Selling Education


Last night I had to go register for the  Korean class, only it’s already full.  They’re going to ask the instructor for an overload, so I’ll hear back within a week.

I wanted to find a book to read as dictation to my best students, because the dictation exercises given by the Korean National Curriculum ask the kids to focus on stupid words.  Basically, it will print out a passage, eliminating some words (depending on their level), which the students must fill in upon hearing.  But I totally disagree with the words they chose, as articles and prepositions, etc. are not stressed words and we’re supposed to be increasing their listening comprehension skills…so yeah, umm, let’s all listen for a, an, the, for, nor, from, at, etc….grr…And then I was reading too fast, so I encouraged asking me to please repeat.  The co-teacher took me aside and said – it’s not that – it’s that they don’t have enough time to even write it that fast!  I think she was shocked when I shook my head and said, “too bad.  They need to learn.”  So I showed them how to write the beginning of the words they hear, enough to recognize, and to go back and fill them in later.

Better than that, I think that having them learn to take notes – of the most important words they hear – true dictation – and fill in those incidental words later (or not), is a much more valuable skill.  So I want to read them passages from stories.  They could be engaging stories.  Plus I could flesh it out with explanations of difficult words, new words, and culture points.  Anyway, so I stopped at the closest mega bookstore, YoungPoon, to search for something.

I just want to say what a dearth of material there is for ESL students who are teenagers…All the stories at their level are written for early elementary school.  And all the books written for young adults are just impossibly challenging for my students, who are not much above the picture-book level.

Click on the photo to link to a book review

And then I found a book called A Step from Heaven by An Na.  It’s a beautiful book from the perspective of a young Korean girl who has to emigrate to America at age four – old enough to understand loss and have to do some difficult adjusting to a new culture – up through adolescence.  It’s prose is sparse and it has the added benefit of being peppered with some Korean words and Korean culture.  However, there’s also a lot of American culture I’d have to explain, and her child-like associations/discoveries/explanations of American culture are difficult for me to explain as well.  I’m still debating whether to attempt it or not, because it would require so much focus from the students and they would need to not get impatient during the first few chapters where she is very young.  But I think it would be a wonderful and very real way to introduce what it is to be a gyopo Korean in America, and how we lose some things but also gain some things in Migook land.

Unfortunately, I closed the store and there was no way I could make the last train to Cheongpyeong.  So I decided to do the all-nighter at Dongdaemmun again.  Big mistake, as I was totally exhausted this time.

I began this nights’ never-ending shopping by grabbing some dinner.  Just chose one of the many Korean restaurants the block behind the huge high-rise fashion markets to eat a late dinner.  I asked for sam bap shik sa, [steamed pork and lettuce wraps w/ many banchans (side dishes)] which is what I order from the restaurant I like so much in my town, but she refused because there was just me.  So then I ordered the fish dish (didn’t write it down) I also like, the one boiled with radish and kimchi.  While there we all watched a t.v. program about the education of American presidents.  It was really weird for me, as an American, to watch them go visit the presidential museums & libraries to talk w/ presidential followers and then to see them follow up with interviews at the universities they attended.  And the whole message of these interviews was that American education is the best because it fosters the freedom to challenge the status quo and provides opportunity for true creativity while enjoying an international, multi-cultural experience.  Which really started to irritate me…

Why?  Because all of these people were basically P.R. people heading the universitys’ international programming.  It was like a huge commercial for American universities.  And I even wondered, with all the programs they create, if the students who enroll even get an authentic exposure to what being an American is all about.  We aren’t all Ban Ki Moon, right?  We aren’t all Obama or the other former American Presidents, right?  Or even Bill Gates…

And personally it pissed me off as an American, because I got accepted to Yale (which my parents torpedoed by refusing to fill out their required paperwork) and when I had to go to plan B, (a woman on welfare with two kids either has to apply to the most endowed schools or the cheapest local public schools she can) but refused twice by my own local school.  Why would a Yale-worthy student be rejected by her own local school?  The answer?  International student quotas must be filled first.  Why?  Because they pay the big bucks.

I remember a few months ago too, I was flipping through the channels and came upon a documentary about alternative education in America, and an exploration of Waldorf schools and Gardner’s multiple intelligences.  At least that’s a step in the right direction.  Bring educational theories and practices to Korea – don’t sell your house or don’t separate your entire family so your kids can pronounce English, for God’s sakes.  And while you’re at it, improve the universities and tighten accreditation so the entire country is not trying to get into only three worth their tuition.

And sheesh, maybe some Americans would like to go to school at their local public institutions as well.  Grrr…OK.  This is the only thing I am really, truly bitter about.  I mean, many adoptees are angry, people think my story is sad, yadda yadda yadda.  The only thing that really truly makes me see red is having worked my ass off – as much or more than any Korean anywhere – and to have the door slammed in my face – by my parents, and by my state, and all ironically because people from countries like the one that threw me away now have more money than I do.  And I wonder how THAT happened, hmm???

Oh!  right!  They didn’t have to spend money on social services and could instead work on their economic miracle!  How easily we all forget that.

A lot of us adoptee activists here in Korea come from similar working class American backgrounds and we had to struggle and work hard FOR OURSELVES.  We didn’t have silver spoons in our mouths and we didn’t get to go to Harvard or Princeton or…but many many Koreans can…

You’re welcome, Korea.

Now gimmie some cake…

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One thought on “Selling Education

  1. I work with a lot of people that came up on the silver spoon one way or another, and I find that they tend to do what they are able because they think they can.

    But I am more impressed with those that do what they must because of their own will. I also think they tend to be lifelong learners and achievers. Always looking for something new to strive for. And much more interesting personalities.

    They also make great writers.

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