Saturday, November 22, 2014

Korean Education

Who in the world, for the sake of sanity, would deny the importance of education? 

I did. At least for a very long time. Here's why.

By my third year of elementary school, the students of my generation were introduced to English for the first time. In the same year, I also made my first friends from the United States. 

And I was punished for it.

The punishment methods involved pain such as what school books described as a "beating stick of education," which, in my experience, was a metal pipe and brainwashing torture.

The reason for my punishment was having too much fun, apparently something the traditional Korean mentality cannot comprehend. I preferred video games, hanging out in playgrounds, and discovering new areas in town, instead of wasting my time with homework that wouldn't benefit me for the next 20 years.

The use of pain in schools wasn't even a 'progress of a butterfly waking up from a cocoon' explanation you might read in a storybook. They educated students using a 'control with fear' approach. The young adults certainly picked it up. I witnessed this mentality in the military and in university, demonstrated by people who told me that there's nothing more powerful than fear, because that's how they were educated.
I disagreed.

I had already learned that there are more powerful educational tools than fear. For me, motivation followed fun and happiness. I'd sooner adapt to their punishments than let them take away what I believe to be more valuable than retiring from a high-paying job, to finally rest comfortably when I'm 80 years old.

My Korean age was ten. I had adapted to the point that I thought that pain is nothing more than a survival reflex that I don't need to react to or feel. So I let them hit me until the end of the high school and the military if that meant I'd get to keep what I believed in.

Now I'm practically a psychopath when it comes to pain and fear, thanks to education. But it was worth it. Because most of those kids in my classroom pretty much developed a phobia toward learning English. Fear toward failures, fear toward creativity, toward something that nobody does. And I'm having a blast with English and everything else.

I can write a blog in about this level of English and enjoy writing it. And I still know nothing about grammar or vocabulary, which was the main focus of Korea's English education starting with elementary school students who couldn't even write a simple conversation in their diaries.

They grew up frustrated, dropping out of half of their English classes, and then someone came to me and asked, "How is it that all you ever do is play video games and know how to speak English better than that other dude who spent 10 million won on learning that language?"

I replied, "I dunno. How did you learn your Korean? You probably didn't spent 10 million won for it when you were 3 years old."

Now, for some reason, which I assume a load of capitalism is involved in, learning English has become a big thing in Korea. Speaking English was among other things that people called me a weirdo for doing when I was younger.

Easy money for me, and "Hey, international people in my neighborhood!"

But most Koreans hardly ever need English as long as they stick with hanging out and doing their Korean thing. If they really needed and wanted English, and had to use the language everywhere they went, they would probably know how to speak it. It's like how Chinese classes were completely useless to me while taking a computer coding major. 
Koreans are brilliant people. They know how to pick up skills they want.

I once asked, "It's a broken system. And everyone knows they never need most of this thing for the rest of their lifetime. Why do this, and waste our time and potential?"

The reply? "It's the system. It's what everyone does. What else can you do?"

Yeah, they know how to pick up what they want. But they have a problem figuring out what they really want. And I'm accusing education that steals our teenage years for that.

It's the fault of our system, yes. For the majority, yes. Or, rather, for what powerful people want everyone else to be: cattle. But that's a conspiracy theory of mine. While nothing is ever truly perfect, should our prevailing system be forced on everyone, despite that it eradicates Korean students' true potential, just because we want to stick to one system?

Young-Gun Park

Young-Gun Park has been studying various forms of visual arts for more than a decade and has been involved in various community arts projects. He has been a writer and photographer for GPTWT for more than a year. His future portfolio projects include work in cinematography and graphic novels. Read more.



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