This is a meta-response to some of the comments being made about this subject, which I thank all of you for making. This is also the longest rant I think I ever made. I sincerely apologize for that. Some parts are rambly, but some you might find poignant or useful, I think. I hope.
One person mentioned that we should "put this into context" before jumping on the Korean media. I will take issue with that because I think much of this debate is about putting this into the proper context. Yes, there are far more stories about "bad" Koreans in the media, but they are not argued to be such, at least in an essential way.
What I mean is, you may have the story of a woman who was conned out of her money, or a man who gets caught soliciting sex from minors. But no matter what a given Korean person does, their actions do not become representative of an entire group. A Korean child molester is not represented on the news as typical of Koreanness itself. A Korean might see such a story, shake his or her head, and say, "Tsk, tsk. They should make sure that guy stays in jail for a long time."
On the other hand, these "acts" – and we have to remember that none of the illegal acts alleged here are those that should constitute a scandal, since no specific acts are actually being alleged to have been committed, but rather are just rumors about "what foreigners do" – are being represented by some in the media as inherently cultural, as endemic to the state of being a foreigner itself.
This is the problem I have with the Korean Teachers' Union. They actually said that it was because of the low sexual morals of "Westerners" that such stuff was happening, before even getting to the question of qualifications and hiring practices. On top of that, the perpetrators of the alleged sexual misconduct were actually Korean nationals, but the actual facts of the case are irrelevant to what people want to think is true.
What makes this even more frustrating for me is that none of this is being done on behalf of the students, because this is all about politics and money and jockeying for more of both, on top of the media playing its role as purveyor of whatever stories it can make sell more papers – even if they are 1) patently untrue, or 2) basically "stories" that are in the realm of hearsay.
And when you look at the fact that again, no one is even asking the actual teachers what they think, nor do you see anyone reasonable being interviewed in these stories, you realize that the "immoral foreign English teacher" is really nothing more than what I'd call an ideological tool, one that can be pulled out whenever news gets slow, or the government wants to attack the private sector, etc.
The "context" that makes this suspicious to me – and this is the question I start all my Social Issues classes with – is that, given the fact that this has been a problem for more than a decade, and not an underground or unknown problem at that, why are we hearing about this now? There are always reasons that particular discourses pop up in society, and ways to explain their timing.
What I see is a society that is becoming so fed up with the education system – the major players being the government, public schools, parents, and the huge interests of the private education sector – that now attacks are being deflected away from where they need to hit most: the structure of the education system itself and the detrimental, self-serving, monied interest of the private sector in pushing English education to the extreme.
This is a politics of fear and loathing, and parents' concerns are being deflected towards wondering about the extremely unlikely possibility of their little Sunjin being sexually molested by her hagwon teacher, rather than worry about the very real fact that Sunjin is far more likely to be mentally and emotionally "molested" by the Korean education system in middle and high school. This is something parents know, but feel powerless to stop. So they panic, freak, and lash out.
I have seen this in action. One of the reasons I left my dreamy little US History job in the countryside is because our school – the Hanguk Academy of Foreign Studies – was being mercilessly attacked in the media. Every move our school made – including the most insignificant technical violation of curriculum planning or scheduling (rules that normal schools fudge all the time) – was fodder for "scandal" stories.
So even I got dragged into it, and my case was, like many others, telling of the way the Korean media deals with foreigners – even the most qualified of them.
On the morning of March 10 this year, I was reminded of the opening line of Kafka's Metamorphosis, since my students were reading that turgid book in another class and it kept coming up in my life, much to my chagrin (that book had been the source of an exquisite torture in boarding school, when I had had to read it in its original German):
"As Michael Hurt awoke one morning from uneasy dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a blonde, white woman."
OK, so Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis doesn't exactly start like that, but something close, right? See, that morning, on my off day, I had gotten a phone call from a teacher friend to ask me if I "was alright." I had no idea what she was talking about, but apparently, my history class had made it onto the 9AM radio news and was all over the Internet, thanks to an irresponsible, dishonest, and journalistically unethical story written by one Yeong Kyeong Lee (이영경), who, as a representative of the journalistically unprofessional Kyeonghyang Shinmun, had come to our school under the false pretenses of "benchmarking" our school – a slightly Konglishized way of saying that she was there to simply observe as part of writing a neutral piece comparing the different way foreign language high schools did things. That was not her intent at all, as I later found out from my students' description of her behavior and manner of "investigating."
What resulted was a factually somewhat-accurate but intentionally misleading and sensationalist article written about my class, in which, as the cartoon implies, my book (that was part of an "Advanced Placement" class and not SAT preparation – basic, high school newspaper mistake #1, Ms. Lee – you should have at least gotten the class right) was taught at the expense of the Morals curriculum, since it is lying on the floor. Also, I apparently am white and female, and have the standard "big nose" that most white people are drawn with in Korean newspapers. Ms. Lee – point of fact – I'm not white, blonde, or female. Either you didn't know, or didn't care, since it makes for better copy. So either you are incompetent or unethical – I'll leave that for you to decide.
According to what I heard around the water cooler upon my return to school, Yeong Gyeong had been seen standing around in several offices, and often did not introduce herself as a reporter, but rather had to be asked who she was and what she was doing there. Point of information, Yeong Gyeong – when you're working on a story, it's basic journalistic ethics to make it known that you're a reporter and are there to do a story. Either you didn't graduate from journalism school or you just didn't know, which makes you incompetent and completely unprofessional – but again, I'll leave that for you to decide.
Yeong Kyeong also skulked around the classrooms looking for juicy information to (mis)use, speaking to my students without even bothering to talk to the teacher of the class in question. She did a story on my class, but did not speak to me. Hmm. Now that's professional!
Yeong Kyeong also interviewed some of my students before telling them that she was a reporter, although she did reveal who she was to some students after the fact. But still, although she had permission to enter the school and interview teachers and staff, it is my understanding that she did not receive specific permission to interview students. And after the article came out, most of my students said that indeed, they had thought she was a student teacher, since at that time, a lot of new faces were appearing in the classrooms as student teachers were making their rounds. But still, the majority of students did not know who you were until I told them. And how do I know it was you in my classroom? Because, although you were unethical enough to interview students without revealing that you were a reporter, you still gave one of my students a business card, which she then gave to me – and which I still have in my possession.
If the 경형신문 is so concerned about 도덕 (morals) perhaps they should learn some?
Balancing "our traditional morals" with "Western ethics" on the scale of a "the construction of a developed society." [1994 1st-year Dodeok textbook]
Well, that scale would read something like "Journalistic Ethics and the Truth" on one side, with "Distortion for the Sake of Sensationalism and Sales" on the other, with the scale representing "A r Professional and Responsible Newspaper."
And while they're at it, they might have the professional respect to ask the teacher of the class about its content before plastering their story all over the newspapers, radio, and the Internet. Here's their only partially-accurate, intentionally misleading story, which I don't have the time to translate word-for-word, but will give you varying levels of translation, focusing on the key points:
유학이 뭐기에···도덕시간에 美역사책 공부
[경향신문 2006-03-10 10:03]
경기 용인의 한국외대 부속 외국어고교(외대부속 외고)가 ‘해외 유학반’을 편성해 정규 교과시간에 사실상 유학 대비 교육을 하고 있어 논란이 일고 있다. 이 학교는 국민공통기본교육과정인 도덕 과목까지 미국 교재를 중심으로 수업을 하고 있는 것으로 확인됐다.
[Talking about the Hanguk University of Korean Studies' extension high school – the Hanguk Academy of Foreign Studies (HAFS) and how it uses American textbooks even in the dodeok (Morals) class.]
◇‘도덕도 미국 교재로’=9일 외대부속 외고에 따르면 이 학교는 미국 유학을 원하는 2학년생 105명을 유학반인 ‘영어과’로 편성, 국어와 국사를 제외하고 정규 교과시간을 대부분 영어로 교육하고 있다.
[According to the statements of the school as of the 9th of March, the 105 second-year students in the international studies division have most required/daytime (the ones stipulated in the government's approved curriculum) classes in English, except for the subjects of Korean and Korean History.]
이들은 도덕 수업에 미국의 역사를 다룬 ‘The American People’이란 미국 교재를 사용하고 있다. 담당 교사는 미국인으로 역사와 도덕 과목을 함께 맡고 있다. 이 교재 945쪽에는 동해를 ‘Sea of Japan’으로 표기한 한국전쟁 관련 지도가 실려 있다.
[The students are using a textbook during dodeok class called The American People, which deals with American history. The teacher is an American who has been given responsibility for teaching history and dodeok together. On page 945 of this book, on a map dealing with the Korean War, the East Sea is referred to as the "Sea of Japan."]
학교측은 “국정교과서를 기본으로, 한국어로 수업을 한다”고 밝혔다. 그러나 2학년 학생들은 “주로 미국 역사 교재를 중심으로 도덕 수업을 하고 있다”고 전했다.
[The school claims that "Korean is spoken in Ministry-required classes." However, second-year students report that "We mainly use the American history textbook during dodeok time."]
국사 수업은 국정교과서 위주로 진행되나, 관련 영어 논문 등이 보조교재로 사용되고 있다. 2학년의 경우 ‘미국 역사’ 과목이 1주일에 4시간 편성돼 있으나 국사는 2시간, 도덕은 1시간으로 소홀히 취급되고 있다.
[Though government-approved textbooks are given priority in Korean History classes, they use English composition textbooks as secondary materials. In the case of the second-years, the subject of "American History" is set at 4 hours per week while Korean history and dodeok have been carelessly relegated to 2 and 1 hours per week, respectively.]
‘국어·국사만 빼고 모든 수업을 영어로 진행한다’고 알려진 이 학교는 지난해 2월 개교했다. 용인시가 건립비용 4백58억원을, 한국외대가 부지를 제공해 공동 설립했다.
[Last February, the school publicized the fact that "Except for Korean Language and Korean History, all classes are conducted in English." At a construction cost of 45 million dollars, the Yongin city government and the Hanguk University of Foreign Studies jointly constructed the building site.]
◇유학반 논란=국어·국사·도덕은 국민공통기본교육과정. 수업은 국정교과서를 중심으로 이뤄져야 한다. 부교재는 이를 바탕으로 교육부가 정한 교과 교육의 기본 줄기를 훼손하지 않는 범위내에서 활용할 수 있다.
[Criticism of the International Studies division – The subjects of Korean Language, Korean History, and Dodeok a basic part of citizens' community education. These classes must be carried out with government-approved textbooks. On this basis, non-approved textbooks can be utilized to the extent that they do not harm the basic body of the textbook education that has been approved by the Ministry of Education.]
해외 유학반 운영의 원조격인 민족사관고는 국어·국사·도덕 수업만은 국정교과서를 가지고 한국인 교사가, 한국어로 수업을 진행하고 있다.
[The first International Studies division that was set up by the Korean Leadership Academy conducts Korean Language, Korean History, and Dodeok classes in Korean, and is taught by Korean instructors.]
유학반을 운영중인 서울 대원외고 등 다른 외고들은 정규 수업시간을 피해 방과후나 특기적성 시간에 유학교육을 하고 있다.
[The International Studies division at Daewon Foreign Language High School and others like it avoid this by holding special classes after normal classes finish for the day.]
참교육연구소 이철호 부소장은 “도덕은 반드시 이수해야 하는 국민공통기본교육과정의 하나”라며 “청소년들에게 이런 과목을 제대로 가르치지 않는다면 결국 민족공동체 의식의 상실로 이어질 수 있다”고 경고했다.
[Lee Cheol Ho, Vice-Manager of the Real Education Research Institute (a body of the Korean Teachers & Education Workers' Union), warned that "Dodeok is certainly one part of the basic citizens' community education" and that "if children are not properly taught in such subjects, the result will the continued loss of our sense of national unity."]
이 학교 박하식 교감은 “국내 정규 교과과정 안에서 유학 커리큘럼을 진행시키는 부분에 대해서는 우리도 고민하고 있다”고 토로했다. 그는 “공교육이 해외명문대 진학 교육기회를 충분히 제공하지 못해 우리가 공교육 틀 안에서의 모범을 세우려는 것”이라고 해명했다.
[The vice-principal, Ha Shik Park, expressed that "We are also concerned about how to carry out the International Studies courses the within the domestic regular textbook curriculum." He also explained that wants to establish a model within the framework of public education, which has so far not been able to adequately serve the educational opportunities of gaining admission to top foreign universities." ]
- 대한민국 희망언론! 경향신문, 구독신청(http://smile.khan.co.kr) -
ⓒ 경향신문 & 미디어칸(www.khan.co.kr), 무단전재 및 재배포 금지
Oh, where do I even begin? The way this article was created is archetypical of the way foreigners enter this debate, because we are simply tools in a greater economic and political fight – it really isn't about foreigners as much what what foreigners represent.
So let's get a few things straight by clearly defining what the basic terms of this discourse.
1) "Foreign teacher" or "foreign" means "white" and "Western." It is also highly gendered, so you can through "male" into the mix. This may be obvious, but the media and the general populace isn't talking about the mostly brown foreign laborers, American GI's, nor even the "dirty white" sex workers often recruited from Russia and eastern Europe. The image in most people's minds is of a leering white man sexually molesting innocent Korean virgins. This is important, since much of the source of the emotional fire of this debate comes from this image in people's minds. The racist/nationalist element of this discourse should be crystal clear, because the alarm bells going off in the media and the firestorm in general is taking place despite the fact that there have actually been no major infractions of the types being rumored about in the media. Sure, it's chilling that the alleged murderer of Jon-Benet Ramsey may have taught here for a couple of months (this is still unconfirmed), but really – where's the beef?
– English Spectrum-gate comes from the postings of a single idiot who, from what I read, was writing in poor taste, but was certainly not actually talking about methods to actually molest underage students. His "humor" seemed to come from trying to criticize Korea and Koreans by talking about what people – even, he implies, children – would be willing to do for English. I don't agree with the way he did it, but it didn't strike me at all as a real guide to molesting kids. But is a reporter looking to make a sensationalist story going to take it in the way that it was meant? And in any case, it was the writings of one idiot – not some kind of secret credo carried around by foreign teachers looking for victims to hunt. But again – why let context stop the sales of a good story?
– As for Mr. Naked-pictures-on-the-blog, he's just a single individual, he's apparently stupid (why the hell would you put pictures of your coworkers, yourself, your students, and naked girls you banged on the same site, especially given this climate?), and he had a web site. Yes, he may be a weirdo for doing so, but there were no pictures of underage girls, it's not clear that any of those people were his students, and the amateur pictures I saw didn't have the women's faces in them, as the Korean news article described. They full nude shots all seemed to be lifted from porn sites. Anyway, it was a single guy and certainly not typical at all of the foreign blogosphere.
2) This debate depends on the absence of a representative voice. What makes this most suspicious and defines this as mainly a debate amongst Koreans, one quite separated from the reality of the actual situation and actual problems that do exist regarding the hiring of foreign teachers, is the fact that )non-crazy) foreigners are never interviewed, there are no foreign talking heads being called into the debate, nor is there any historical context offered as to how and why so many foreign teachers have been entering Korea, especially over the last 12-14 years or so. If you looked close, with an eye to socioeconomic context and the market – which you'd have to in this debate – you'd see the real structural problems and not these chimeric, misleading debates about the sexual morality or even qualifications. If you actually started asking some of these foreign teachers – if I were a reporter, I'd pick a few from some of Seoul's biggest hagwons, as well as perhaps from smaller institutes – what they heard wouldn't fit well into the discourse that Korean society wants to have. In fact, they'd make the construction of the discourse of immoral/unqualified-foreign-English-teacher-as-problem impossible altogether. This is why the reporter didn't interview me, because she couldn't, and still write her story.
So why does Yeong Kyeong Lee deserve to be demoted to cub reporter for a high school newspaper? What were her journalistic and ethical transgressions? Why do I consider her story one full of half-truths and deceptive linkages? Here's a breakdown, one typical of the pattern of the Korean media and its state of unprofessionalism. Everyone knows it – especially many Korean folks who are quite hostile to the media – but when a foreigner says it, I know people are going to get all huffy. You can refer to my previous post on the subject if you'd like, as I don't need to repeat myself here. Here we go:
1) She did not clearly represent herself as a journalist to all parties with whom she spoke, before she started asking them questions. You fail basic J-School Ethics 101, Yeong Kyeong!
2) She did not interview the teacher of the class in question before she proceeded to criticize the course content, even if only by implication. What does the fact that "Sea of Japan" was on a map outlining troops movements in the the 1950's chapter of The American People, which included some information on the Korean War? In the dishonest context of the article, she obviously decided to pull out the nationalist ammunition by implying that what was being taught was some anti-Korean, pro-Japanese (친일) material, much to the alleged detriment of the hallowed Korean nationalist dodeok curriculum.
The oath at the beginning of mid-1990's middle school textbooks [taken from a Dodeok textbook].
Had she asked me, I would have told her that a) much of my graduate research is on the dodeok curriculum and I have written three substantial papers on it during my first two years in graduate school (a copy of my only remaining one – lost in a hard drive accident – is included here for your amusement, along with another paper on Japanese colonialism and the meaning of symbolic atonement in constructing national history, to show I am indeed not ignorant of Korea-Japan issues), and b) not only am I able to read Korean textbooks, but actually have read most of the ones from the 1994-1996 era and have probably the best collection of copied dodeok texts outside of the Korean Educational Development Institute (한국교육개발원), where I got them.
"A teacher is someone who gives us teaching/lessons." [A little's lost in translation.]
c) Yes, I am not a certified Korean teacher, but I am also not a blonde white woman with a big nose who knows nothing about the subject I am teaching. The vice-principal was quite happy to hear that I could actually utilize the book in class, which I was planning to do. Qualifications? I'm probably the most qualified foreign teacher in this country as far as including dodeok in the curriculum goes.
I was actually hoping to include some part of that semester's work in my dissertation. But she effectively nixed that. Thanks, Yeong Kyeong.
3) Each semester's hourly subject requirements are different in Korea. That particular semester, the breakdown set by the Ministry of Education for second-grade high schoolers in the fall semester was 4 hours of Social Studies (사회), 2 hours of Korean History (국사), and 1 hour of Morals (도덕). This was not the school's decision, but the structure of the local board of education as dictated by the Ministry of Ed. The VP was working within the structure of the curriculum when he assigned US History to be taught as during Social Studies hours, which was a perfectly legitimate, if unusual choice.
The previous semester, the number of hours allotted to SS was 6, so I had less time with the students during the semester in which they were actually taking the Advanced Placement Test in that subject. So he tacked on the single hour of dodeok to mine and asked me if I could include the book in the curriculum. Yes, technically a minor violation of the curriculum, but one that is completely standard practice in every single school on the South Korean peninsula when it comes to test prep, and every Korean person – and especially a reporter covering the education beat – damn well knows it. So he was trying to give me 5 hours to teach Social Studies by tacking on the dodeok hour. And I wasn't taking away food from any Korean teachers' plate, since the dodeok teachers are all full time and get a salary regardless of whether they get stuck with the 3 extra dodeok hours with the 2nd years.
But that context – of which every Korean person who took a test in high school is well aware – is consciously ignored when it comes to launching a politically-motivated attack. And so it went, just like the context of what the real problems in the education system are – of which most Korean folks are also well aware and eager to fix – until you pull out the "How dare you?" emotional right-hook involving foreigners and perceived slights to the nation, whether in terms of teaching pro-Japanese/anti-Korean American History, or white male English teachers without high school degrees molesting children and deflowering Korean virgins. It just makes for good copy, man! Why tell a more socially constructive truth?
Yeong Kyeong implied that the school was making this decision – "how dare they teach 4 hours of American history and 2 hours of Korean history?" is the question that is implied good, patriotic citizens should be asking – when their only violation was tacking on a single hour of a small class that semester to make ends meet for a bigger class. Using my textbook was not, to my knowledge, a violation of anything, either.
The only thing they could get me for was the fact that I am not a licensed school teacher (although I am a Ph.D. candidate and hold a master's degree) teaching a Ministry-approved class. On that count, I and the school are guilty. But also on that count, it's a pretty technical violation. In any case, the "improvement" that resulted from this "scandal" was the additional regulation that foreigners are not allowed to teach anything but English conversation during normal school hours.
But hey, even a Ph.D. from Harvard is "just" an English teacher in Korea, right? When people asked me "what do you teach?" and I said "American History," they respond "Ah, you're an English teacher!"
"No, I just said I taught history," say I.
"But you teach in English, right? So you're an English teacher," most people always say, beaming as they ask me to teach them conversation.
But in a way, they're right – all I am is an English teacher, even if I get my Ph.D. and come back as a visiting lecturer. After all, I'll probably be stuck in the English department, anyway.
4) The true social context of this report – which everyone who reads a newspaper and has a kid in school knows – is that of the debate going on over the "equalization policy" in Korean schools. Basically, a lot of parents have gotten the idea of "equality" all mixed up, not being able to separate equality of opportunity from equality of outcome.
The short of it is that no certain parents don't want any difference between schools, down to the beaker in the lab room or an extra computer monitor under desks, because they perceive this as unfair. This faction wants all kids, regardless of ability in the same exact classes, with the same exact curriculum, making tests a truly "fair" differentiator of apparent ability. This may seem like making opportunity equal, but it is actually stifling and leads to boredom and mediocrity. Yes, these FLHS's are test machines, but classes like mine were the rare ones starting to sprout in a truly more liberal curricular environment.
My students were going to take the US History AP, but I had several hours a week with each of my 3 international classes, and we studied the history of history – its theory as historiography – and I made it interesting to a lot of them, which is no small task. I had these Korean kids reading a critical history book, written by a leading historian (Gary Nash) and crusader for responsible textbook reform in the US. I was using history as content to make them actual critical thinkers – which, I'm sorry to say, is what Korean students truly, truly lack because of the sorry state of the Korean education curriculum's emphasis on testing and rote memorization, even with the obligatory and irrelevant "critical thinking" questions that now get placed at the end of chapters of some Korean textbooks – no such questions are ever included on the test).
My students learned to read 30-50 pages of dense material a week and I was training them – with great difficulty – to get through it, because they're going to go to American top universities, where 200-300 pages of social sciences/humanities reading a week across 4-5 classes is the normal load.
My students learned the difference between being blockheadedly argumentative and a true critical thinker by learning about the nature of primary, secondary, and tertiary sources, how they are used, bases for evaluating their use in history, etc. – all stuff that is quite applicable to being a true intellectual, a real thinker, or just someone who has developed a love of learning for learning's sake, something else that the Korean education system tends to beat out of students.
I used historical documentaries, the Internet on a projector with my cool Mac, tortured them with the textbook, and "graced" them with several of my own specialized lectures gained from my historical training on both the undergraduate and graduate levels, in addition to more than 7 semesters of teaching as a teaching assistant at Berkeley, and 3 teaching my own courses as the "instructor-of record" (after passing qualifying exams, a doctoral candidate can apply to teach his or her own course with all the rights of a professor within the university).
Some of the kids even formed their own HAFS history club and wanted to study more – and still wanted to continue being active after having taken the AP. I was quite impressed. And yes, I'm going to toot my horn some more – so that Yeong Kyeong will feel very, very bad – by saying that not only did some of my kids truly develop intellectually, out of 47 students who took the US History AP last May – this is a test that has a multiple-choice component, as well as the much-feared "document-based question" that has several primary documents that must be included as part of answering an essay question. Then there's a plain-old open-response essay question. This test is no joke, and a 4 on this test is often said to require the work of getting a 5 on another difficult test subject, such as AP Economics. Getting a 5 on this test is regarded even by many good American students as a mere dream.
The national average of 5's gained by American students is 8.75%.That being said, out of 47 of my students who took the test, 11 (23.4%) got 5's and 16 got 4's (34%).
That's TRIPLE the national average for 5's in America, son – and my students are not even native speakers of English. Whaddup?!
OK, there's my moment of vanity, but I truly can't take credit for 57.5% of my students blowing that test out of the water – and even the 3's and 2's are respectable, given that some of the students really had to be pushed by force to adjust to my American style of teaching and it took some of them more than a semester to do so. I think every student benefitted a lot from where they were, but in the end, I was just like the sled dog guide yelling "Mush!" and cracking the whip and pointing the way.
My students rocked that exam – and are also truly starting down the road to being critical, complex thinkers – because they truly worked hard to get there and are the cream-of-the-crop where they are now. I couldn't do the same with a group of normal Korean students, for a whole litany of obvious reasons that won't bother to go through here.
And we know that there are great fundamental inequalities created by the private education and tutoring system (사교육) that the rich and privileged take advantage of. A lot of my HAFS students spent time in the US or another English-speaking country – but a lot didn't. One of them is the student I encouraged to start a blog (linked to in the left menu and here), who intends to write a book about how she never attended a hagwon, studied everything on her own, and she made it into HAFS and plans to go to a top American university, pending getting a scholarship from some big foundation to pay her way, which I don't doubt for a second that she'll get.
This girl skips meals, she tightly regulates her sleep patterns, she studies through the breaks between classes, she works when the other students play. And she's not just a psycho test machine – she actually has deep interests in the things she studies and is always one who asks questions. Yet, at the beginning of the year, when I first met her, she was afraid to speak up during class, and really hesitant to ask questions. She had a lot of trouble in History her first semester, often taking 10-15 minutes to finish a single page a reading, as she reported to me in a panic when we first started the class.
She's one of the students who got an "A" in my class, a 5 on the History exam, and I'm fucking proud of her.
She deserves to go to an elite school, she deserves dedicated teachers, and she deserves foreign teachers who actually care about and are able to engender a love of the subject itself, in addition to being able to help these students kick that ETS test's Princeton, New Jersey ASS.
Well, thanks in large part to your article, Yeong Kyeong, the Ministry passed a new regulation specifically prohibiting the use of non-government approved textbooks during normal daytime classes, so my class was relegated to the night extra classes, where it will probably dwindle and then die a slow and unspectacular death. The conditions of my job changed such that I couldn't teach it anymore – not with the many added difficulties and limitations of teaching an "extra" class without grading power, taught in the evening, and with less hours per week, taught only during part of each semester. What teacher wants to be set up to fail?
I was really looking forward to improving a lot of things this year, starting fresh with a new batch of kids, forearmed with all the things not to do, as well as filled with ideas of new things that would probably work better.
Well, Lee Yeong Kyeong, I want you to know that the direct result of your spectacular reporting – and others like it – has been the complete elimination of good, qualified teachers (who are very unlikely to be the unqualified, rapist bail-jumpers that the Korean media wants to portray) from the standard daytime curriculum. I, as one of the most dedicated, experienced, and highly-qualified non-teachers of English in this country, can never again teach anything but English conversation in a Korean school.
But hey, what else are foreigners good for anyway? The point is – you didn't even ASK.
Yeah, I know a couple foreign teachers in a school or two who might sneak in some Shakespeare under the ruse of "English conversation," but I'm sure another reporter like you will bust in on that action as well, when much deeper, more problematic, TRUE violations are going on in Korean schools.
Lest I get busted for libel, I'll be general when I say that I consider HAFS to be one of the cleanest, ethical schools I've ever seen in Korea, much less worked at. I have seen with my own eyes and heard from other Korean teachers – IN THE KOREAN SCHOOLS – about sexual harassment, physical abuse, rampant bribery and corruption, and even a teacher who literally punished a student so hard he died. If it weren't libelous, I'd list the school name, city, and year it happened. But I can't, so I won't.
But don't worry, I won't be seeing any more of these things in Korean public schools, since I'll have no reason to step in one ever again. But who do you think is the real loser here? With my elite high school diploma, Ivy league degree, and near-Ph.D. from one of the best graduate school in the world, I can make more than enough to get buy, doing good, legal work.
And in all this hysteria, the only thing that's going to happen is the system will crack down on the wrong people, trying to address the wrong problem, which will only make the real bad people and the real problems worse.
Korea's educational ship is sinking, but so slowly that there's too much time to panic and muck things up, and the media has the time and ability to lead the majority of society to quibble over trinkets and trifles while the ship goes down, instead of trying to actually save the ship itself, or at least as many people as possible.
To all the newspapers and reporters out there who similarly make scapegoats out of good people and the few good parts of the education system still out there, I say that since I'm one of the foreign "rats" on your ship, and those of us with the potentials and credentials to just be here temporarily are going to leave in droves, or just stay long enough to make some money to pay off student loans and leave.
Korea's a rich nation now, no matter what people want to say – it's the 11th largest economy in the world and everyone from foreign laborers from developing countries to educated, middle-class folks from developed countries are wanting to enter your labor market. Korean employers, schools, organizations, and the government itself all have both the capital and the ability to treat the many good, qualified foreign teachers here right, paying them what they're worth instead of paying the least amount they will accept and constantly hold back overtime hours worked, break contract stipulations, tack on extra teaching hours, refuse to travel expenses agreed upon in the contract, and other violations ad nauseum.
And then hagwon managers, school principals, and other bosses over foreign staff wonder why 1) there are, unfortunately, more unqualified foreign teachers than there could be, and 2) why so many of even the most professional of foreign teachers before coming to Korea start behaving unprofessionally after working here.
It starts with management and hiring, and as one reader said, "You get what you pay for." I have a simple beginning of a solution (although no one will follow it, I'm sure):
Stop hiring just any white person with a pulse and simply verify (through a phone call or the many schools who have online verification services on their web sites) their credentials. It's not rocket science, nor do you need a libelous blacklist for the few bad apples. Why isn't there a law making a hagwon criminally liable for hiring someone with false credentials? How about some stiff fines and actual enforcement? That would weed out the bad ones and start rewarding the good ones by doing things such as – I don't know – honoring contracts and paying what was agreed upon from the beginning?
What's true for any group of people – treat them like professionals and reward them for good work, and that's what you'll get. Treat them viciously and dishonestly, and that's how they'll behave in order to survive. When you add on the fact that most foreign teachers have some tale of being cheated or exploited by a Korean boss or manager – not minor things, but gross exploitation or dishonesty – you get a level of distrust, bad feeling, and unprofessionalism that will become a problem.
And TRUST ME – stories of being robbed or cheated in Korea travel along the college graduate grapevine much faster than World Cup 2002 cheers – isn't Korea a nation concerned about it's reputation? When there are so many stories of being cheated in South Korea, the good people will tend to stay away.
The only people who will come are the extremely optimistic, the blissfully ignorant, the extremely interested, and the eerily weird. And the optimist who becomes disillusioned by bad treatment or lies, or the ignorant who didn't know about the complaints of others before coming – most of them jump ship at the first opportunity, or leave before they contract ends – and I don't blame them. Those like me, who come from elite school and came on government-protected programs like the Fulbright, are usually shielded from such treatment, or have other options. So a few of us stay and do other things, such as take lots of pictures and try to publish a book of photography, like me. But eventually, when my stuff is done, I'll leave, too.
But a large number of people with few other options and the wherewithal to stick out even the worst of conditions – or the people without options to really do anything else – will be here forever. And even out of the vast majority of them, they are not criminals, child molesters, or rapists – and are frankly no less "moral" than any of the vast majority of Korean men who frequent red light districts, room salons, barber shops, business clubs, massage parlors, or masturbation rooms in a single night. Need I really make things this explicit to make my point?
Anyway, given the way they/we are treated, Korea – taken as a whole – deserves whomever it gets. After all, no one forced this country to take these people into its midst, nor does a foreign power drive the insane private English industry, nor does a foreign country dictate hiring practices.
So, Korean media, stop blaming the victim, or stop confusing the symptom as the cause – whatever way you want to think about it – and stop this counterproductive scapegoating and start helping the people you have a responsibility to properly inform about ways to deal with real, pressing problems in this society.
And as for me, this is one foreign teacher you'll never see in a Korean public school classroom ever again.
Thank God. Who needs this kind of abuse?
IS LEE YEONG KYEONG GONNA GO SITH ON A BRUTHA?
(P.S. Yeong Kyeong Lee, if you think you want to sue me for libel, bring it on. I'm a private citizen whom you unfairly targeted in a journalistically unethical way, as a reporter for a newspaper that published a partially-inaccurate, wholly misleading piece that you signed your name to. And I'm correcting and contextualizing your 학교신문 동아리 level of reporting. So let's dance, baby, if you want to get jiggy with it – and I mean that in both senses of the word.)
<DRAWS PURPLE LIGHTSABER>