Some manage to survive in this world [Korean schooling] and get into their dream college, but others end up in a coffin or as ashes flowing on the Han River.Ouch. Really, ouch. But this point (although delivered a bit melodramatically) has some basis in fact: there are high teen suicide rates in Korea. Han later argues that they have "the highest rate of suicide at college and universities," but I don't have a citation to back that up. I wrote about teen suicide before here.
Since the day they enter primary school, Korean students are manipulated and brainwashed into going to institutes, where they learn matematics, science, social studies, and even how to take stantadized tests. At dawn, on the streets of Korea are twelve- and thirteen-year-olds, carrying stuffed backpacks as they travel back and forth from home to these institutes [aka hagwons]Personally, I'm a big opponent of the hagwon system (more comments at the link above). If your school doesn't offer clarinet, okay, go to a clarinet hagwon, but you don't ALSO need a literature hagwon, a math hagwon, and a science hagwon, for one hour each, all on the same night. I know elementary students who don't get home until midnight. And hagwons are often completley ineffective. Since grades there don't count, hagwon teachers tell me they have no way to create a learning environment. Many kids in my building are hagwon English students who can't say anything besides the obligatory "Hello! Nice to meet you!" hollered across the playground.
There's pressure on parents to send their kids. Sometimes it's as a rival form of conspicuous consumption ("My child goes to FOUR hagwons" can be the Korean equivalent of "Check out my new Lexus!", and sometimes costs as much). More often, I think, it's well-intentioned fear of not doing right by their child, of failing as a parent by letting their child fall behind. These parents respond well to our explanation that being too busy is actually a disservice to the child's education and health. So I agree with Han that hagwon pressure exists and can be really crushing for the student and the parents, emotionally and financially, but I've seen willingness by parents to reduce the load. Fewer hagwons but more learning at each.
For a Korean student, a 90 percent on a test should be hidden, crunched up insaide [sic] their backpack. Because perfection is the expectation of a typical Korean parent.Obviously, I can't give examples and violate student confidentiality, but this was one stereotype that did not come true for Justin and me. I've had students and parents who freaked out at perfectly reasonable grades, but I've also had students and parents who accepted low marks, both for students doing their best and for students who were underachieving. If I were Jamie and Adam, I would proclaim this myth BUSTED.
Some school counselors say that high SAT scores are merely something for parents to brag about to other parents.... Moreover, parents seem to know more than their children do about their schoolmates, what their SAT's [sic] are, the kinds of grades they get, and the colleges they are applying to, etc. Nothing hurts us more than those kinds of comparisons.Qualified agreement. There is pressure on parents to have successful children. The Korean language, for instance, has many, many verb conjugations used to indicate your level of respect for the person you're speaking with: not just the "formal" and "informal" of Spanish or German, but a whole gamut of conjugations. Usually these are dependent on age, but I've been told that parents of students may use their child's class rank to determine which parent "ranks" the others and thereby earns a more respectful conjugation. My Korean remains less than basic, so I can't confirm this personally.
I've had many parents ask me for their student's class rank at conferences (my general answer: "There are some higher and some lower," and just hope those two end parents don't ask!) But I've also had parents respond very positively to a nudge to think only in terms of their student's progress against him or herself, to look at grade change over time or skills improvement in writing and such. I wonder sometimes if they might be secretly relieved not to have that information.
It's ironic that parents educate their sons and daughters to be successful but they don't educate them to be satisfied with what they have. Is it possible to be successful without satisfaction?I love this quote because it goes massively beyond Korean education, Korean parenting, or even Korea. Every parent and every teacher - and every person - in the whole world could stand to take a step back and ask, "I'm trying to get ahead? Ahead to where? Can I just get there and stop?" I'm not implying it's a modern problem - heck, Buddha made "giving up wants" one of his Four Noble Truths. We could probably all use a refresher on that. I know Justin and I have been pondering it as we decide whether or not to pursue PhDs - would we be doing it for us, or to compete with other people?
Han is correct, though, that there is an extra cultural burden on Koreans to keep pushing ahead. I recommend the excellent cultural/historical comic book Korea Unmasked (if you can find it!) for that author's perspective on the Korean affinity for taking things to extremes.