Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Happiness or the Lack of It

I read an editorial in The Korea Times today talking about the current state of moral degradation in Korea, a country that prides itself on it's moral strength, drawing on Confucian values. While I disagree with the depiction of Korea as a country more morally corrupt than it's OECD brethren I found some of the statistics highly disturbing though unsurprising, given what I've witnessed. Of course I already recycled the paper but here is what I remember, margin of error +/- 1%. In all other OECD countries, the percent of children who said they were happy was around 88%. In South Korea that number was 55%. Almost daily, there are articles in the newspaper about the higher than average (compared to other OECD countries) suicide rates.  It seems to baffle Koreans but not so much the foreigners who live here. 

My elementary school students go to school from early morning until mid afternoon. After that they go to extra intensive classes at private schools, piano lessons, tutors, taekwondo--whatever the parent can think of. When you ask the average bed time, the answer is 11:30 at night. On average, when there is a test coming up, it is later. You see kids who are exhausted and often miserable under the amount of stress they face at a mere 8 or 9 years of age. My friends who are public school teachers constantly relate horror stories of the corporal punishment they witness, still legal in Korean schools. These children go from that to high stress exams, high stress university and high stress jobs where they work exceedingly long hours 5-6 days a week with only 10 days of vacation per year (sometimes more, this is the minimum state guarantee). If they are Very, Very lucky they might get beyond this stage. One day. 

It can't all be bad. The Korean students I went to school with at boarding school were some of the most dedicated, disciplined scholars I'd ever seen. Their success rates were prodigious.  There has to be a happy medium between the collapse of American public school education and this madness that I witness here.  Korea has gone through an incredible amount of change in the past 50 years but I worry about my students, about the children in general. 

That being said, I'm incredibly happy with my life at the moment. I have FINALLY FINISHED Le Pavillion des Enfants Fous and it was, as predicted, depressing from beginning to end. Beautifully executed but not something I'd ever read again. I have mastered the art of walking up the stairs in the subway station while reading a book (NOT to be done during peak traffic moments).  The one time I fell was not in the subway station but in front of the bank, while trying to get out my water bottle. I think I wrote about this? In any case I still have the technicolored bruise on my arm. 


Salsa Boy said...

It's all true. My Korean co-teacher, cried every day this week because the Vice-Principle is asking for more than she can possibly handle. She the supervisor of the entire English center, and they expect her to teach classes with 40 students 6-8 times a day, including Saturdays. In her heart she wants to quit, but only because she knows that Westerners would never put up with that crap. But here, people are raised to believe that it's just the way it is. Never EVER question authority. If you quit a job, good luck finding another. Needless to say, it's no wonder children are overly stressed, especially when you have overly stressed teachers and possibly parents with similar situations in their jobs. I saw my co-teacher just take her aggression out on a kid the other day by just smacking that 9-year old girl over and over again. The girl was on the verge of tears. To another boy, she grabbed his ears and pulled him down to the floor. Other teachers carry sticks and rulers. Today I saw two kids get hit on the head with a drum stick. A DRUM STICK.

I agree that this is a rather efficient society, but there must be some sort of happy medium between their ways and ours. Anyway, that's my inclusive rant.

You know what, regardless of it all, life is good. life is great when your mind can edit out all the bad parts!

sorry, once again, I'm blogging in your comments section...

Nancy K said...

Well put by both you and Salsa Boy. I had a conversation with an Indian woman last fall about how she felt that the pressure she'd had in school to do well by her parents was too much. I agree that a happy medium would be great, in the mean time only 28% of American engineering school graduates are American. Josh said that the number of American students in the graduate program at Virginia Tech in electrical engineering is 0. This doesn't say anything good about the future of the economy in this country. More and more of these foreign students are no longer staying here, but going back to their own countries.

fay said...

Oh to view the world and the its various cultures with a truly objective set of eyes. No one can. To the American growing up in thelate 20th century, Korea today is a very repressive and abusive regime. Not only for i the children but for the adults as well. From what I've seen of the the report from Ireland about the Orphanage system, the same or worse could be said of Ireland for most of the 20th century. for AAmericans growing up in the first 1/2 of the 20th century, the pressure in school to succede was intense, but here was always the way out- going for a vocational or commercial degree rather than academic.

those of us who grew up in the third quarter of the 20th century saw the demise of the american education system as philopsophies of education changed every other week, and there was no consistency in the classroom, in attitude, or requirements. The 60's and 70's were the turning point fo r the demise of the 'intellegent" American.

Korea, Japan, Taiwan etc do not have the luxuary of lots of room, nor do they hve the uxuary o fhaving Thouosands of miles between them and their next largest foe. A "militaristic" regimen "guarantees" their survival, for that is how their economies are designed,. A successful economy ensures freedom. However, in the global economy they too suffer.

The health of a society is measured by how it acts in the trenches. While the Korean may view taking ones frustrations out on children as normal, all that does is breed another repressed generation waiting to take revenge on the next genration. Atrue cycle of violence.

Perhps if there was no "monster " to the North or to the West, those in the South could hve more free time.

BTW- There is no guaranteed by law vactation time in the US. Wha twe all take for granted- Sick days, Holidays, vacations and the 5 day work week, were all hard fought for benefits by the unions, who have fallen into disgrace. Look at our own companies that arenot unionized, and see what workers get as time-off benefits.

Sorry for taking so much time0-thank you for listening.


Alex said...

For me the strangest thing is that Koreans don't seem to notice how much they are taken advantage of in the workplace. It's just "how it is."

E said...

Well until this past Sunday I felt overworked, bogged down with college work. I also attended a high pressure "need-to-do-exceptionally-well" type of elementary and high school....but no, thankfullly i did not go to sleep at 11:30 at night or later as an elementary student.How do those young students of yours manage to keep awake??!?!?! I'm assuming that unlike my students yours must be VERY well behaved, because they are waaayyy to tired to cause any trouble!! ;)

Alex said...

Oh E, if only my tired students were always well-behaved. Don't forget that tired children get cranky. However, I like to compare myself to the kindergarten cop in terms of discipline. This far into the semester the kids are very pretty well trained.

For the really tired classes, I try to keep candy on hand (It involves a lot of discipline...not eating it all myself). It makes them happy AND gives them a sugar high. I don't mind sending them back to their parents on a sugar high, I feel it's apt revenge for them sending kids to me so tired.

Josh said...

flying attack midgets!!!! AHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!

Alex said...

Flying attack midgets, armed with candy and sparkly, fuzzy stickers!!!!!

E said...

You know Alex, I was kidding., because tired students can be just as problematic as any other, and possibly even more. But hey! We have the same tactic, except, when my students do something major their reward is a chocolate chip, pretzel stick, and the grand prize is a (small) laffy taffy. The kids never know when they will receive a I like the "intrinsic motivation technique!!"
However, I do admit, I probably (ahem..reality check i did :)) had more chocolate chips, and laffy taffys than my students.I'm really impressed with your self control Alex!!
Have a wonderful day-make it a great one!

FredL. said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Sarah said...

It's odd you should mention the suicide rate just before the suicide of Roh, who killed himself last (Saturday? Sunday?) after becoming entangled in a corruption scandal. I'd still like to hear your take on that Alex.