Culture of Discourse: Student Silence
The JoongAng Daily recently announced that "Korean classrooms in Korea lack discussion" (September 14, 2015), offering an example:
Oh Soo-young, who attended the University of California, Berkeley, in 2013 as an exchange student, was posed a question by the professor in the first class she attended.I've been talking about this problem for years now - though, for the record, many Koreans have, too, so I'm not alone. I've incorporated discussion into all my classes over my years in Korea, but getting Korean students to talk is like pulling teeth! I should acknowledge, though, that Koreans are getting better as they slowly stop worrying about "giving the wrong answer."
The teacher - who had memorized all the students' names - then continued to ask questions during the lecture. Whenever the students disagreed with one another, the presentation would shift into a debate.
"At first, I hesitated because I was worried about giving the wrong answer," the 24-year-old said. "But I got used to the debates after a while."
After finishing a semester abroad, her classes back in Korea were a marked turnaround from those in the United States. The professors simply read their written lectures, from beginning to end, off an overhead projector screen. And seldom did they pose questions to the class. When they did, they were mostly rhetorical.
But they were still worrying about that nearly ten years ago, when I taught a bit at Yonsei's Underwood International College. I had several non-Korean students who were happy to discuss, but one bright Korean student would hardly speak. I couldn't seem to encourage him, and he remained silent most of the time. About a year ago, I had dinner with a couple of the non-Korean students, and I asked them why the Korean student wouldn't speak. One of the two - an American - replied, "Because he couldn't predict what you would say next."
I hadn't thought of that, but I think the American man was spot on.