Thursday, June 09, 2011

Rob York on Homeschooling: Interview with the Gypsy Scholar

Sa-Rah and I
Photo by Rob York
(Image from Korea Herald)

Rob York, a reporter for the Korea Herald, interviewed me a couple of weeks ago for an article on schooling one's children at home, and it appeared yesterday in print, "Homeschooling in Korea: Two sides to consider" (June 8, 2011), albeit not in interview format.

Rob, by the way, grew up on a dairy farm in Tennessee, and I've had a bit of experience with dairy cattle myself, having helped one of my best friends back in the Ozarks with the milking on his family's dairy farm about once every couple of weeks for nearly four years, so Rob and I had some experiences in common.

Moreover, he has a personal interest in the issue of homeschooling, for he and his Korean wife have a small child and will eventually face the same issue of how to educate someone who's not a full Korean. My wife and I had taken Sa-Rah out of the Korean educational system once she reached middle school because we weren't entirely satisfied, and we had placed her in an online school that had satisfied us fairly well academically, but Sa-Rah has grown dissatisfied with online schooling because she feels isolated and . . . but I'll let Rob tell the story:
For expatriates with children to raise, living in Korea brings new educational concerns.

If they can find somewhere for their children to live, sending them to their native countries is an option. If they can afford it, the parents may try an international school. And if they feel their child is sufficiently acclimated to Korea, they may go with the public school system.

Some parents, though, try something much closer to home.
That's Rob's introduction, which is followed by the first part of his article, a section dealing with a successful case of homeschooling in Korea, but I'll skip ahead to the second part, which deals with Sa-Rah's case, though I'll have to add some clarifying details in brackets, as you'll see:
Horace Jeffery Hodges, who teaches at Ewha Womans University in Seoul and is best-known in Korea for the Gypsy Scholar blog, has been homeschooling his 14-year-old daughter, Sa-Rah Ahyoga Hwang, for three years [in an online school].

"[As for our two children,] I've been homeschooling them both in English and various things since they were tiny, but both also went to Korean elementary schools from the beginning," said Hodges, who married Hwang Sun-Ae in 1995.

"When Sa-Rah reached middle school, we decided to stop her Korean education because some of the teachers used corporal punishment, not just for infractions of the rules but for giving the incorrect answers to questions of contents."

Furthermore, Hodges wasn't happy with the lack of discussion in class and said students were able to ask few questions. So, since then Sa-Rah has been studying online through the Keystone School based in the U.S. As Hodges is a native of Arkansas, both children have dual citizenship, making it [easily] possible for him to take them out of public schooling here.

The plan had been to continue her education this way, and then begin homeschooling her little brother, 11-year-old En-Uk Sequoya Hwang when he reached middle school. However, recently their plans changed, and they intend to put Sa-Rah back into public school when she reaches the ninth grade. It's not that there weren't benefits to homeschooling -- Hodges said that Sa-Rah's research and writing skills blossomed -- but during that time she became less outgoing.

Like the Gey van Pittius family [in the first part of this article], they had worked to counteract this at least partly through churchgoing -- the family attends an international congregation -- as well as social activities and making use of her former social connections.

Still, Sa-Rah sounds ready to return to socializing the way most children her age do.

"I miss my friends and social activities we had at school," Sa-Rah said, adding that there are also academic benefits. "I like to compete, that kind of makes me want to study."

Though she is half-Korean and speaks the language, Sa-Rah does not look like her peers in the Korean public school system. Still, aside from the occasional cultural faux pas -- such as misunderstandings resulting from her looking her teachers in the eye when they talk -- she has no horror stories akin to Petro's experience [of racism].

"I did get a lot of attention, but I didn't feel anything bad," she said.

Sa-Rah's homeschooling experience [online] has required more effort [in some respects] from her parents, particularly her mother, as Hodges had already been tutoring her at home [from the time that she was little].

"I no longer have to teach every course using a textbook. I can now check her [online] work and guide her with advice, teach her how to do research and related things. That's more interesting for me, so it's easier, [even though my responsibilities are greater,]" he said.

"For my wife, it is also [generally] easier [for Sa-Rah to do her schooling online], I think, but [it] causes a bit more worry since the [American] school system is different, leaving my wife uncertain of how best to assist her[, though Sun-Ae puts in a lot of effort, of course]."

As for the expense [of online homeschooling], Hodges said that while it costs more than public education, it is less expensive than an international school in Korea. Exactly how much depends on how involved one can be with their child's education.

"If one has lots of time, [then one can homeschool the children by onself and avoid the online schools entirely, and] the expense is minor [in that case,] but [also] time-consuming since one has to teach everything," he said. "But an online school can cost a good deal, e.g., at least a couple thousand [American] dollars per year."

Despite moving on, Hodges can see an upside to homeschooling: "The benefits derive from the research-based coursework that the online school offers," he said. "The teachers stress creativity and independent thinking. I'm not yet sure[, however,] if memorization is stressed enough."

So, when she returns to her education outside the home, Hodges will continue to help her with reading, learning to research and writing essays. He also plans to continue tutoring his son in the humanities while keeping him in public school and planning for their futures.

"I'll have to maybe administer the practice tests for the PSAT," he said. "Although Korean schools seem to be good at teaching test-taking."
That's all from us. The first part of the article, on the experiences of the Gey van Pittius family, is in some ways more interesting due to the conflict that one of the daughters experienced . . . but you can go to the link to find out about that.

Incidentally, I hadn't known when the article was going to appear in print yesterday, so you can perhaps imagine my surprise at seeing the above photograph, large and clear, jump out at me when I turned to the Expat Living section of the Korea Herald as I was riding the subway to Ewha Womans University yesterday morning. Startled at seeing myself so prominently featured in a 'major' newspaper, I glanced about nervously, wondering if the other passengers had seen the paper and recognized me.

I certainly hope not, or I'll have to start being more courteous as I use the subway system. No more pushing and shoving to get on and off trains, no more grabbing seats ahead of other riders, no more ignoring people who try to engage me in a broken-English conversation.

Ah, the downside of celebrity . . .

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At 6:38 AM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

A very interesting issue, the more so as it's been lively described in detail in all of its stages, the next ones included.

Surely Sa-Rah will show a developed, manifold, nonstandardly built intelligence when she's grown up --- that will give her great opportunities, though some problems, too. The world doesn't love gypsies, even the mental kind...

The difficult choices regarding her education, anyway, could and can work basically because her parents are not "any" parents, I think. (Homeschooling in the US often arises troubles, as far as I know.)

At 7:10 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Yes, I'm definitely the 'mental' sort of Gypsy . . .

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 8:39 PM, Anonymous Scott A. said...

I wish (and pray) the best for your daughter, you, and family.

This made me think of meeting a guy my first go around in Korea in the late 1990s.

He was a black guy in his early 30s from the US with a Harvard degree working in Wonju at the lowest-paying and one of the worst hakwons. (I told him I imagined his parents were thrilled with that after helping through Harvard.)

He said he wasn't a Moonie, but he had married his Japanese wife in one of those mass weddings (in New York).

And they sent their children to public elementary school in Korea. I thought that was interesting - African-American and Japanese mix -- in the 1990s, an interesting combination to send to public school in Korea.......

He said they got along fine at school and school mates often came home to play. (I didn't say it, but I hoped that would continue for them when the kids entered the teen world...)

He was a very nice, intelligent guy. Very even keeled and certainly confident in mastering the path to his own destiny.

From time to time, I wonder what became of him and his (and family's) experience in Korea...

At 8:41 PM, Anonymous Scott A. said...

Come to think of it, he'd be at home on this site. I remembered he was into history and religion too. He had gone someone in the Arab world to work after college in order to better understand Islam and Muslims. And it was that sense of going places to come to know that led him to Korea.

At 8:59 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Scott. I appreciate the thoughtfulness.

The man you mention sounds like an interesting fellow.

So . . . you came here first time in the 1990s? So did we, 1995-96, Daegu.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 12:35 AM, Anonymous Scott A. said...

1996 in Wonju. Left 2000. Back for 6 months 2002 (not great timing that). Back 2009. Should be heading home by Feb. at the latest...

At 12:37 AM, Anonymous Scott A. said...

I guess it would help to note I've used usinkorea for years on the k-blogs...

At 1:55 AM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

Just found out that HP Lovecraft had been homeschooled too.

Great guys!

At 4:08 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Used usinkorea as your moniker?

We returned in late 1999 as economic refugees . . .

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 4:10 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Dario comments:

"Just found out that HP Lovecraft had been homeschooled too."

Thanks for the warning . . .

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 7:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"but for giving the incorrect answers to questions of contents."

Pardon me for asking, but is that an exact quote?

Regarding your daughter's enrollment in a Korean public high school, I wish her the very best and hope she thrives academically and personally. A common perception here in the US is that middle school is the toughest leg of a K-12 education. The students are in an awkward transition stage between childhood and sexual maturity. My brother and his wife put their eldest son in a private middle school to escape stress brought on by bullying. Like your daughter, the boy will complete his education in a public high school.


At 7:32 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Sonagi, the quote doesn't sound quite exact, but more than two weeks have passed since I spoke, so it might be exact anyway.

But in case there's some ambiguity, I can tell you what I intended to say, namely, that I particularly didn't like the fact that students were sometimes subjected to corporal punishment for offering incorrect answers on matters of content in their studies, not just for bad behavior.

One teacher even knocked his students down and kicked them -- though that might have been for bad behavior.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 8:17 AM, Anonymous Scott A. said...

Yes, I'm usinkorea. I still use that one the one or two K-blogs that I've commented on regularly throughout the years, but I gave up blogging and pulled down my old site after I felt it was likely too out of date.

I think middle school is the toughest time in the US, but something gives me the feeling high school is the worst in Korea.

At 8:57 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Well, there is what the students refer to as "Study Hell" . . .

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 11:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My query about the quote was the use of the plural "contents." In the US, I've only ever heard the noncountable "content" used in an academic setting. I wondered if your usage of the plural was influenced by the loan word "콘텐츠."


At 11:42 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I think that I said "content" since I ordinarily treat that usage of the term as a noncount noun, but I might have slipped.

I suppose I could check with Rob, who may have recorded the session.

There was certainly no influence from "콘텐츠" since I hadn't heard that before.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 11:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"There was certainly no influence from "콘텐츠" since I hadn't heard that before."

Ignorance of loan words is bliss.

At 6:58 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I wallow in my bliss . . .

Jeffery Hodges

* * *


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