Sunday, April 17, 2016

It's All About the Finish Line

The thoughts and opinions that continue to be expressed by my students doesn't always blow me away, but I do have to sit back in a state of awe as I listen sometimes.

Last week during a writing class every student was given a different writing prompt, asked to respond to the answer during our time allotted, after which we would share our work.  The first student had a question of beauty vs. brains, if he could only have one which would it be.  I was happy that he, and the rest of the students agreed that intelligence would trump looks should they have to decide, but it was some of his reasoning that made me shudder.
Intelligence is more important so that we can study, get a good score on the exam, go to a good University and get a good job. Then we will make a lot of money and if we are not beautiful we can have surgery to be more beautiful.
There is truth to this argument, but I was slightly disappointed that this was the only track "intelligence" can take. There was little to no consideration for the value of intelligence on a more human level, the only value was seen in achiving the dream of a good job and more money.

We moved on to our second student, presented with the question of "If you could have any skill what would it be and why?"  This boy has been an all star since joining our school only a few weeks ago so I had high hopes for his response.
I would want to have super intelligence because then I could study quickly and be very smart.  I would go to a good university and get a good job, to be a good son to my parents. Finally, I would become rich by investing in the stock market, then I could donate to poor people. 
Although the trend of money strung throughout his answer I was pleased that he didn't look only to the monetary gains, and when he did acknowledged an ability or desire to share this with others, notably his parents and the poor.

The third student was asked if he could become invisible what would he do? I was sure given the prompt we had moved on from the 'money and success' type of answers, but apparently I was wrong.
If I was invisible I would go to school and change all the students grades to bad grades and my grades higher. Then I would be the best in the class and smartest student. I would go to a good University and get a good job so I would have lots of money.
While there were a few other details in his answer this is all that stuck out to me.  Three different writing prompts and three different students, and yet all of their answers followed the same structural response.

I need to get good grades so I can go to a good University, get a good job and makes lots of money

Is this all it's really about?  When I think back to my 13 year old self I like to believe that my brain was filled with thoughts other than those of school, jobs and money, but I could be wrong.  I look at these students, kids really, who have imaginations and ideas just waiting to pour out of their brains, but something stops them. What's happening Korea? These kids spend all their time on their studies, casting aside things like reading and playing piano because they are viewed as "time wasters",  yet now look at what's happening as a country.  The youth unemployment rate in Korea is shockingly high, with many graduates struggling to find full time work. Those "good jobs" that everyone dreamt about simply are not available.  A large portion of recent graduates are all going after the same jobs, they want something safe, secure and 'good' as my students so eloquently noted, but not everyone can have the few jobs that are available.  Instead graduates are either turning abroad or settling for something else. 

I'm not really looking for a way to solve the unemployment problem in Korea, that's way beyond my scope. What I wish I could do for my students however is show them that 'good jobs' aren't always the answer. I guess it's a motivator to make them go to school, attend academy classes and finish their homework, but I think there should be some other motivators at play.  Let these kids take time to explore their interests; piano lessons, dance class or sports are all a valid use of children's time in my eyes.  I couldn't have been happier last week when I found out I'd be losing a student due to her enrollment in ballet classes.  Even better when this came from the same girl who's sister reported doing 'mom homework', I guess there's some kind of balance in that house after all. 

I can only hope more students and parents support the 'extracurricular' activities and avoid the multiple academy, overstressed, no free time students I often see rolling through my door. 

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