimers:
The views expressed here are not those of any other person, organization, or entity; they are mine alone. The material I post on this blog is either from open sources or unclassified information.I think that noting this disclaimer is important because we wouldn't want anybody -- least of all Koreans -- to imagine that the American military has an official position on my daughter's education.
Of course, this means that Steve's report is merely anecdotal . . . and therefore not to be officially trusted.