Friday, July 30, 2010

Nicholas Myra, DDS

I was wandering around in Mok-dong earlier today, for reasons totally unconnected to this post, when I saw the signage on the building above. In and of itself, of course, this building is far from unusual--in fact it is typical. Except ...

... notice the business name in red with the snowflake as a sort of asterisk? It says 산타클로스 치과, which means "Santa Claus, Dentist". Huh?

I know you could argue that such a dentist's office--and let's assume it has perpetual Xmas decorations, the dental assistants dress as elves, the drill done up as a sugar cane, etc--may perhaps make some children feel less afraid of the whole dentist-going experience; however, I think it's likely that it will instill in many more children an irrational fear of things associated with December 25th.

There is already some linkage between the holiday and dentists, or at least cavities, as elaborate and very rich cakes are a Christmas tradition in Korea (you can see my Christmas cakes here: 2008, 2009).

Next up: Easter Bunny, Proctologist

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Summer Camp

One week of summer camp remaining, and we are two-thirds of the way through Beastly by Alex Flinn. The students are really enjoying the book, except for the three who really don't have the command of English needed to sit and read twenty pages, or around 4000 words, per night.

Each day, I review what happened in last night's reading, mostly by making the students answer questions, occasionally reading a couple of key paragraphs, etc. Then I go over the vocabulary words for each night's reading; I don't know what they do and don't know, so I try to get them to add to the list the next day.

We then typically watch a video clip or two from one of the film versions that roughly approximates the same point in the story (it is based on the Beauty and the Beast legend). A few times, we've watched a clip from some other movie or story that is referenced within the book--Kyle reads Hunchback of Notre Dame and Phantom of the Opera, for instance. Tomorrow, we are going to watch some clips from The Princess Bride.

And we also do some kind of speaking/conversation game or activity--ideally one that ties in somehow. Today, we told jokes. I start with a bunch of riddles and their answers in a table in MS Word. I print these out and cut them into strips, then I cut the answer away from the riddle. These I hand out randomly. A student reads out his riddle. The person who has the answer slip has to read it out. Then, everyone laughs.

Next, I give them a few minutes to think of a joke to tell us, and we go round again. From sixteen students, I got two that I thought were pretty good:
1) Q: Where does a mouse go when it loses its tail? A: A re-tail store.
2) Q: Some muffins are baking in an oven. A muffin turns to the one next to it and says, "Boy, it sure is hot in here!" What does the second muffin say? A: "Oh my God, a talking muffin!"

Monday, July 26, 2010

Street Scenes IX: Signs & Symbols Quiz

My blogger friend Jo-Anna put up a terrific post a few days ago: Korean Signs You Should Recognize: Quiz! She took pictures of business signs you will commonly see in Korea, written in hangeul, and posted them as a quiz. Go take her quiz now, then come back here.

This is such a cool idea, I couldn't help stealing it from her! But with a little twist--my signs are all symbols, not usually words, that you will see in Seoul or Korea--but not elsewhere. The toilet symbol, the Metro symbol--things like that are pretty universal, the ones below are largely unique to Korea.













While you ruminate, listen to a little appropriate music, from the Five Man Electric Band:

Answers are on the comments page.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Education News Roundup

On Friday, I had a Q&A session with a group of two dozen visitng educators from Australia and New Zealand; I had a half-dozen of my summer camp students (among the best English speakers in the school) along to help out. I described my classes and the limited conversation practice time students get with me (after all, I see them once a week--if that--for fifty minutes). One of the guests asked what other ways students have for learning conversational English.

I pointed out the system of hagwons or academies for after school study which virtually all Korean students attend, mainly in English and math. Plus, many Koreans spend time living overseas for the immersion experience, if their families have the resources.

That teacher turned to the row of boys, quietly standing in the back and hoping they wouldn't have to say anything, and asked them who had spent time overseas, and for how long. Five of the six raised their hands. All of the five had spent at least one year, and one had been in New York, Virginia and Toronto for almost three years!

1) Today's KT has some statistics on Korean students in the US, in a story headlined Koreans 14% of foreign students in US. The nut:
According to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a total of 101,428 Koreans were staying in America on a student visa as of July 1, forming 13.8 percent of the 733,430 non-U.S. students in the country. [...] 69 percent of the foreign students are studying for university degrees and the rest are taking language courses, attending vocational colleges and elementary and secondary schools.

2) Today's Korea Herald has the reverse story, about US students who are visiting Korea to learn the Korean language. Sponsored by the US State Department and called National Security Language Initiative for Youth, the program is run through Sogang University (Daeheung, Line 6). The program is for 15-18 year olds, who stay with volunteer host families and spend four hours per day in Korean language class every day.

3) In response to "an increasing number of brutal crimes against children", the Korean government is designating all junior schools and their surrounding perimeters as "special child safety zones". What that means is explained at the bottom of the Korea Herald article:
The special school zone system involves a security watch over children in order to prevent kidnapping, sex crimes and other violence in school areas.
Last month, a previously convicted sex convict named Kim Soo-cheol kidnapped an 8-year-old girl from the school playground and raped her, raising alarm about loose security in school areas.
The zone system also includes measures to keep children safe from traffic accidents. Offenders are to be imposed with heavier punishment, should they harm a child within the zone.
The ministry will also put in place additional speed warnings, speed bumps and traffic CCTVs, said officials.

4) Left-Leaning Figures Named to Seoul Education Committee, blares the Dong-A Ilbo headline announcing new SMOE superintendent Gwak Noh-hyun's latest personnel moves. (Full disclosure: Gwak is my boss, as I am employed by SMOE.) His office oversees over 55,000 teachers and school employees in Seoul and in other district offices. Not surprisingly, the conservative KFTA (Korea Federation of Teacher's Associations), on the outs for the first time in its history, expressed disappointment in the new progressive majorities:
Superintendent Kwak broke his promise to be a superintendent for all. [...] This will lead to the perception that political inclination takes precedence over fairness in personnel management.

Note to Korean educational community: if you don't like politics in your educational policy, don't make the educational leadership an elected position. Just saying. The paper ends its coverage of the story with an admirable, rare and rather weak attempt at evenhandedness:
Critics say this is part of Kwak’s plan to have his own way in the upcoming large-scale personnel shake-up, adding no discord will arise if personnel committee members are on his side.
Another official said, “Personnel management will inevitably be controlled by the superintendent and the personnel committee is a body needed for procedures,” adding, “This is a repeat of the practice of the personnel committee acting as a rubber stamp.”

5) 28 of the 30 teachers in an elementary school in Uijeongbu have filed a petition against their principal with the Human Rights Commission, claiming he habitually insulted and harrassed them.
According to the teachers, the headmaster who was appointed at the school in March used to make “unacceptable” remarks to female teachers such as “Are you a virgin?” “Are you pregnant?” and “I heard you can look prettier if you lose your virginity.”
He also asked a female teacher whose wisdom teeth (love teeth in Korean) needed treatment, “Do your teeth hurt because your lover sucks your (teeth) too much?” and “You are in trouble because you are not married (even though you are old enough).”
What an ass!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Books for July

  • Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman - This book is difficult to describe without resorting to spoilers early on. It tells the story of the West African trickster god Anansi and his offspring living in the modern world; Charles "Fat Charlie" Nancy, Anansi's son, heretofore a nondescript accountant placidly betrothed to a nice girl named Rosie, suddenly finds himself saddled with an annoying twin brother, mixed up with an embezzling scheme and traveling to the Dreamworld, after his father dies.

  • Genghis: Bones of the Hills by Conn Iggulden - Third of the series about the founder of the Mongol empire, as he expands the empire westward into the Arab lands of Shah Ala ad-Din Muhammad. After the Shah's death, his son Jalal Al-Din escapes only to resurface and show Genghis' Mongol warriors their first defeat in battle. In revenge, Genghis demonstrates new levels of depravity as he decimates the Kwarezmian empire before heading back East to quell signs of rebellion among the Xi Xia. The only bad thing about this book was coming to the end, knowing there were no more enemies to face, and no more lands to conquer.

  • How to Steal a Dog by Barbara O'Connor - Georgina Hayes has been living in the car with her Mama and little brother Toby ever since her Daddy ran off and the landlord kicked them out.Then one day, she she sees a poster with $500 reward for a missing dog, and gets an idea: she'll steal a dog and then use the reward money to get them back into a real place to live. Georgina's voice is real, and her story makes you ache for those stuck in a situation like hers. It's a fast read, with plenty of unexpected turns as Georgina's simple plot gets more and more complicated. "Sometimes, the more you stir it, the worse it stinks."

  • Armegeddon in Retrospect by Kurt Vonnegut - A posthumous collection catalogued as "literary essays" but it mainly consists of short fiction, and is mainly about war. The best stories include "Guns Before Butter", about a punishment detail of US POWs in Dresden, who spend all their time writing out recipes for the first meal they will have when they get home, "The Commandant's Desk", about life in occupied Czechoslovakia, and "The Unicorn Trap" which has one of the best openings I've read in quite a while:
    In the year 1067, anno Domini, in the village of Stow-on-the-Wold, England, eighteen dead men turned this way and that in the eighteen arches of the village gibbet. Hanged by Robert the Horrible, a friend of William the Conqueror, they boxed the compass with fishy eyes. North, east, south, west, and north again, there was no hope for the kind, the poor, and the thoughtful.

  • The Interpreter by Suki Kim - Debut novel by a Korean-American set in New York City. Suzy Park's parents were shot at point-blank range five years ago in their fruit-and-vegetable store, apparently a random robbery, leaving her and her older sister Grace alone and estranged. Suzy is a courtroom interpreter who stumbles across some unpleasant information about her parents while working an unrelated deposition. This leads her into the Korean underworld to uncover the truth about her past. The characters are full and complex, Suzy's depression painted in fine srokes, the author's eye for telling detail unerring.

Friday, July 23, 2010

It's (Not) So Funny

"It's So Funny" apparently isn't. It is, however, one of the longest-running TV comedy shows in the world. And it comes from North Korea, one of the grimmest, unfunniest places on the planet.

But what the show lacks in humor, it makes up for in propaganda. Most episodes consist of a man and woman, each dressed in military uniform, conversing with each other--or more precisely, praising the policies of Dear Leader--with frequent bursts of dubious laughter. Back in April, Reuters ran a story about the show, including an interview with NK defector-turned-TV-presenter Kim Yong. They showed him a recent episode that the article described this way:
There was one long send-up that did gather a few chuckles. The two talk about how bean-fed North Korean soldiers were able to fight off U.S. imperialist troops during the Korean War.
The women soldier, playing the part of an old woman, said bean-fed troops including her husband had amazing strength on the battle field. "But he died," she said.
The show concludes with the two delivering homilies on Kim Jong-il's military rule.
"He had tried so hard to fill the people's tables," they say in tearful voices.

"The show is delivering the same material over and over again," Kim said, after viewing it. "They are still talking about beans. The country hasn't changed at all since I defected about 20 years ago."

Of course, North Koreans still have a sense of humor, even if there is little to laugh about, as per the Irish proverb: "Laughter is brightest in the place where the food is."

Here is a collection of recent jokes from Radio Free Asia: And here is a collection from Ask A Korean:

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Beastly Book Club

Summer Camp started on Tuesday, and will run until Aug. 5. I am teaching only one class, first period, which runs from 8:00 AM to 9:00. Which means I am finished with my work day and headed home before most shops along my route have even opened for business.

I don't mind, because the class I'm teaching is "Book Club" using the book Beastly by Alex Flinn. I've long wanted to do a book club type thing, so here it is. And these are good students, sixteen of them, the ones chosen earlier to take the trip to Singapore to visit our sister school there. So these are, at least in theory, some of the best English speakers in the school--at least from the set who are in first and second grade, who want to travel overseas, and whose parents can afford the price tag.

This book is a good one to use for a book club of adolescent boys in Korea: the main character is a high school sophomore boy, it is based on an archetypal story (Beauty and the Beast), it is set in modern day NYC, the word count is a managable 55 000, and the reading level is grade 3.3. And it's about love.

Despite that, it is quite a challenge for many of these boys--they are reading the words and sentences, but not necessarily understanding the paragraphs and chapters. But this is exactly what language acquisition is really about: going from words and sentences to thoughts and ideas.

I thought it was a bold choice of the school to have me do a book club with these boys, who are going to Singapore, rather than have me focus on travel vocabulary--airport and hotel simulations, etc. Still, I wasn't going to argue, since it's what I wanted to do.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Hats Off to E-Mart

Most Koreans don't feel properly dressed unless they're wearing an item of clothing with something vaguely English-like on it. The hat bin at E-Mart is a veritable treasure trove of Konglishy slogans (as I posted once before).

Here is an all-new collection of caps:


Find out Rocker, that says. No, I don't know either.

Two for the directionally-challenged. Like Indonesian Muslims.

The modernlife style--spaces optional.

Monday, July 19, 2010

iPhone Phollies

This video was made by a Best Buy clerk on his own time and doesn't even mention Best Buy, but they still tried to can him for it. They took it back later, but the employee, Brian Maupin, isn't sure he'll return: "I’m not sure if it would be comfortable returning to Best Buy considering the circumstances," he said.

Apparently, the iPhone 4G is the (not necessarily) latest and greatest of the so-called smartphones. My phone--an LG Cyon model LV 3700--seems to be a stupid one even though it remembers all my phone numbers, takes pictures, can give me complete info on the Seoul subway system and even knows Korean as well as English. Also, it doesn't care which hand I hold it with.

That last seems to be a problem with the iPhone 4, so much so that Apple CEO Steve Jobs had to hold a press conference to pretty much deny design problems with the phone, while giving away a $29 case to purchasers to fix the non-existent problem. Even though it's not a problem, all other smartphones have the same problem, he said:
He showed off demonstrations of the BlackBerry Bold, the HTC Droid Eris, and the Samsung Omnia II that exhibited the same problem that's been reported on the iPhone—when you hold them a certain way, their signal bars begin to drop. "Phones aren't perfect," he said, and the problem reported with the iPhone is a "challenge for the entire industry.

Well, Korean electronics giant Samsung and other smartphone makers beg to differ. Their field tests did not find the same kind of problems the iPhone4 has:
“The antenna is located at the bottom of the Omnia 2 phone, while iPhone’s antenna is on the lower left side of the device. Our design keeps the distance between a hand and an antenna,” Shin Young-joon, a Samsung spokesperson, told The Korea Herald. [...]
He also questioned the reliability of the reception test made by Apple, saying its results may differ depending on the circumstance.
Samsung, however, fell short of releasing a statement on Apple’s latest claims unlike Nokia, Research In Motion, and Motorola. This is possibly because Apple is one of the biggest customers for Samsung, the world’s No. 1 memory chip maker. The popular iPhone 4 uses Samsung’s DRAM and NAND flash memory chips, and an application processor manufactured by the Korean chip vendor.

Another Korean company, KT (Korea Telecom), has reason to be miffed at Apple, since Korea was not included in the list of 17 countries to be included in the international rollout of the phone at the end of July. KT is the Apple vendor here. According to JoongAng Daily:
While Jobs told reporters that the reason for the hiccup in Korea was “a delay in receiving government approval,” the Korea Communications Commissions said that KT hasn’t yet filed for a certificate guaranteeing that the device fits domestic technological conditions. Such a certificate is a must for all new communications devices coming to Korea.
“We have completed our internal test on the iPhone 4,” a KT official said, but that Apple wanted more time for the launch.
The delay is apparently good news for Samsung, which last month launched the Galaxy S, its latest Android-based smartphone.
Galaxy S has been selling well: 350,000 units in the three weeks since its release. Apple’s iPhone 3GS sold 800,000 units in about seven months after its release in November.

Back to the iPhone press confererence. Jobs made one of the most bizarre jabs at Korea ever--and I'm surprised this hasn't been picked up here, where people will sometimes take offense at even the most innocuous things:
I guess it’s just human nature, when you see someone get successful you just want to tear it down. I see it happening with Google. Google is a great company. Look at everything they’ve created. Would you prefer we’re Korean companies? Do you not like the fact that we’re an American company leading the world right here?

Yes, Steve, I think that's great. But I'm not sure how that has anything to do with the issue at hand. And considering that this phone gets some of its key components from Korea, I'm even less sure.

Dog Days of Summer

Today begins 복날 bok nal, the dog days of summer, according to the lunar calendar. Traditionally, these are the hottest days of summer, beginnning with 초복 cho bok, today, though it is not terribly hot, at 86 F.

Coming up in about ten days is 중복 jung bok, followed 10 days later by the last of the dog days, 복말 bok mal. These were the three days for eating dog meat, especially in the form of 보신탕 boshintang, dog meat stew. Click here for some pictures of boshintang on Daum (popular Korean search engine). While there are still plenty of boshintang restaurants in Seoul, it is fair to say this dish has lost popularity in recent years.

Many Koreans eat 삼계탕 samgyetang, ginseng chicken stew, during this time. They have large supplies of heat-and-eat or boil-in-bag styles at my local E-Mart:

The key ingredients are:
  • chicken
  • cooked sweet rice
  • ginseng root
  • chestnut
  • Chinese date
  • garlic
  • ginger

So I made some from the more expensive pre-made packet. Frankly, it doesn't look like much, but it is quite tasty:

Koreans like to eat hot (temperature-wise) foods during this hottest part of the year. Why? Well, I found one explanation at Seoul City Blog:
Why do Koreans enjoy ‘Samgyetang,’ a warm dish, especially in the summertime? According to oriental medicine, the external (skin) temperature gets heated and sweats as the temperature goes up, however the internal (organ) gets cold on the contrary. So, if people have only cold food, it can cause an imbalance of the circulation of the body and negatively affect one’s health. Therefore, according to oriental medicine, it is important to make sure your body circulation is balanced and warm through having warm foods, when your external temperature is high. In that sense, chicken and Ginseng are granted to have warm feature and they are relatively cheap to buy and easy to cook, compared with other foods for health. That’s why ‘Samgyetang’ is the most desirable in summer.

You knew it had to be something like that.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Democracy, Young-il Style

Student government elections are to be held tomorrow at my school (the last day of classes), and the students chosen will serve the second semester of this school year and the first semester of the next academic year.

Last year, there were eight candidates for office, this year there are only four. The video clip shows two of the candidates' election committees, or similar, encouraging the sea of students arriving for the school day to vote for their man.

Below are a couple of pictures showing the posters prepared and displayed on this big board outside the entrance to the main building. Their graphic arts skills are quite accomplished, though I have no idea why that one kid has a yoghurt bottle in his mouth. The students I talked to didn't understands it either:

UPDATE (July 15, 2010): Here is a photo of the polling station, in the lobby of the main building, with two voting booths. Fancy!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Tuttle Eats Tacos

... and burritos and similarly Mexican-like foods at the newly-opened Taco Bell in Itaewon.

Despite the cautionary tales of 45 minute lines of people waiting to place their order, I bravely ventured forth with my trusty Yong-in training roomie Max to give Korean fast food Tex-Mex style a whirl.

It was, in a word, Tex-Mex-errific! I know that's not a word, but what I mean is, it was exactly like Taco Bell back home. Which is cheap. And awesome in its own way. The number two combo, consisting of a beef burrito, a beef taco supreme and a drink was 4,500 W. Worth every freaking won, too.

Max got something called a spicy chicken crunchwrap supreme for 3,300 W--he liked it just fine, as you can see:

And I'm pleased to note the horror stories of lines wrapping round the block are no longer true, now that the early-adopters have got their fill. It was packed, for sure, but there were tons of employees working like little Kor-Mex bees to get your order out to you with only a few minutes' wait. Below is a pic of the line outside, as seen from the second floor dining area (there is a third floor as well) at 7:15. Below that is a pic of the second floor dining area, at 7:16:

According to the sign, it'll be open until 11 PM on weekdays, 2 AM on weekends. I'm betting they will lengthen those hours once they realize the expat jones for what they got. Yes, I did get a couple of extra tacos of various kinds, just in case it was really good and we wanted them. It was, and we did.

Those in the know are aware that Taco Bell is one of the YUM brands, the world's largest fast food conglomerate--spun off from Pepsico in the 1990s. KFC is their pioneer brand, in the sense they tread into unknown foreign lands first (well, usually following Pepsi beverage products)--as they did in Korea, setting up shop here in about 1984. Burger King and Pizza Hut followed, with great success, but an earlier attempt to establish Taco Bell failed.

Folks back home may wonder why I'm blathering on about Taco Bell, but I do have an answer: Mexican food is hard to come by here, and after my experience with On the Border, I won't be back there again. I love Korean food, of course, but not for every single meal! Having another favored option is big news in these parts! Rejoice with me, and pass the hot sauce packets. Even if the riddles are in Korean.

UPDATE: Visit the comments for this post to see a nice list of Mexican-style restaurants in Seoul provided by a reader!

Monday, July 12, 2010

World Cup Notes Final

1) The third place game was fun to watch, and even had the outcome I was hoping for (you may remember I decided, for fairly arbitrary reasons, to root against South America), but I still wish Germany had made the Final.

2) On the plus side, this means at least that 2010 will crown a world champion that has never won before.

3) I have read a couple of articles recently suggesting we should root for Spain over the Netherlands. Why? Well, the Korea Times quotes a Korean brokerage house that thinks a Spain victory will boost the global economy more--Spain is the doldrums, while Holland has a healthy economy:
Spain was feared to be a cause of another economic downturn together with other highly indebted neighbors situated in southern Europe such as Portugal, Italy and Greece - called the PIGS countries.
Over the past two decades, World Cup winners have chalked up a substantially better economic growth rate in the year following their success compared to a year before.
For example, Argentina clocked an economic growth of 7.1 percent in 1986 when the Latin American nation won the World Cup in Mexico compared to negative 7 percent a year previously.

Slate is carrying a story titled Orange Devolution bemoaning the Dutch side's retreat from "total football"--a syle of play that emphasized creativity, fluid positioning and Johann Cruyff. And the offside trap, the only part of the system that was adopted by the wider world.


4) I am watching the final live right now, and you have to give the first half to Spain, though it remains scoreless. The Oranje have come out stronger in the second half. Gotta say, though, yellow has been the most impressive color, so far--yellow card, that is.

5) Spain goes up in the 116th minute, so it looks like Netherlands remains the bridesmaid, never the bride. It's only fitting as Spain played the better game. And I can catch a half-hour or so of shut-eye.

Congratulations, Leo Labato Rodriguez, wherever you are!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Academic Inflation

Are Koreans Too Educated? asks the headline in the JoongAng Daily. It reports that 81.9% of last year's high school graduates went on to college. By comparison, the US number was only 70.1% (sez the Bureau of Labor Statistics).

The KEDI (Korean Educational Development Institute) released a survey of 660 "experts"--which turns out to be college students and professors--who are worried that what seems like a positive about Korea is in fact a negative: something called academic inflation. What that is is that an excess of highly-educated individuals end up incompetition with each other, leading to an inflation of minimum job requirements, as positions which do not require degree-level skills are filled with degree-holders.
When asked in which circumstances the country’s academic inflation is most serious, 38.4 percent [of the KEDI survey respondents] answered “when I see many unemployed people who possess a master’s or doctoral degree,” while 29.18 percent said that it is when they see people with academic degrees who apply for jobs that don’t match their educational backgrounds.
A majority of respondents agreed that academic inflation is causing harm to society. The most commonly cited negative social implications caused by academic inflation was wasting money on education, with 48.8 percent of responses, while 22.7 percent answered, “depletion of the labor force due to the prolonged length of time spent before settling on a job.”

But the band marches on. Over at the Korea Times, a counterpoint is provided by a story about Korean students overseas who come home during the summer--to study at hagwons!
These hagwon are cheaper, compared to their U.S. counterpart. For example, Kaplan, a U.S.-based test preparation institution, charges $1,300 for 14 lectures in Los Angeles, while it costs $1,200 for 32 lectures at a hagwon in Seoul, making an economic sense for these students to return to Korea for the summer.

Leaving aside the expense of airfare, the article makes the assumption that 32 lectures in a Korean hagwon is equal to 14 lectures from Kaplan. This is an unsupported assertion, and is questionable at best, since Korea spends far more on test prep than any other country, with worse results.

There are several reasons for this, including historical affinity (the relatedness of the language to English), word order differences, incentive, and the like. But educational quality is certainly right up there. Which, after all, is why I'm here.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Even More Education News

The success of the progressive or liberal faction of the Korean educational establishment in the June elections continues to give the conservative papers here (and that's all of them) fits.

1) The Dong-A daily has a report on the "students' bill of rights" I blogged a few posts down, quoting survey results from the KFTU (the conservative alliance of teachers' unions) illustrating their rank and file disapprove of granting "human rights" to students.

Certainly, this is an area fraught with difficulty in a school culture awash in authoritarianism, but the quotes the paper chooses in order to illustrate what a bad idea students' rights are are asinine at best. For instance:
A high school teacher in Seoul said, “A student says he’s hungry in class and wants to get something to eat. I say that because you’re in class now, go there on a break.”
“Then the student cries violation of his human rights.”
Another high school teacher said, “A student was studying another subject in class. I told him to stop but he didn’t budge and called it a human rights violation."

Surely, all concerned can be led to understand the difference between a student exercising his rights, and a student who is being disruptive in class. I have not seen the document, but I'm pretty sure "Students have the right to leave class whenever they feel a mite peckish" will not be on it.

Still, something along the lines of "Students have the right not be beaten for minor violations of arbitrary rules by capricious teachers" is even harder to argue against. The article gave two grafs of rebuttal to the progressives, one of which was an internet forum posting by a student. It is to laugh.

2) Both the Times and Herald report on the on-going conflict over testing-mania and the newly-elected provincial education chiefs' moves to de-emphasize testing--at least a little bit. The issue is a two-day national standardized test scheduled for next week. Some superintendents want to provide a substitute program for students who plan to boycott the test. While the Times regularly decries the damaging effect of intense competition in the school culture here, the story describes the testing as part of the national goverment's "efforts to bring fresh competition among schools."

The Herald published today an editorial on the episode, stating in part:
The Gangwon and North Jeolla superintendents reportedly instructed primary, middle and high schools in their provinces to develop substitute programs for those students who boycott the tests on five subjects scheduled for next Tuesday and Wednesday. What they are doing is little different from encouraging students to boycott the tests when they are required to make efforts to ensure that no student misses them.

Actually, what they are doing is way different. Ordinarily, I am not in favor of students boycotting school--I'm not even in favor of it here, but I am sympathetic to the impetus. Testing is an essential part of the learning and teaching process. But enough is enough. In high school at least, these kids probably fill in bubble sheets in their sleep, they are tested so much.

At my school, this semester alone, they've eleven days of school-administered exams (mid-terms and finals) plus six days of national tests. With two more to go, apparently. It will be the same next semester. So that's about 17% of their school year. And that's not even talking about the second Thursday in November, when the fate of high school seniors is determined by their score on the Korean SAT.

The editorial concludes with the following unsupported broadside against the progressives:
Another problem with them is their move to boycott the evaluation of schoolteacher performance. But it stands to reason to encourage competition among teachers and reward those who outperform others.

With over twenty years in the classroom, I'm not sure that stands to reason at all. Encouraging cooperation makes far more sense to me.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Progressive Education

1. Teachers each day will fill lamps and clean chimneys.
2. Each teacher will bring a bucket of water and a scuttle of coal for the day’s session.
3. Make your pens carefully you may whittle nibs to the individual taste of the pupils.
4. Men teachers may take one evening each week for courting purposes, or two evenings a week if they go to church regularly
5. After ten hours in school, the teachers may spend the remaining time reading the Bible or other good books.
6 Women teachers who marry or engage in unseemly conduct will be dismissed.
7. Every teacher should lay aside from each pay a goodly sum of his earnings for his benefit during his declining years so that he will not become a burden on society
8. Any teacher who smokes, uses liquor in any form, frequents pool or public halls, or gets shaved in a barbershop will give good reason to suspect his worth, intention, integrity and honesty
9. The teacher who performs his labor faithfully and without fault for five years will be given an increase of twenty-five cents per week in his pay, providing the Board of Education approves.

This set of rules is very similar to--no, it is exactly the same as--one passed to me by a lower school head some years ago. I copied and pasted this version from the Portage County, Wisconsin Historical Society.

Very quaint, yes? It shows us that we teachers have always been put-upon, never really got the pay we deserved. If our administrators ask us to go "above and beyond" it is only because all the teachers before us have done so, without complaint, and with the best interests of their students at heart.

The only problem is, it is a made-up pile of shit. Probably created and circulated by some Board of Education during contract negotiations long after 1872. Why would these rules have a specific date attached anyway? Do we think they changed that much from year to year? Why do they appear in the museums and historical societies of dozens of communities word-for-word, but always as a mimeograph or a re-typed document? Snopes knows.

Certainly, we know that much of US grammar school education until the early part of the twentieth century was situated in one-room schoolhouses (like where my Dad went), involved tedious rote learning and memorization, and finished with barely literate young teenagers who would go to work on the family farm or down at the mill. In 1900, only around 10% of US students earned a high school diploma.

Thanks to Columbia University Teachers' College and John Dewey, educators began to take a scientific approach to understanding how children learn, a process which resulted in the progressive education movement. Rote learning is replaced in this modern, research-based view, by hands-on learning, problem-solving and needs-based learning. Outcomes measured by standardized testing are less valued than those with a real-world, interpersonal or practical connection.

In the progressive view, knowing the "times tables" is well and good, but it's more important to be able to solve a word problem in which multiplication is needed. For, say, students learning English as a second language, developing vocabulary matters mainly to the extent the learner is able to use target language for understanding, communication and self-expression.

I'm not sure what I must have been watching, but somehow this video was just in my "Recommended for You" list on YouTube. Enjoy:

Monday, July 5, 2010

Blog News

This is the 500th post to The Seoul Patch, just about in time to reach my Yanqui friends in celebrating Independence Day.

My first post was June 15, 2008--a little over two years ago. My, how time flies! (Uh, that's an idiom, time doesn't actually have wings...) I had considered, at one point around April or so, trying to time out my posts so that this one would arrive on the second anniversary of that first one. But I realized that would probably involve a little bit of filler, and I know you, my dear friends and readers, want only the full-strength, hi-test blogging you've come to expect from the Seoul Patch, not some watered-down pablum served up by certain other blogs.

I mentioned last week that I will be getting a new contract in early July--my co-teacher tells me that it will be sometime this week--so you can expect about another year's worth of posts on this blog.

Yikes, or Yippee!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

World Cup Notes (IV)

1) South Korea did everything they needed to do to win against Uruguay in the Round of 16 except find the goal. They dominated, especially in the second half, but came up deficient where it really matters. As a result, it was the South Americans who advance 2 - 1.

2) Later that night (as we count time here in the Land of the Morning Calm), the USA looked harried, hurried and pressured against Ghana, the only Afrcan team to make it out of the group stage. When matched up player-to-player, the US should have won this game, but they chose to play "kickball"--long balls from the defensive third to the attacking third--hoping to generate the quick strike.

Ghana did what they needed to do where the US team did not--score. Still, it has to be said that on the occasions when the US passed and controlled the ball, waited for an opening, that's when they looked good, and that's when they got off the good chances. They never seemed to notice that, though, and that's why Bob Bradley, despite all he's done for this team, has to go.

3) On the one hand, I wanted Japan to succeed, in order to demonstrate the power of Asia today in world competition, but on the other hand, I just finished reading The Rape of Nanking, so I wanted them to suffer at the hands (well, feet) of the Argentinians (Hmm, Maradona--make that hands, I guess). I was frankly surprised that Japan made it so far, since they never had to prove themselves as they were consistently on the easy side of Asian qualifying.

Over all, the round of 16 game with Paraguay was pretty even, though it was the South American team that put on the most pressure. In the overtime, I was sitting on the patio with my neighbor, his cousin, and his Japanese roommate, when Alex started hoping for a PK shoot-out. Me, I hate those damn things, so I didn't say anything about it.

I've been there three or four times, and have only won once--after twelve shots. I certainly know what coaching points to make, but I just think it's a spin of the roulette wheel, all things considered.

Sure enough, one young Japanese player hits the crossbar, and it's elimination for his whole team. Tell me that's not nightmare material for the rest of his life!

4) Got to hand it to South America, though, as the Elite Eight consists of one African team, three European teams, and four South American teams. When you look at the history of the World Cup (beginning in 1930, host: Uruguay--winners: Uruguay) South America is totally over-represented: of eighteen World Cups, they have nine. Nine! Half of all World Cup finals have been taken by them: Brazil (5), Uruguay (2), Argentina (2).

5) In case you were wondering, only two championship games have come down to the PK shootout--both involving Italy: first in a loss to Brazil in the US in 1994, then in a victory over France in Germany (though it was Zidane's head-butt that got all the press).

6) All that being said, I was pleased as punch to watch the Netherlands come from behind to score two unanswered goals on an arrogant Brazilian side who haven't bothered to give a good goddamn this whole tournament. Like it's supposed to be theirs to lose, what with being favorites and all.

Well, okay. They lost it, and good riddance, I say. I'm rooting against South Americans from here on.

7) My first WC was (West) Germany v Netherlands in 1974, so I suppose a repeat of that would suit me, although Beckenbauer and Cruiff are no longer the masters of their sides. This was surely one of the most storied WC final matches, and for good reason. Here is a delicious play-by-play w/photos, the sort of thing the internets were built to provide.

This year, Germany doesn't have the home field advantage--though it's arguable Holland does, since the Africaaners who ruled the RSA for so long have deep connections and linguistic ties to the Dutch.

8) I read an interview with Cha Du-ri, the Korean defenseman who has been released by his German club, and states that he has been learning Engish because he wants to play in an English-speaking country. Celtic football club have just confirmed that he has signed with them. Celtic play in Glasgow, Scotland. I thought he said he wanted a place where they speak English ...

9) I'll point this out, just as time begins to wind down, though it's been available for a while--if you watch a video on YouTube (except maybe soccer ones), they have added a little button so you experience the vuvuzela sound right in your browser. Just click on the little soccer ball on the control panel:


Friday, July 2, 2010

A Sailor's Prayer

Oh Lord above
Send down a dove
Wiv wings as sharp as razors
To slit the froats
Of dem bad blokes
Wot sells weak beer to sailors.


More Education News

1) Yesterday was the swearing-in of all the new government officials elected in the township, city and province elections on June 2. With a few exceptions, as noted by the Herald:
The ceremonies for Lee Kwang-jae, new Gangwon governor, and Kim Du-gyeom, new chief of the Nam-gu district office in Ulsan, were held. However, they were immediately suspended from duty and had to delegate their authorities to their subordinates.
Lee and Kim have been given jail sentences for violation of the law on political funds and bribery, respectively.

2) My new boss, Kwak N0-hyun, Seoul's education minister, was quick to announce the changes he wants to make as the the first liberal ever elected to the post. Mainly, he wants to "renovate" the policies emplaced by the Lee Myung-bak administration in the 2 1/2 years since it was installed.

First, he wants to eliminate the extreme competition that fuels the high school system and provides the raison d'etre for the hagwon culture. Second, he wants to provide students at all levels (KG through high school) with free schooling and free meals. Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon holds the purse strings, but is not fond of the idea. Third, Kwak wants to curb the "special schools" like Myung-bak's "autonomous private high schools", and the special subject schools (similar to the US magnet school model), on the grounds they disproportionately aid wealthier students.

3) The success of liberal school superintendents in 6 districts during the local elections has emboldened a coalition of concerned groups to open a Seoul-based headquarters to spearhead proposed legislation for "an ordinance on students' human rights." From a Dong-A Ilbo editorial:
The ordinance the groups seek to enact will likely contain clauses from one that Gyeonggi education superintendent Kim Sang-gon sought to enact but was shelved in the face of opposition by the Gyeonggi Provincial Office of Education. The draft ordinance prepared by the office includes a more liberal student dress code and hairstyles, freedom to assemble, and the right to help set educational policy and to accept or reject education excluding official curricula.

I'm unsure what is meant by that last part, though I do believe students should have a voice in certain decisions about their education. Choosing the curriculum, however, is best left to professional educators and experts in the respective fields of study--not students, not parents, not local busybodies, and not the Texas Board of Education. (Oops, how'd that get in there?)

The statement includes this:
“Students` human rights will serve as a stepping stone for them to leap forward to become the subject of education and citizens and the subject of politics ... The masters of the 2008 candlelight vigils against resumption of U.S. beef imports were teenagers.”

Hmmm, I'm not sure pointing to a case where people over-reacted uncritically to falshood and fear-mongering from the media is really the best way to make your point.