Thursday, August 29, 2013

Response to criticism

I came across the following comment about this post on Facebook:
I think he's really clutching at straws to promote the "Koreans hate us angle" on this one.
I'm assuming 'us' refers to foreign English teachers, but I'm pretty sure Koreans don't hate 'us.' To be sure, certain media outlets like to publish negative, sensationalist stories about white men foreign teachers (and due to the clicks they get, they probably love 'us'), and the story NoCut News published edges pretty close to this territory. I can see that I didn't explain clearly my problems with the piece, so here we go:

That article, which was titled "Native speaking teachers: 'Jeonju is bad!' Why?" begins with the sentence, "Rumours are being spread among native speaking instructors that Jeonju in Jeollabuk-do is a bad place to work." From that first sentence, the use of 'rumour' (소문) to describe the foreign teachers' claims already undercuts what is to come, as it might not be true at all - this despite the fact that the hagwon owner is quoted at the end saying, "There have been cases in which salaries haven't been paid," making clear that the crux of what the teachers were claiming wasn't 'rumour' at all.

After explaining that the foreign teachers are saying that a teacher wasn't paid and other teachers on the internet are saying that "over the last four or five years 25 people have been victimized by this hagwon," the article then paraphrases complaints by teachers by saying they "claim that the owner of a hagwon in Jeonju is deliberately not paying salaries to put native speaking instructors who are ignorant of Korean law and unable to ask for help in pitiable circumstances." I'd imagine this comes from some bitter teacher saying something like "they're screwing us over because they know they can get away with it." This unsubstantiated claim by foreign teachers is then followed by another unsubstantiated claim, that "Jeonju has become a city to avoid and native speakers are turning away from Jeonju" followed by a negative and generalizing claim attributed to the instructors: "Jeonju lies and doesn't pay, and instructors don't want to work here."

Finally, though the hagwon owner admits to not paying salaries, the article ends with him saying "There haven't been many cases and it certainly wasn't intentional," which undermines the '25 victims' claim by the teachers as well as their wild claim - that he was "deliberately not paying salaries to put native speaking instructors ... in pitiable circumstances."

As a counterpoint to this, in 2011, two stories were published in the Korean language press about foreign hagwon instructors getting screwed over by their employers. The first, by the Busan Ilbo, was titled "Corrupt hagwons, foreign instructor's income tax, pension embezzled," and gave two examples of hagwon owners not paying (or embezzling) their teachers' pensions and severance pay and explained ATEK's plans to petition the government to make changes to protect foreign teachers. The second, by Newsis, was titled "Measures against the unfair dismissal of 'insignificant native speaking instructors' urgently needed" and gave an explanation of the pitfalls foreign teachers can face before giving two examples of Daegu-area foreign teachers who were not paid what they were owed, as well as interviewing an official at the Ministry of Labour who says, "measures are necessary for the protection of native speakers."

That NoCut News published the kind of article it did is not surprising, coming from a news outlet which published a nine (or twelve, really) part series titled "The Reality and Twisted Values of Some White Men" a year ago. While that is an extreme example, they still managed to publish 24 negative articles about foreign teachers last year (out of 249 - almost one tenth).

I'm also pretty sure that a query to the local immigration office would put a lie to the idea that foreign teachers are avoiding Jeonju.


Anonymous said...

I'm still trying to grok the difference between "intentionally" and "unintentionally" not getting paid.

I can't "unintentionally" not pay my rent or for my groceries, barring some amazing new law I haven't heard about.

matt said...

Ah, the idea there is that the teachers were saying they weren't being paid simply because the owner could get away with it, not because he didn't have the money.