Friday, May 15, 2020

A reminder from Yonhap: You need to be anxious about foreign English teachers

Foreign English teachers in Korea opened their door today to find a paper bag burning on their doorsteps, only to stomp on it and find this Yonhap article smeared on the bottom of their shoes:

Parents are anxious over 'native speaking instructors' due to spread of COVID-19 in Itaewon

Reporter Park Eui-rae

Mrs. Kim (37), who lives in Songpa-gu, has not sent her six-year-old daughter to an English kindergarten since the long weekend. This is because the Itaewon clubs where COVID-19 has spread are frequented by foreigners, which has led to her growing distrust of native speaking English instructors at English Kindergartens.

Mrs. Kim said, "The kindergarten said that none of the teachers, including native-speaking instructors, went to Itaewon clubs, but the truth is it’s hard for me to believe that 100%." "Even if I’m wasting money, I'm going to keep her at home until the incubation period is over," she said.

Parents' anxiety is growing as the number of COVID-19 patients related to the Itaewon clubs increases daily. In particular, because Itaewon, which is the cause of the spread of this infection, is visited by many foreigners, parents who send their children to English kindergartens or English hagwons with native speaking teachers are more worried.

According to a statement by the Seoul Metropolitan Government on May 15, there were 1,210 foreigners who accessed cell phone base stations in Itaewon near King Club, Trunk, Queen, Soho, and Power from April 24 to May 6.

In addition, according to the Ministry of Education, 366 native speaking assistant teachers or instructors visited Itaewon during this period.

However, the Ministry of Education statistics only include faculty members belonging to each metropolitan and provincial office of education, not native speaking instructors working in English kindergartens or hagwons. If you include the latter, it is possible the number of native speakers who visited Itaewon during that period is even higher.

In Incheon, a large number of students were infected with COVID-19 by their hagwon instructor.

Because of this, English kindergartens and academies are conducting their own investigations to determine whether they visited Itaewon.

However, for parents it is difficult to trust the hagwons’ own investigation entirely, and even if they did not go to Itaewon, parents said they would not be relieved because within the foreign community they may have come into contact with infected people who visited clubs.

Because of this, there have been many posts on various ‘Mom Cafes’ across the country showing their anxiety with titles like "Are native speaking English teachers in English kindergartens okay?" or "Can you trust English hagwon native speaking English instructors?" Some parents also responded by saying, "It would be good if we asked native speaking teachers to get tested for COVID-19."

According to Ms. Jeong (33), an English kindergarten teacher in Seoul, “Even in kindergartens, not only native speaking teachers but all teachers do self checks and check their temperature daily as a preventative measure.” “Despite this, many parents are anxious and are keeping their children at home for the time being.”


So let's summarize the article:

The title tells us that parents are anxious about 'native speaking instructors' who may have caught the virus in Itaewon.

Mrs. Kim hasn't sent her daughter to kindergarten since the long weekend since she distrusts foreign teachers since they like to go to Itaewon. Considering it was only found out days after the long weekend that an outbreak had begun there, she is clearly clairvoyant, and also malicious since she knew what was going to happen and didn't warn anyone. Either that or the reporter has little grasp of how to write.

She can't believe what the kindergarten said about its foreign teachers not going to Itaewon, because of course they did. That's where foreigners go. Everyone knows that. (To be fair, she deserves credit for not trusting the hagwon owner.)

Yonhap then reminds parents twice in one paragraph that they should feel more anxious and more worried. Yonhap also tells us that Itaewon is the cause of the spread of the infection, as if the neighbourhood itself is a source of contagion, rather than the foreigner Korean who spread it there.

Surveillance by the government and big telecom (working hand in hand!) reveals that 1,210 foreigners went to that club area of Itaewon, and the MoE reveals 366 foreign teachers went there. What about telling us how many Koreans and Korean teachers went there? Just kidding. This is all about creating distrust of foreigners, and things like 'balance' would ruin that effect. Next, the article highlights that the MoE figure doesn't include kindergartens and hagwons, so it can argue there are a whole lot more native speaking instructors who went to Itaewon that we don't yet know about (reminiscent of the logic displayed in this series of shocking statements by a - wait for it - national assembly representative.)

In Incheon, a large number of students were infected with COVID-19 by their hagwon instructor but Yonhap won't tell you his nationality because it's trying to create an association in your head in order to create fear.

Because of the previous paragraph, English kindergartens and academies are conducting their own investigations to determine whether they visited Itaewon. Stellar writer that Ms. Park is, it's not clear whether 'they' means the hagwon staff en masse, the hagwon and kindergarten buildings (which grew legs and walked to Itaewon, I guess), the aforementioned students the hagwon teacher infected, or the aforementioned hagwon instructor (who is likely not plural). You have to appreciate the lack of effort put into writing this "article" (it continues into the next paragraph as well).

Then parents say that even if the foreign teachers didn't go to Itaewon, because they're foreign, maybe their foreign friends did, so they might get the disease anyway (you have to appreciate the Rumsfeldian "The absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence" logic at work there). That Korean staff might have Korean friends (or, god forbid, foreign friends) who went to Itaewon doesn't cross anyone's minds. Then parents say "It would be good if we asked native speaking teachers to get tested for COVID-19." Testing foreign teachers for a virus? What a novel idea that is! No one has ever thought of that before!

Finally, a Korean hagwon teacher says she also has to do self health checks. Perhaps the author means to imply that the hagwon teacher's foreign coworkers have created a hassle for her, but, unsurprisingly, it's not clear.*

I ended my last post by saying that the lack of infections among foreign teachers, despite the heightened attention to them, would likely make this cycle of media scrutiny a short one. It appears I overestimated Korean media outlets. Watching Yonhap provide a rhetorical workaround for the fact that teachers are testing negative and offer justifications for continued suspicion and negativity against them is certainly something to see. My apologies for not foreseeing this, since I should have known better, what with the regular anti-Americanism and 'we're so great'-ism and anti-Japanese bashing and praise for the great leader ("You handled your COVID-19 infections so well!"). Oh, wait, which Korea is this again? Is this the one with xenophobic, government-sponsored media that monitors its citizens constantly or the one with... xenophobic, government-sponsored media that monitors its citizens constantly?

Back to the "article." We're told "Parents are anxious." Well, I wonder why that is? Perhaps because they read xenophobia-infected garbage like this Yonhap article? These kind of prescriptive articles that tell readers how they should feel have long been a part of the repertoire of media outlets trafficking in negative portrayals of foreign teachers. It's irresponsible "journalism" that should have no place in the media landscape of a country portrayed as having done such a stellar job dealing with the pandemic. It should be an embarrassment.

Making things worse is the fact that this was not published by some partisan newspaper, but by the Rodong Sinmun Yonhap, North South Korea's government-funded wire service. Yonhap: sort of like Associated Press, if Associated Press was run by xenophobic half-wits.

And the fact that Yonhap published this on Teachers' Day? That is some fantastic trolling.

[Thanks to Pete for sharing this article with me.]

* It's been argued that the last paragraph is not meant to be negative about foreign English teachers and merely a reference to the self health check all staff have been doing for weeks now, and I'd have to agree. After an almost-full article of xenophobic tripe, I was primed to read the last paragraph as if it was written with the same degree of bad faith as the previous ten. That said, the final sentence, “Despite this, many parents are anxious and are keeping their children at home for the time being,” is meant to reinforce the idea that people are so scared of sending their children to hagwons that they're keeping them home.

1 comment:

oh_bugger said...

Thanks for posting this. I sometimes feel like I'm being gas-lit by an entire country. I've been translating Korean news articles about Corona 19 just for my own benefit and have noticed the liberal application of the "dirty foreigner" narrative. As an Incheon resident I've been following the disease spread radiating from the local hagwon teacher who visited Itaewon. When I told my young colleague that the articles suggested (by omission) that it was a Korean who was responsible she quickly corrected me saying that it was definitely a foreigner. I asked her how she knew and she said the news said so...