how can you not have a pen?


I can’t count the number of times I’ve asked students to write something down, and a small chaos breaks out as people search for some writing implement and there are one or two who just fail at procuring one.   Um, and I’ve no idea if the six sleeping had pens or not…

At which point, incredulous, I ask the title of this post.

Even at the grim and studious Baekyoung, this would happen.  When the English Zone was built and I finally had my own classroom, I asked for a hundred pencils and a pencil sharpener and at first was denied because of the expense!  But I persisted, and somehow I got pencils, and it was wonderful – no more lame excuses from the students!

Here in Cheongpyeong’s English Lab/Zone there are the iconic dual-ended black and red combination test form markers.  Which I keep seeing my students pilfer…but which I don’t do anything about because, just like if I called 911 (119 here) I wouldn’t be able to do more than dial, I similarly know if I cause a commotion, nobody will feel any grief or anxiety but me.  But then I was really dismayed last month when, at the close of an evening conversation class, one of my favorite students lifted a marker and then tried to present a decoy by reminding me to not forget to lock the door…”Why,”  I thought, “so students like you don’t steal all the markers?” The pens are too fat for most work, so I think they just want them to mark on themselves, each other, the desks, etc.

Today my co-teacher and I walked to Alpha office supply to purchase some materials for the open class I should be working on right now.  Atypically, I included one competitive portion to the lesson plan and a prize was required.  I asked what would be an appropriate prize and expected stupid candy as the answer.  “Chocolate?” she said.  Of course.  Let’s make them do tricks for treats like dogs.  So much candy given out.  And these kids actually sometimes will only perform for candy, and then they’ll line up to collect.  So sad.  Not in my class, damn it.  So I belabored the topic again how we don’t really give prizes for just participating in what should just be part of being a student’s studies.  “How about pens?” I suggest.  (if I absolutely must give a prize, let it at least be something with more value than a five minute sugar high)  The co-teacher’s eyes get big.  She thinks it’s a good idea.  She explains how many kids don’t have pens.  “Really?  Are they that poor?” I ask.  She says no.  They don’t like to study.  They think if they don’t bring a pen, then they can’t study.

Six hours later, and I still can’t wrap my head around that.

Yes, Korea’s pressure cooker produces students outperforming the world on tests which Ivy league schools rely on.  But this is what is happening on the other end of that glory.  Unprecedented apathy, and an aversion to the joys of learning.

I ask her, aghast, “but aren’t the kids concerned at all about their futures?  What are they going to do for a living if they can’t even bring a writing implement to school?”

“Oh”  she said, “They have no idea and don’t think about that.”

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3 thoughts on “how can you not have a pen?

  1. I’ve always found the idea of being good at taking a test rather perplexing. That sort of education was not what led me to do what I do. Or any of the things I am good at.

    Have you ever read any of Sir Ken Robinson’s stuff? I like his ideas.

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