Tuesday, October 26, 2021

spinning my wheels

At work, I've been tasked with coming up with a curriculum for a new English grammar book that is to be part of a series of books for fourth- and fifth-graders. I'm the grammar guy in our office, so I get all the grammar-related assignments. "Don't worry too much about it, though," said the boss. "They're going to rearrange everything, anyway." ("They" = the Korean staffers who will review what we make.) This is consistent with how things normally operate in my company: make something real pretty, turn it over to lesser minds, let them fuck it up, then make whatever it is they want, even if it makes little sense.

One of the most toxic aspects of working in a hagweon context is that everyone is a slave to the parents, who are paying for their kids' education, and who therefore view themselves as customers deserving of the royal treatment. Something like this dynamic obtained back when I was in my twenties and teaching at a private Catholic high school in Arlington, VA. There, too, the parents thought they had the final say regarding their kids' education, and our principal's office kissed ass constantly to keep the parents happy.

The issue has come up in American discourse, recently, about whether parents have a right to say how their kids should be educated. In the current context, you have parents who are alarmed by the "woke" stress on transgender issues* and Critical Race Theory. These parents complain to their local school boards, and for their trouble, some are being branded as "domestic terrorists" for being concerned about current trends. Should these parents have a say in their kids' education? I think that, if a parent is concerned that the public-school system sucks, then s/he should take his/her kid out of the system and starting homeschooling. Why stick with a system that's irrevocably broken? If I had kids and lived in the States, I'd be homeschooling and motivating my kids to attend a trade school so they could be equipped to earn some real money, acquire some real skills, and enjoy a measure of fulfillment that way. American education has really gone leprous over the past couple decades, taken over by postmodernists and leftists and others who want kids to learn that black is white and up is down. Opt for homeschool, I say. Before it's too late.

In the English-teaching world of South Korea, we have our own parent-related problems. For the most part, the "woke" nonsense found in the States hasn't hit Korean shores yet, but parents have certain traditional expectations for their kids, and they want the teachers and textbook-makers to follow the grain of those expectations. Do these parents have a right to make demands? It's a complicated question, mainly because most of these parents have no idea what it really takes to teach a foreign language, and yet they think they can dictate key elements of a curriculum, such as how much homework the kids should have every night (Korean thinking: if my kid's not snowed under, it's not enough homework). I sympathize with the idea that parents ought to have some voice in their kids' future, but I don't like the idea that people who know jack shit about what I do for a living are telling me how to do my job. When are we permitted to say to the parents, "Leave this to the experts"?

So let's say that I create a grammar curriculum, in calendar form, that leads the students from simple elements to more complex ones, generally following the order for how such things might be taught in the States (assuming anyone still teaches anything about grammar). What happens next is that my boss will review my grammar calendar, make a tweak or two, and pass it along to a set of Korean teacher/reviewers who will "suggest" changes, most of which will generally make no pedagogical sense. 

Part of the reason for that is that English grammar is taught rather illogically in Korean schools, and the kids come out of the educational system having learned no conversational English, and having no practical writing skills, despite the insane emphasis, from a very young age, on essay-writing. In my experience, 95% of student errors are grammatical in nature. Whatever "grammar" the kids are learning isn't grammar at all. And it doesn't help that, in the typical English class run by a Korean teacher, over 90% of the teacher's discourse is in Korean, not in English—probably because these teachers can't actually speak English themselves. The whole thing is a rotten scam, and my idealism was crushed long ago. Nothing will change until Koreans themselves realize there's a need for change. But these parents grew up learning English in this shitty, inefficient way, and it's what they expect their children to go through, too. That's the pressure we in the business are up against.

So I might make the world's best grammar curriculum, but it's going to get shat upon by English-incompetent teachers (and staff) who fear doing anything to cross the parents. My attitude, these days, is not to take ownership of anything I do for the company. I invest no ego in what I do; I try to remain as detached as possible (I don't always succeed), and what will be will be. And there's always the chance that our flighty Korean bosses will decide to chuck whatever program my R&D team comes up with in favor of something that sounds nifty, but which they don't understand fully. That sort of thing has happened often in the past, usually at the last minute, and usually after a lot of time and effort has been spent working on a program. In our office, we have megabytes' worth of tossed-off files, books that were started and then abandoned. We keep such material because we might be able to recycle it later, but there's no guarantee that later efforts will be any more successful than previous ones.

Thus do I spend my days, spinning my wheels in the mud. When some American starts singing the praises of Asian-style education, just ignore him because it's largely bullshit. Education in Korea (and probably in China and Japan) is more about ending up with a piece of paper that allows you to ratchet forward in life. It's not about actual knowledge or enrichment or real learning. It's about passing tests and getting a diploma. And if your response is that America really isn't all that different, well, you may be right, but that's my point: the Asian way really is no better than the American way.

Homeschool your kids. Trust me on this.


*I've offered my thoughts on transgender issues. Click here to refresh your memory.


John Mac said...

Interesting perspectives on the issues surrounding parental control/influence on the curriculum taught in public schools. I'm an old-school "2+2=4" and "judging an entire group of people by the color of their skin is racist" kind of guy. I guess in today's world those beliefs are examples of me exercising my white privilege. If I had school-age kids back in the states there is no doubt I'd be one of those "domestic terrorists" I've been hearing about.

That said, I understand your points about teaching methods and the design of educational materials best being left to the experts. I'm sure there is a middle ground there somewhere, but in today's muddled and disjointed world, no one seems to be looking for it.

I'm reminded that way back in 1978 one of my motivations for leaving my birth state of California was a plan to bus my kids an hour away from the neighborhood school to achieve racial diversity. I didn't mind them attending class with people of color mind you, I was just a firm believer in keeping my kids in the same town where I lived. Of course, nowadays exposing folks of color to evil whites is something to be avoided. What a world!

Kevin Kim said...

Of course, according to current leftist thinking, you don't even have to be white to enjoy white privilege or be a white supremacist.

John Mac said...

Thought of your post here when I read this on Althouse this morning:


(sorry, I'm not sure how to make this a link)

Kevin Kim said...


To make a link, you have to create an HTML command using angled brackets (which look like "<" and ">"). Pretend I'm using angled brackets for the following:

[a href=""]text to be linked[/a]

Insert the URL between the quotation marks, et voilà.

Kevin Kim said...

Yeah, if a parent would rather fake death than teach his own kids, then he shouldn't consider homeschooling.