Last week I wrote my thoughts about Korea and the Sewol. This week the Wall Street Journal said what I was trying to say.
South Korea is a robust culture. There is a lot to love. (I did leave and come back after all.) However, since the tragedy of teh Sewol schools have been cancelling fun and rumor has it there is a petition to cancel all fund indefinately. While postponing trips away from schools makes sense after such a tragedy. I can also understand postponing fun days in respect for the dead. However, I can't understand cancelling everything fun for perhaps years to come, but that's just what's happening.
Children in Korea study hard. (I've written about this before.) Classes are not filled with activity and fun, but study, study, study. And when the day is finished, the kids go to after-school schools to study more. Most kids go to at least one program but some attend up to four. parents are not satisifed if their kids don't have three to four hours of homework every night. High school students stay at their schools studying until 9pm and then either go home and do home work or (even though it's illegal) go to an afterschool program and then go home and do their homework. Most kids fall into bed around mindnight and get up at six or seven to repeat another long day of studying.
Fun days happen two or three times a year. There is usually a sports day and sometimes a kind of fair day. When I taught middle school, I saw kids making popsicles with dry ice and the offering nail art, and everything else inbetween. They also preformed skits and had competitions and made cotton candy. For a day they were kids, not students, spending time with their friends. This happened twice in middle school and there was also one big school field trip.
There is another cultural issue that lead to the Sewol tragedy, one that is more complex than age by seniority. I'll do my best to explain: The probelm actually is rooted in the age issue. Young people grow into older people who are used to someone making decisions for them. They don't get a lot of practice making decisions and thus don't get much practice dealing with the conseqences of their decions, good or bad.
Add to this a "don't rock the boat" cultural element and you get a mess. Take for example YEC. The program is funded by the gorvnment and very cheap compared to other programs. Even so, the kids get incentives like they would at a hogwon. However, one parent complained about the pizza. He is a boat rocker and because not rocking the boat is important, the school will buy pizza that's more than double the price. That means less pizza for everyone.
So what does this have to do with the Sewol and cancelling fun indefinately? Well, nobody wants to tell the man I'm sorry we can't change on one complaint because that means asuming responsibility. South Korea is filled with public officals and even managers who are ineffective because they don't want to be held responsible if something goes wrong. Thus, when it comes to a captain telling people to get off the boat, he can't do it. If people die, he'll be held responsible. Nobody every says "you did a good job in the circumstances." The answer is either wrong or right, and when the situation is complex where neither option will have a positive outcome, the decision maker waffles, becomming much like a deer in the headlights.
I can't attest to what happened on the Sewol, but I see what's happening the schools. Far fewer parents than it would seem are worried about their kids getting injured at an on campus school event. Perhaps only one parent expressed concern, but fear of being held responsible if something did go wrong, has school official saying, "you know, we should just cancel all activites indefinately."
I saw it a little when I was in the public schools before, but it's grown in the last six years and this year I had a personal exprience with responsibility shirking. The teachering "heading" the Yeonju English Center (I'm not sure I've ever met her) sent a cart blanch letter stating we (the teachers on the book selection commitee) would acceptresponsibility for anthing that went wrong. We also had to sign a waiver saying we wouldn't divildge how we selected the books. I signed the book selection waiver and as you can see I've not mentioned how the books were selected. However, I refused to sign the other because the scope was not limited to parents being unhappy with books, but anything that went wrong.
Fun doesn't need to be canceled. Instead, a very complicated culteral issue needs addressing. I'd start with giving kids age appropriate options (things as simple as choosing between to lunch items at school)and helping them deal with the results of their choices.
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M.R. Jordan is a writer, editor, sporadic blogger, and lover of beer. Lives in South Korea with her two cats, Bear and Geumbi.
Bear (Gom in Korean) then (above) now (below)
Geumbi (Gold in English)... then (above) and now (below).