Oh, come on.
This is in response to the superficial puff piece written by the New York Times on the Korean school system. While the Times generally practices great journalism, the depth of inquiry in this piece was woefully inadequate, especially considering what a contested and troubled topic the education system in Korea is -- well, if you know very much about Korea, that is. (HT to the Marmot's Hole for posting on this one first!)
I taught at Daewon for a year-and-a-half before quitting in the middle of my contract (having an F-4 helps with that) because of me finally being faced with two roads -- participating in evil, or maintaining my sense of ethics. Beyond that, I can't elaborate. I've already waxed about it at my blog here and here.
Their rival institution, Waedae's boarding school in Yongin, recruited me once they learned I was quitting. I worked there for a year before choosing not to renew my contract after the Ministry of Education made it illegal for a foreigner to teach a non-language-based subject based pretty much entirely on a hack-attack job done on my school by a reporter from the Kyunghyang Shinmun because I was teaching an AP US History class taught during normal school hours. A disgrace to the nation! That made the morning radio news nationwide. Lovely.
I now teach at Ewha Girls Foreign Language High School, which is small and very much not a pressure cooker. I teach American History to about 20 girls, not 120 test terminators, which makes my life markedly easy. I'd never teach in a Daewon or Yongin again, since the kids' life is a living hell.
The reason I think the NYT article is superficial and lame is because it's just a recycling of the PR stats. The problem with these schools is that they apply the best aspects of the Korean system (test assassination) to the requirements of getting INTO American colleges (SAT, SAT II subject tests, and now the AP's which have become de facto required). The kids do remarkably well on these tests. But when they get to the American schools, they are woefully ill-prepared. But the schools don't have a vested interest in caring about that -- they just want their kids to get INTO famous schools, and it doesn't matter how they DO at them.
Daewon is one of the few schools that actually has the clout and money to attract sparkly foreigners and lets them teach a few "discussion-based" classes, which are, though, linked to an AP test of some kind. Still, though, most of the FLHS system in Korea is basically tests, tests, tests. One of the struggles in the FLHS has always been to actually teach them something substantial, rather than for the tests.
Now, I am in contact via chat and Facebook with many of my former Daewon students, whom I first met 3 years ago. They agree that their first year in American college was like getting hit with a Mack truck; I had always told them that it would -- "it's true for native speakers attending their own American colleges, so it'll be triple-true for you." They always kinda rolled their eyes. Now, they get it.
Anyway, I did what I could to prepare them, and it was always a struggle, fighting against the stream. Other teachers fought the same battle, and usually got attacked by the Korean teachers for it. Most of the foreign teachers at these schools quit after a year. When I was in Daewon and Yongin, I was not the first teacher at either school to quit before the year ended. Turnover rate is nearly 100% per year for foreign teachers. And Daewon paid an hourly rate of $100 per hour, average part-time teaching load 12-15 hours per week. How bad must it have been for people to quit, or not renew their contracts? Don't just do the math -- try to imagine the extreme suck of one's life to consider quitting a job that paid sometimes as much as $6,000 per month for (technically) half-time work.
Won't find that in the NYT article.
Nor this pic of my Daewon kids taking the chance to do what they have so little time to do, which is sleeeeeeeeep.
Basically, your life sucks at these schools for 3 years, but the kids and parents swallow their pride and ire, since it is the fast-track to America's best schools. Period. That's the exchange. But it absolutely brings out the worst of the Korean school system in a soul-crushing nightmare of pain that many students realize only gets them to the door of the institution they wanted, but has woefully under-prepared them to make it through.
I can't believe the Times was comparing the SAT scores of Exeter and Daewon, playing into the "Asian powerhouse" myth. Scores aside, a school like Exeter prepares you to think, gives you a spectacular education. Because you're not spending all of your time sitting in a chair.
And if the Times reporter actually thinks THAT school approves of rock bands (or the cheerleading squad that was summarily crushed by the principal when I was there) or anything non-academic that isn't a 1-hour-per-week weekly meeting so the kids can put it down on their college apps as filler without it technically being a lie, I've got a bridge on the Han River to sell him.
And now, more grist for Daewon's PR and human test factory mill, since the NYT writer didn't think to insert nary a dollop of critical social context into the sweet and savory soufflé he was baking. Intentional or not, this piece on Daewon couldn't have been written better by a well-paid PR firm.