As hundreds of thousands of her peers huddled over their desks at testing centers around the country, she stood in front of a government building in downtown Seoul, denouncing South Korea's education system.Read the entire, lengthy article here.
"I didn't want to live like a machine anymore," the 18-year-old high school senior said about her decision to boycott the college entrance exam in mid-November, asking that she be identified only by her surname Kim. [...]
In middle school, Kim was, as she tells it, a "model student." She studied hard before exams and cared about her grades. She recalls being under the impression school was preparing her for life.
But in her first year of high school, Kim came across John Taylor Gatto's "Dumbing Us Down," a burning critique of the education system in the United States. A former teacher in New York’s public schools, Gatto argues that traditional education produces individuals who are uniform in their way of thinking.
The idea radically changed Kim’s attitudes, and afterwards she says she felt something like betrayal. Her confidence in the Korean school system was broken, she recalls.
Kim stopped studying for tests; when it came time to take exams, she filled in answers randomly. She didn’t skip classes until her senior year -- and even then it wasn’t often. But she did only enough to skate by, dealing quietly with her frustration as she sat at her desk.
While such apathy towards school would have horrified most parents here, Kim says hers grudgingly accepted it.
It wasn’t until earlier this year that she became interested in the kind of activism that led her to demonstrate in front of the Integrated Government Building. She joined an on-line forum for a youth human rights group called “Asunaro,” and began to attend meetings and rallies.
Sitting at a coffee shop in an artsy Seoul neighborhood, Kim speaks confidently about her views. She argues that being made to sit in a chair all day and perform rote memorization is oppression, not education, and that students and teachers should be put on more equal footing -- a bold argument in a country where Confucian hierarchy still dictates the flow of society.
“If you sideline students as too immature, the top-down culture won’t change,” she says.
Speaking of rote memorization, over at the Joshing Gnome, Joe Mondello is posting his paper on the Ministry of Education. Looking at the historical influence of the civil service exam, he observes that the "necessity of esoteric, impractical knowledge for success in Korea" dates to the Joseon period. Hearing the words "esoteric" and "impractical", I could only think of the high school student who showed me his music homework, which was to memorize the song "Come back to Sorrento" so as to be able to sing it in class. The catch? He had to sing it in Italian, a language he had never been exposed to before.
(crossposted at Hub of Sparkle)