Sunday, October 30, 2011

Education News Roundup

With this being the Halloween weekend, I couldn't resist this story about how Korean mothers simply have to whine about every-damn-thing: Mothers fret over high Halloween expenses in Korea.
Hundreds of online Halloween goods and clothing rental stores have sprung up in Korea. Most Halloween clothes are imported and priced between 85,000 (75 U.S. dollars) and 100,000 won (88 dollars).
Large discount stores have also jumped on the bandwagon. Over the past several years, Lotte Mart has been seen sales of Halloween goods such as crowns, pumpkin baskets and clothes rise 20 percent each year. Sales have grown 53 percent this year.
Many Korean housewives, however, fret over having to buy Halloween costumes for around 100,000 won (88 dollars) that are worn for just Halloween.
My ass! First of all, my local E-Mart as recently as today had dozens of Princess and fairy costumes, as well as pirate and firefighter outfits for 9200 to 12000 W. Frankenstein's monster and Munch Scream masks were around 5000 W . It doesn't even take creativity to go from the mask to full outfit just with stuff from a kid's closet.

Whose fault is the whole Halloween frenzy, by the way? Why, we waygookin, of course! It's not all these Stepforduh wivesuh keeping up with the Jonesuh!
A woman who has a five-year-old daughter said, “I don’t understand why schools are trying to celebrate an American holiday. Our children are unaware of the origin or the meaning of Halloween.”

On a side note, I have done a Halloween lesson each year with my classes, and they consistently know all the key facts about Halloween, or at least the usual myths. Monsters, ghosts, trick or treat, candy, etc. They know pumpkin, though there is lots of spelling confusion, or at least 호박, and it was my goal this year that they should be able to distinguish between a pumpkin and a jack-o'-lantern.

Moving on, a more serious education story: Saturdays designated as 'Sports Days' at schools, according to the Korea Times. Of course, we're no longer supposed to have school on Saturdays, but since everyone does, education authorities think it would be good to
"[...]encourage students to join various sports clubs offered at their school where they can voluntarily enjoy sports every Saturday,” an official from the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology said. “Students from different schools will also compete with each other in a national-level contest, too.” ...
The move is part of efforts to provide students with a supplementary program on Saturdays as a five-day school week starts next year. At present, students have five-day school weeks twice a month.
For various sports-related programs during “Sports Day,” the ministry will increase the number of physical education teachers and instructors to about 8,000 from the current 1,800.
This is all a Good Thing (TM), but it strikes me as Too Little Too Late (TM).

Speaking of which, the JoongAng Daily is tooting its own horn for having been selected as one of four publishers to create new English-language educational materials for elementary and middle school after-school classes. ‘My Apple News’ debuts in EBS English class, says the headline, though it didn't seem on first glance to be related to the recent lamented passing of Steve Jobs.

'Newspapers in education' seems to be a growing fad in English education here, though I remember using the papers as a graduate assistant in the Reading Dept. back at WGC. According to Ass. Prof. Peter Kipp at Ehwa, “The biggest advantage of learning English by reading English-language newspapers is that it offers interesting content that encourages students’ reading skills.”

I actually have to disagree. "Interesting content" is in the eye of the beholder--after all, any reading textbook author fully believes and intends that the content is "interesting" to his target audience. No, the biggest thing, well, two biggest things: currency and consistency.

Presumably, stories in a kids' paper (Weekly Reader, anyone?) are today, hip, happening, fresh, as the idiom goes, off the presses. Second, they have a consistent reabability level. A quick note about this, then you can go and look it up yourself. It is a common belief that newspapers are written at a third grade level. This is not true, it's just that most politicians function at a third grade level.

But seriously, "readability" varies by organ, with a generalization that the more popular the pap, the more basic its readability. What is true is that most paps will rate consistently around a certain readability level. People tend to gravitate towards an organ that matches their reading level, and it is a fact that USA Today has a lower (easier) readability score than the Boston Globe, for example. The trick for educators is to match readability to the level of the students, and hopefully that will be accomplished by 'My Apple News'.

The English Department Chair at my school, Mr Right, is completing his Masters in English at Yonsei, and has asked me on several occasions to proof his papers--with suitable food and drink compensation, of course. His thesis is on newspapers in education, and if the abstract of his research with Young-il students is to be believed, their vocabulary and useage grew by 20 to 30 percent over a two semester NIEE course.

I can state that his writing ability has improved considerably over the last two years. His first couple of papers were a mess, and not just the grammar and language; logic, structure and flow were equally poor. Happily, this abstract contained only a few minor grammatical/typo errors, and two or three sentences that didn't follow, or just didn't fit logically. He either needed an additional bit to make the connection or some kind of rearranging to make the flow more logical. Good for him, and I suppose, Yonsei, for operating a program that works.

Also, on the topic of Mr Right (actually Lee, well, actually 이), he's the best co-teacher I've had. Why? He's not afraid to speak English, to add something from a Korean/personal perspective, ask a question if he doesn't know or understand ...

His English is not perfect--he has a few sloppy habits and can't stop adding "s" to the ends of certains words--but he puts it out there and is insistent that his students do the same. It's a lot more like "co-teaching" with him than anyone else who's ever been assigned that job. He also assigned himself last year to be my 동생, little brother. Then hugged me so hard he broke a rib.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Street Scenes XIII


To be precise, this scene wasn't exactly on the "street" as it was in a newly opened mall adjacent to Sindorim Sta. These characters, and several of their friends, were wandering around D-Cube City. And cities have streets.

I stopped by there on my way home today from teaching my Public Speaking class--D^3 is huge, but the 5F "Chef Street" or food court was not as impressive as I hoped: about two dozen restaurants, but most of them serving standard Korean fare. I gave the Burger Hunter a try, and pictured below is the "Cheese Cheese Cheese Burger", two patties with Velveeta (TM), mozzarella and grilled onions. It was delicious!


I have written about the rotisserie chicken trucks before, but now there is one at the end of the block and around the corner at least twice a week, making me very happy:


Finally, this bit of delection is called an Egyptian beef sandwich, near as I can tell from the sign:


... and you get one from this guy who parks on a curb in Itaewon:


He doesn't sell the OB Golden Lager, you go into the GS25 facing him to get that.


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

End of Language Series

As a great fan of Stephen Fry, I have enjoyed the Language series partly, I'll admit, for hs erudition--but mainly because of its insight into language, which is one of the key things that separates us from the other animals. I urge you to watch these videos!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Book Report #27

At three years, four months here in the Seoul Patch, it's blog post number 701 (and book report #27)!

  • Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick - Steven is an ordinary suburban middle-schooler who plays the drums, has trouble talking to girls and is annoyed by his younger brother--until said younger brother is diagnosed with leukemia. Frankly, had I read the blurb more carefully, i probably wouldn't have picked this book, but I liked the title and the cover art, since I am always trying to find a new book in case I teach book club again in my camp time. That said, tearjerker though it is, this book is an honest and well-written account of what this experience is like. Don't read this without a box of tissue on your bedside table.
  • Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett - Armageddon and the end of the world was nevr so funny! An angel and a demon are the key characters in this tale, who have spent the millennia since the Garden of Eden days prepping Planet Earth for the Final Battle between Good and Evil. Unfortunately, they've misplaced the Antichrist, who happens to be an eleven-year-old boy, and he's not really sure he wants the World to End. Okay, so it's basically a lark, but along the way the authors make some valid points about religion and culture, poke fun at corporate training seminars, and make me laugh till I cry two or three times. Good Omensstuff!
  • The Devil's Arithmetic by Jane Yolen - Yolen is one of the most prolific authors of children's fantasy fiction in America, with around 300 books. This one focuses on a young New York Jewish girl, Hannah, who complains about having attend another seder at her grandparents' house. Grandpa Will sometimes makes a scene by yelling at the TV set and brandishing his left arm--sleeve rolled up, you can see the blue tattooed numbers on his forearm. He scares Hannah at these moments, and she wonders why he wants everyone to remember, if it was such a bad experience. Anyway, sent to open the door for the Prophet Elijah, as per seder tradition, she is surprised to see not the hallway of her grandparents' building, but a greening plain under a dark sky, across which lumbered a hulling figure. Hannah is thus transported to a Polish shtetl circa 1942, and soon finds herself tattooed with a serial number at the Auschwitz camp ...
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot - Skloot spent over ten years researching and writing this book, some considerable portion of that time working to gain the trust of the relatives of the title character. As that may suggest, Henrietta Lacks was a real person (even if often misidentified as a "Helen Lane") whose importance to the world of modern biological research cannot be overstated. As she was dying of a particularly vicious cervical cancer, Johns Hopkins researchers harvested some of her cells, and found that they--unlike virtually all samples they had tried to date--grew well in culture media. Not just well, extremely well, so well that today there are tons of Henrietta's cells in labs today. Meanwhile, her family and children have never benefitted from their use, and were never even informed of the cells' being harvested. Fascinating, painstakingly researched.
  • This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper - The Foxman family is sitting shiva on the death of patriarch Mort, and narrator Judd Foxman has just learned that his wife, who just left him for his boss, is pregnant with his (Judd's) child, five years after their first baby was stillborn. Sounds like a depressing tome, but it is one of the funniest things I've read in a long time. Not many books provoke a belly laugh every ten pages, especially when it is detailing the complicated, dysfunctional lives of a family in meltdown. Adept turns of phrase at every turn of page, flawed but genuine characters who leap from the page, well=paced story-telling that makes you want to turn the page, and then feel sad when there are no more pages to turn. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

In The Xenophobic News

First, I must apologize to my faithful readers and "followers" for having been so lax in the last few months about updating.  No good reasons, just excuses ... and a promise to try to get my act together.  Moving on:

Two articles in today's newspapers in Korea to make one go, as Arsenio used to say, "Hmm..." 

A report from the Korea Herald describes law revisions requiring hakwons to double-check E-2 visa-holders' documentation before hiring them.  First, let me point out this is impossible because you can't get an E-2 visa until you've actually been hired.  But beyond that:
“As the number of foreign teachers increases at private institutions, problems are on the rise with some involved in sexual assault and drug trafficking. And we revised the law twice in order to enhance the verification process and protect students from potential crimes,” said Han Chang-jin, education official in charge of private institutions.
Wow, problems are on the rise, huh?  Any statistics handy, or even case studies on point, if I may be so bold as to ask?  Well, a little further downpage we get this:
A Korean-American wanted for attempted murder in the U.S. was found operating an English academy in Gangnam District earlier August, shocking many parents and students and raising voice to toughen identity check for foreign teachers.
So, that's pretty much a "No", as the crime involved is neither sexual assualt nor drug trafficking.  Okay, that's a bit facile, but how about this: the rule change would be unlikely to catch this individual, as he or she is a Korean-American who almost never comes to Korea on an E-2 visa.  Fail.

Next, a group of "7 female foreign students arrested for selling sex " yells the KT head.  The girls "included those attending well-known private universities".  JoongAng Daily reports it is just six, and mentions they are from China, Mongolia and Uzbekistan.  They were variously "lured into prostitution" or "made to sell sex" by a bar owner named Kwon, 58, who so far has not been arrested.

After all, the only thing she did was pimp out her teenage victims in her bar and noraebang.  Thr police are considering seeking an arrest warrant:
“We are considering seeking an arrest warrant for the proprietor, who lured the foreign exchange students into prostitution,” a Yongsan Police official said.
“Since there is a high chance of foreign students studying in Korea to fall into prostitution to obtain living and entertainment expenses, there needs to be an active crackdown on the widespread damages caused by the Internet.”
What the fuck are you blathering about, you imbicile, you!?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Education News

My friend and colleague 'Hwang-tae', as he is colloquially known, mentioned to me a couple of weeks ago that he was going to see a movie, Dogani 도가니 (The Crucible) which is based on true stories of sexual and physical abuse at a school for disabled children in Gyeonggi-do.  The movie is for Over-19s only.

I said it sounds quite depressing, and he agreed.  Well, it turns out something possibly good may come out of it, as JoongAng Daily is reporting that the government announced a new set of measures to permanently bar convicted sex offenders from teaching.  This refers to Korean teachers. 

I say "possibly good" for two reasons: alas, it mostly seems to apply to those abusing disabled teens, or at least "especially" disabled teens; further, it is probably yet another example of ill-considered overreaction, or legislation without teeth, as

Students will be disciplined more strictly when they sexually assault their disabled peers than when they do the same to students who are not disabled, the government said, adding that schools will be recommended to change their rules in that direction.

Huh?  Recommended to change? 

Okay, moving on: story #2 is a loosely-disguised ad for a group which wants to close down the English hakwons, this one called World Without Worries About Private Education (WWWPE).  It says "private education" right there in the name, but they seem unconcerned about math hakwons (which I gotta point out more of my students attend than English ones) or music or sports or ...

That's--as I've pointed out before, in my opinion--fine and good: this culture is rather too focused on "getting ahead" in the education game, and thereby robbing children of adequate time to just be kids.  The article touts a new "booklet" from the group that addresses "12 misconceptions about English education and gives alternative solutions".  Sadly, at least in the article, some of the misconceptions are in the alternative solutions, and some of the solutions are mis-labeled as misconceptions. 

I'm not going to belabor this, but let's just take one statement: "According to the booklet, the temporal lobe that controls language ability develops from age six."

Well, no.  In fact, just go to the post above and watch the two eps. so far in Fry's Language series to see that fallacy be destroyed.  In point of fact, most children have developed the majority of their syntactic and grammatical understandings by age three or four--take the kid whose weird father taught him Klingon alongside English: he learned the vocab, structure and syntax of Klingon quite well, but gave it up circa age three (which according to the bollocks above is before he even begins to learn it) because it wasn't very useful in communicating to his cohort.

So, if you want your child to be truly bilingual, speak Korean and English to her from the crib on up.  I must hasten to point out, I am not seriously suggesting this as a solution to the English conundrum in Korea.  No, it is clear from research that children absorb new languages like a sponge at least up to age ten or so; and even old people can learn a new language!  My point is that it "develops from age six" is utter nonsense. 

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Stephen Fry on Language

If you are interested in language, as presumably those of us who are English teachers should be, you will be interested to watch Stephen Fry's new 5 part series on language, "Hello". So far, two one-hour segments have aired, and a couple of fine Youtubers have posted them up almost immediately. Part one:

Part two:

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Variety at E-Mart

My local E-Mart (that's directly across the street) has really expanded its beer selection; you can't necessarily count on getting a particular imported lager, but you can count on a few you've never hear of before. At reasonable prices. Some photos:

Photobucket Photobucket Photobucket Photobucket

It also offers a large number of baseball caps with misspelled, non-sensical or just wrong English sayings or slogans on them. The latest batch:

Why is the current Queen of England's seal on this "golf cap"?
No idea.