South Koreans treat school like a full-time job plus a full-time marriage. They put in day hours and night hours, followed by weekend hours. It is not uncommon to see children in school uniforms walking home late at night. It is not uncommon to see them studying through weekends. There is private English education on top of the public education. Families split apart to improve a child’s training. You hear stories about schooling that runs from sunrise past sunset, with breakfast, lunch and dinner being served in the building.
I’m not going to go the hippie direction and talk about laughter and playing outside and all that stuff that apparently our kids do. They don’t sit around on facebook sending pics of themselves to each other? But even though I love school, the above sounds like some sort of hell. Just like hell, what you desire is what you actually get:
There is an obsession with getting ahead here that begins with the classroom and permeates the adult workplace, where rigid hours and meager vacation days are the norm. The attitude here mimics one you heard among American immigrants in the early 20th Century: “If you don’t do well in school, you won’t get to college, if you don’t get to college you won’t get a god [sic] job, and if you don’t get a good job, you’ll be a loser.”
I don’t know about “loser” – “good job” probably has less to do with status, and more to do with survival. The “status” comes from the fact people associate survival with some sort of virtue. People want to be able to fend for themselves, and that can reach cultish levels. It’s scary not being able to make money. It’s scary thinking someone could take your job when you are making money. It’s scary thinking a whole other country exists which is that much more powerful where lots of people live comfortably and seemingly easily. I work hard, doesn’t that count for something?
It’s a mixture of fear and frustration, but it is justified to some degree, no? After all, there are lots of Americans who should be working harder: there’s no debate on that point. And when crisis hits, it hits hard – life goes into a tailspin fast. It’s a situation you want to do your best to avoid, and again, many of us don’t do our best.
I dunno. What I’ve been thinking recently is that there are at least two approaches to education. There’s the education everyone else wants, where you get the training, get the job, maybe read a book or two that’s fun along the way. I’m not putting this down: I’d be a more moral person if I went that route, in a sense. And maybe we should have lots of people rant about how kids today don’t know anything, they can’t even get the basic questions on Jeopardy! right. Someone has to set the standard somewhere, because without a standard, there are no expectations that could be used to create a job.
That’s one approach, only one approach. It may be the case that success of a material sort is contingent on a number of factors one can’t control. If you’re from South Korea and you’re interested in what value your education has in and of itself, just read the blog or drop me an e-mail. I’m very happy right now reading poetry and Plato, and I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything at the moment. Crisis hasn’t hit yet. *knocks on wood*