Korean Society Is In The Classroom: The School As A Factory

in writing •  3 months ago

Korean Society Is In The Classroom: The School As A Factory

Or,

Why I don’t wake my students up.

I’ve taught English for five years between China and Korea. My experience has been in classrooms, from public to private. One of those years in China, I also taught Math, Science, Art and Guitar on top of English. That was pretty absurd. This is not to boast, but to establish beforehand that I have some experience in the classroom to base my following points on.

I do, however, mean this from a purely pedagogic standpoint. As for claiming to understand anything about China or Korea, I don’t. And I don’t think I could, even if I spent my life in either of the two countries.

Two other qualifiers.

First, I desperately try to obtain an objective viewpoint on my job. There’s too many Western ‘expats’ (I hate that fucking term) who never leave their colonialist perspective. It’s banal to find racism among English teachers in Asia.

Their underlying assumption is that, because their only encounter with the people is through English, which the person cannot speak well (hence their job), the people they meet are therefore ignorant. That is to say, because the ‘expats’ only speak to people in English, despite being in, say, Korea, they only encounter Koreans struggling to express themselves in English, and the racist ‘expat’ concludes that Koreans in general are unable to express themselves.

In short, their racism stems from a tautology.

I at least try to learn Korean (and Chinese) here and there. I can’t speak the language well, but I do try. But my point is, that while trying to understand the cultural context of the classroom, my first step is self-criticism in the attempt to break from a colonialist perspective.
Second, the conclusions below are vetted. Both by the experience of other teachers, and, more importantly, Koreans themselves.

So, to start.

Teaching English in Korea is an incredibly easy job. It’s exactly as difficult as you want it to be. This is so long as you accept the factory system of education here. Korea and China are quite similar in this regard, but I’ll try to keep this exclusive to Korea.

Now, there are a lot of great and dedicated teachers in the system. But I’m not speaking about their individual success. I’m speaking more of the general structure of the system.

The education system in Korea follows a neo-Confucian system, complete with gender segregation and brain-sponge methods of instruction. The instructor stands and talks for the duration of the class period and students are expected to soak up the material. I’ve never seen anything that wasn’t a lecture. The entirety of the system is geared towards one goal: passing a university entrance exam. Though k-12 education is public and free, the class division is between those who pass the entrance exam to a university and those who take the ‘technical school’ track.

Because of the single-minded nature of education, nothing else really matters. There’s little to no punishment for students that act up. First because the behavior doesn’t matter, so long as the kid passes a test.

Second, because it’s impossible to keep any student after school. Why?

Because the rich children all have a second school after their first one. This is called a 학원 or, Hagwon.

Representing another class division, students with money attend hagwons after school, some beginning as early as primary school. By the time they reach high school, kids stay at Hagwons until as late as eleven o’clock at night (on school nights), studying for their college entrance exam.

The existence and ubiquity of Hagwons reduces the pressure on the public education system. I’ve taught in a highschool and there, the students admitted they learned more at Hagwons than at the school itself. First period was sleep time. This is particularly true for second and third year students. The highschool was more of the general outline, the formal, perfunctory activity. The Hagwon is where the students got one-on-one learning, as opposed to being a number out of 30-40 students in a single classroom.

South Korean parents spend an average of $1000 each month per child. . The competition between students to reach a University, which in turn churns out degree holders who can’t find jobs, reflects the development of the education system as a whole. Mainly, it’s creation from the post-war dictatorship period.

It’s vital to understand Korean history for this point. The Korean civil war in the 50’s is often portrayed, by the bourgeoisie, as a victory against communism. In truth, the RoK was a corrupt and parasitic entity composed mainly of Japanese collaborators and those elite members of society that stood against the land distribution goals of the North. In short, it was reactionary to the core, and as such the decades of military dictatorships that held out until the Korean people revolted in 1987.

South Korean society, from the war until 1987, was the epitome of authoritarian capitalism. The factory system, on a military-scale, exploited the Korean people down to the bone. I recall reading the biography of Chun Tae Il where it describes his time in a garment factory (which was little more than a cramped room). Working alongside teenage girls in the 1970s, he described the process by which employers would shoot up their workers with amphetamines to keep them laboring over twelve hour shifts. Never turning off the bright phosphorescent lights, Chun Tae Il recalled seeing a girl stop working, stare at her hands and begin sobbing. She’d gone temporarily blind.

Chun Tae-Il himself, after struggling to create a labor union for the garment workers, set himself on fire in protest. He died from his injuries.

I use his tragic story as an example of the utter exploitation these people went through under the dictatorships. The sole purpose of their existence was labor, to produce value for the ruling class. The same time period saw the rise of the Chaebols.. The Park dictatorship established the alliance with the national bourgeoisie in the 1960s as part of his ‘economic plan’. The Chaebol originated from the Japanese occupation, and were those who benefitted from it. After the Japanese left, their economic structures were seized by those rich enough to still have power. They in turn got even more wealth, and were the bourgeois elements that the dictator Park Chung Hee came to with his economic plan.

That Chaebols, or families, formed the foundation of Korea’s monopoly capitalism today. The country is ruled by a handful of corporations. These are the fuckers who seized the value from workers like Chun Tae-Il. These are the fuckers who benefited from the “Korean Miracle”, whereby the country changed in the decades after the war. Of course, the transformation was thanks to the blood and sweat and worker-slaves under a military dictatorship.

That environment, of militant Taylorism, under the control of monopoly capitalism, gave rise to the education system I teach in. That competition between workers, who understood failure meant starvation, is the system that now forces children to compete for highschools and universities. It’s the same driving force for the University entrance exam. It’s the explanation for why these kids are expected to sit and listen and take test after test after test.

And it’s the reason why my job is pointless.


(Parents praying for their students to pass the college entrance exam)

I’m the teacher who likes to explain why. I hate yelling and find screaming at children to be sociopathic at best. Of course, in Korea, that’s the normal way of dealing with kids. So if I prefer to tell my students, “if you want to learn, then you should listen to me and participate in class. I’m not going to yell at you until you stop talking,” all they see is weakness. All they see is a teacher who admits they won't yell, and therefore won't scold them.

My primary teaching method is the assumption that the learner takes charge of their own learning. It presupposes independence.

If I give my students, during a language activity, the ability to move around the classroom and roleplay, it quickly goes out of hand. Why? Well, mostly because they're children and that's why children do. But there's more to it.

These kids never get the chance to utilize their independence. They don’t get the opportunity to take charge of their own learning. It’s a completely unfamiliar concept. They choose nothing in life. They might not even understand it as a concept to begin with.

Korea’s education system doesn’t have room for independence. It has no concept of the individual. It only has numbers, from student number to the grade on a university exam.

Korean society considers individuals as strange, weird, outliers, oddities. Standing out from a group means being the nail, the nail that gets hammered down. This is a rule of the entire neo-Confucian society, utilized by the bourgeoisie to maintain a military-work-ethic.

And it’s the reason I don’t try very hard at my job.

There’s a limit to what I can in a classroom. I go as far as that limit allows.

I have such a love-hate relationship with this country. But every day at work, in the classroom bursting with students, all of whom are expected to defeat one another and get that cherished corporate gig, I see the glaring complexities and contradictions of this place in the beaten-down and exhausted kids sitting in their desks.

So when the student falls asleep in class, I don’t wake her up. I let her dream a little.

Image1, Image2

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Yeah, if yah thought it was bad havin’ orientalist (yer “expat”) teachers there, then yah might as well stay there and don’t come back to the USA or never see a good chunk of left Twitter and Leftbook then. Otherwise, some good analysis here for which yah should probably make a “memoirs of an English Teacher” book.

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'expat' = orientalist. colonialist. racist. exclusionary. delusional reactionaries who want to pretend they aren't migrant workers. lots of names to put it. overall its just a reactionary term that harkens back to colonialist ideas.

a good chunk of left Twitter and Leftbook then

care to say more? do you mean uncritical maoists commit orientalism, or what?

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Well the majority of these suspects that’re orientalists are actually white, usually male, anarchists in the lot of cases I’ve seen over the years. Barely any ML, Maoist and MLM I’ve seem while roaming the digital realm had really committed to this idiocy. For because their bs is called out most of the time, by these Marxists, and they get blocked out of existence. But I like to posit they still very much exist, even outside the internet; and are usually the redliberals that pretend to be ML/Maoist and, surprise surprise, white chauvinists that are orientalist and might as well be brocialists as well for good mix.
This is what happens when yah predicate yer leftyness on leftist memes, and never reading theory and committing to praxis. But that’s my aggregate experience so far.

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Anyways, idk if yah saw me question under my response to yah on whether we should preserve the hammer and sickle. So here it is again: “have yah seen my other videos (in relation to the theory channel that I post every Sunday and Wednesday)?”

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ive watched a few

BIG mistake. Kid's are not small adults, they are kids. They don't have logic, they don't understand this world, they do waht they feel good to do. Yelling is good way to make them stop talking, but better would be exclude those students from group(it's hard to do, and it takes huge work).

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Children are not just like adults, its adults who are just like children.

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Children are not just
Like adults, its adults who
Are just like children.

                 - anarchyhasnogods


I'm a bot. I detect haiku.

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I think the person is referring specifically to handling 'problem' behavior by separating a student from a friend, like switching seats, or 'time out' in the hallway or whatever.

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oh lol i hated those, they locked me alone in a room a few times

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Oh lol i hated
Those, they locked me alone in
A room a few times

                 - anarchyhasnogods


I'm a bot. I detect haiku.

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stop making haikus out of your trauma, then

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stop making haikus out of your trauma, then

best comeback ever lol

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oh lol i hated those, they locked me alone in a room a few times

wtf.

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great story behind that actually. I wasn't the first, but I made sure I was the last. I stacked a bunch of stuff in front of the door and got in the way of it opening, they couldn't tell what was going on so they didn't try to force it open. Eventually I fell asleep, and they kept waking me up and bringing new people to try to talk me into coming out. I didn't come out until school was over for the day, I didn't want to go to gym or whatever class it was lmao. Last I remember the teacher that locked me in there got fired. After that they would just do stuff like suspend me for anything any everything

Not even the worst part of my elementary school. At least I won lol

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Not even dignified enough to throw yah into detention, but willing to give the same punishment.

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they didnt even have detention at that point, it was elementary school

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It might as well be called that, literally shaming kids instead of giving them the agency they deserve to know why its wrong.

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They don't have logic

yes they do. its just not well developed.

they don't understand this world

they certainly understand their world

they do waht they feel good to do.

and sometimes this means doing the opposite of feeling good.

ive raised my voice plenty of times. i hate doing this. Korean students are conditioned to respond to yelling as its the primary stimuli used by teachers to enforce their authority over the class. I hate this and, frankly, for a teacher to rely on that tactic speaks volumes about their capacity to 'lead' the class.

Separating students is another method.

But the best discipline measure of all is engaging the students in the learning process. Even better is motivating them to take charge of their own learning. In my post, I tried to explain the structural and political barriers in place that prevent students from doing that.

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I went to a highschool that was based on having you take control of your own learning. It doesn't always work out in isolation though. Too many people (teachers, corporations, etc) actively acting against it

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whats your conclusion on your schools efficacy? what worked for you?

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well there were a lot of problems. Some students couldn't work well in other schools, but nobody could find a way to motivate them to learn. ("Regular" school ruined learning for them, in their mind there was no way it could be fun.) After some changes to the structure, the teachers were giving up on some (or even all) of the students. Part of the problem was that the tools we were using were absolute trash. (the free tools they could have used were better, but if the school isnt paying tons of money for it, its not learning. Everyone got an ipad that they almost never used lmao)

I just ignored the teachers and learned completely on my own the majority of the time. I couldnt ask for help for anything but writing, because I was already more advanced than most of them smh. It went far better than traditional school. I had a few classes in traditional school for high school. The main difference is that the traditional school doesn't care whether or not you understand what you are doing, and mine was based on understanding it. So I now actually have what I would consider the basis of an education, while most other people just had their time wasted

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i wrote that while playing csgo so idk if it makes sense lmao

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i got u

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Korea’s education system doesn’t have room for independence. It has no concept of the individual. It only has numbers, from student number to the grade on a university exam.

I will be sincere, it's so hard for me to read such passages of this article without giving them a negative connotation. But since you're part of that education system, Dirge, can't you try to implement - I don't mean a Montessori - but at least certain values, like the importance of critical-independent thinking? Maybe this is not worth it from their cultural perspective. But then I think, is everything justifiable with the "cultural" argument? What is culture, an immutable simulacrum? Even my wife tells me that, when she was a child in Africa, she used to be beaten by the parents because that's the culture over there. This argument always leaves me perplexed. When I read your article all I think is alienation and a hive mentality.. probably I'm just an ignorant who's not capable of abstracting from his social system of values.

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I do what I can but at the end of the day, I teach English to middle school students. I'm not fluent in Korean, nor is it truly my place to make change in their system. I hope I didn't come across as justifiying the system as "culture". It's not, and culture is no excuse. In Korea's case, the basis for the system is the military-enforced capitalism by decades of dictatorships. And there's lots of people who hate this and want to change it but the structure is quite entrenched.

As for parents beating their children, that's quite common here as well. Hell, teachers still smack kids with sticks.

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How fucked up this world is.. what else can I say? It's sad to see kids trained to not use their brain from their early childhood. Brains filled and emptied and filled again with notions like vases in a race.. for what? To become more efficient slaves? Wherever
you turn your head in this world, you find abominable control and exploitation social orders. Thanks for this article, I'll print it and make it read to my wife, who's a primary teacher, specialised in inclusion. By the way, if you want to give an eye to the contest, Calluna wrote a very particular first part of the story.

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read to my wife, who's a primary teacher, specialised in inclusion.

She's probably far more trained than I am and would be far more capable of challenging things than I am.

Calluna wrote a very particular first part of the story.

On it