Monday, December 13, 2010

Open Letter to NYT Contributors of "Stress and the High School Student"

Dear Mr. Kohn, Ms. Hemphill, Mr. Cooper, Ms. Galivan, Ms. Kalish, Ms. Pope -- who contributed to a recent New York Times feature, "Stress and the High School Student":

Your position that American high school students have "too much work" is laughable. Please know that an average American student is unbelievably lazy compared to an average East Asian student. This laziness is harming American economy's global competitiveness. And it is precisely your coddling, "our-children-are-too-stressed" attitude that fosters the growth of a generation of ninnies who are afraid of intellectual challenges and hard work. Short of being driven to suicide, there is no such thing as "too much work."

Sincerely,

The Korean

[A series on education will come out soon.]

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.

68 comments:

  1. LIKE!! LIKE!! LIKE!! LIKE!! LIKE!! LIKE!! LIKE!! LIKE!! LIKE!! LIKE!! LIKE!! LIKE!! LIKE!! LIKE!! LIKE!!

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  2. Any chance we can get the series on Confucianism first? Congratulations on the 1 million!

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  3. I left Korea before I got to experience the infamous Korean high school and its notoriously difficult graduation exams, but I've heard my friends' horror stories. I've taken the SAT's and LSAT but I bet they're nothing compared to Soo-neung. Sigh.

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  4. Not that I'm disagreeing with you, I actually do think that American students could stand to work a little harder and Korean students a little less hard. But to write off American students as lazy and Korean students as diligent seems a terribly narrow view. I'm an American who has taught in Korean public schools for six and a half years now. When I was in high school, I went to school for 8 hours, then 2-3 hours of football practice/ training, then my part-time job for 20-25 hours a week. Then home to do my homework, as well as household chores. And I think this is a fairly standard portrait of an American teenager. Of these five activities, Korean students generally know only one. They don't hold jobs. They don't, for the most part, engage in extra-curricular activities. Chores? most Koreans I know in their mid-to-late 20's still have their bed made and laundry done for them. They certainly do study a lot, but very little of it can actually be called homework. Not to mention the issue of efficiency. Class at my hs began at 8:20 and ended at 3:20 with a 35 minute lunch break, 5 minute passing times and 8 periods in the standard day. Korean students, at least as far as the official school day is concerned, start at 9 and finish at 3, with a 1 hour lunch break and 10 minute passing times (yes, I realize that a lot of students are at school long before and after these times, but also, a lot aren't). And while Korean students do go to school for a greater part of the year than American students, that also overlooks the fact that 4 weeks of the year, after every exam period, are completely wasted away time. The teachers in my school have been showing movies and basically just chaperoning their classes for the last week, and will continue to do so through the next until the semester ends next Thursday.

    Again, I'm not totally disagreeing with you. I do realize that a lot of Korean students work quite hard, and in several ways much harder than American students. And I also think that American students could work much harder and take their education much more seriously. But it's not all as simple as Korean students are all diligent, American students are all lazy. If that were true, and Korean students were all working hard and making the most of all their time working, I certainly wouldn't have so many students who have been studying English in school and hagwon since elementary school and haven't yet learned how to read or how to say "It is a pencil" instead of just "pencil".

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  5. Hey Korean have you read the article "Too 'Asian'" that's causing quite a stir in Canada? Check it out and let me know what you think. http://workingandpracticing.blogspot.com/2010/12/too-east-asian.html

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  6. Let's ask those Korean kids why they're in school 16 hours a day. 'To get a good job.' Fine. Now, let's ask those members of the 880,000 won generation what they did. What's that, you ask? The underpaid, overworked generation of recent university grads who thought sacrificing everything for the sake of studying was the way to the Good Life.

    By comparison, American high school students may look 'unbelievably lazy'. Let's remember that these students go to school, along with having a relationship, holding a job, being part of a sports team, joining various after-school groups, AND trying to study for a rite-of-passage. If they come from a broken family or are responsible for younger siblings, that's just a few more things that come up.

    So perhaps there's so much going on that school plays second fiddle? I'd buy that, except there's no indication those Korean students are living better after spending all that time memorizing the periodic table.

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  7. Chris,

    Your post projects a strong sense of inferiority.

    "By comparison, American high school students may look 'unbelievably lazy'. Let's remember that these students go to school, along with having a relationship, holding a job, being part of a sports team, joining various after-school groups, AND trying to study for a rite-of-passage. If they come from a broken family or are responsible for younger siblings, that's just a few more things that come up."

    So you're saying this characterizes most American students? I think not. Most American students do not work full-time while going to school, which is what you are implying. Maybe they have a weekend gig, but to say that they have to work while attending school is an exaggeration. Many American students may be part of a sports team, but I wouldn't say MOST.

    And I think Korean students do more than memorize the periodic table.

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  8. I don't think "working hard" or "not working hard" is exactly the problem with American students. What Americans -- speaking in broad generalizations -- need for more student success is a _respect_ for studying. This is the main thing that characterizes presently successful middle-class families. To take the Asian families I know, the child's job is to be a good student... not to the extent that they lose all their freetime activities, but enough so that they are shielded from the pressures of survival, and so that they study before relaxing. This is one way to learn responsibly. It is also what seems to be lacking at the bottom of America's educational ladder: a shield from unnecessary non-academic stress/work, and slightly more academic stress/work.

    Now, whether efforts _should_ be taken at such cultural reform is another question entirely. If the majority of US families were to think of their children as primarily students, students would perform better, and curricula would adjust until pressure on students got to ... well, Korean levels. Students would learn more, grade inflation might reflect real life again, and productivity would probably increase. But that wouldn't fix the problems of the American economy: its dependence on imports, the difficulty finding intelligent workers for (prestigeless) export manufacturing jobs, the national debt, and consumer spending. All those problems are either market failures or problems with political incentives.

    No, what would really help the American economy would be a mandatory period of military service. Not too long... just long enough to get guys into the habit of working long and hard, maybe with a trip abroad to give them a sense of perspective. As a side benefit, it would alleviate the obesity epidemic. ;)

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  9. Itissaid, check your facts.

    http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/ss5302a1.htm#tab57

    In the states surveyed, more than HALF of all high school students, male and female, played sports.

    So, yep, that is indeed "most."

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  10. andrew,

    to write off American students as lazy and Korean students as diligent seems a terribly narrow view.

    All aphorisms, taken in isolation, represent a terribly narrow view. ("Give me liberty or give me death" -- really narrow view, right?) If you believe that American students could stand to work more, then we have no disagreement.

    And I think this is a fairly standard portrait of an American teenager.

    It really is not the standard portrait. About half of HS students play sports in a team. (And Amanda, half is not "most".) Only a quarter of teens have a job.

    I also think that American students could work much harder and take their education much more seriously.

    This is actually closer to what the Korean's point is. What bothers the Korean the most is not the fact that American students are not working hard enough. (Although that certain bothers the Korean also.) What is the most bothersome is the lazy attitude -- the idea that students are "working too hard" while actually not working that hard at all.

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  11. Chris,

    Look at the growth rate of the economy for U.S. and Korea. Even amid the global financial crisis Korea grew positively, while American economy shrank by 2.4%. As of August this year, Korea's unemployment is at 3.3%, and youth unemployment is at 7%. America? Unemployment at 9.5%, youth at 17.8%.

    The 88만원 세대 is a big exaggeration also. The starting monthly salary for college-graduate, newly-starting employee at a MID-SIZE company (i.e. not your Samsung and LG) average at around KRW 1,560,000, a lot more than 88만원. If you happen to be employed to a top 500 company in Korea, you start at KRW 2,570,000 a month.

    So hm. If you are an average student in Korea ending up at a mid-size company, you are half as likely to find yourself in unemployment than your American counterpart, and earn around $30K a year in PPP-controlled salary. If you are a decent student, you start at around $50K a year in PPP-controlled salary. The Korean would say that's a better life.

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  12. Korean,

    "Half" is most when you toss in "Cheerleading" which the courts do not count as a sport due to this idiot. My three sisters played basketball, volleyball, softball, and even played musical instruments in their junior high and high school marching and concert bands, but most of my parents' time and money went to their participation in high school cheerleading. Go and tell them that cheerleading wasn't a sport, or their toughest after school activity, and you'll have a fight on your hands. Plus, they did all this while being involved in numerous clubs and charities.


    In comparison, most of my South Korean students are privileged enough to get some piano or violin lessons without ever learning how to play in an orchestra or band; however, the majority of the kids in my poor dong don't even have the funds to attend hagwons at all and are out on the streets by early afternoon and are then crowding into local PC Rooms. It also shocked me to learn that my best student over the years did not do very well on his university entrance exam (math and science) and will now be spending another year attending even more study hagwons to try a third time next November to get into the big three.

    Both systems could definitely use some major tweaking, but as long as they are run by people more interested in money than education, not much will ever really change.

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  13. JW -- no worries, the Confucianism series wil come first. But that series is turning out to be really hard to write.

    Mike -- The Korean actually tackled a very similar issue in this post.

    John -- The Korean will not argue for a second that cheerleading is not a sport. It is, and it ought to be. And the Korean also believes that organized sports SHOULD make up a greater portion of Korea's educational system, for sure. But even counting that, a standard portrait of an American student is not a student in a sports team and with a job, when only a quarter of teens have a job.

    And absolutely correct point on the poor district also. The dirty little secret about Korea's educational system is that the achievement gap, particularly between the rich and the poor, is pretty significant.

    BUT the Korean's point still stands: American students need to work harder. They currently are not working hard enough. And it is a ninny's attitude to complain about working "too hard" when they are not really working very hard at all.

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  14. Absolutely. Americans, in general, have been becoming more and more coddled and not just in the school environment. Life at the top makes you fat and lazy. I've recently been reading through the history of the US from the standpoint of invention, drive, and the creation of the consumer culture. It's quite astounding, really ... the America of the late 19th century and early 20th.

    I haven't given a ton of thought to this next point, but through my studies and through living and working here for 10 months, I'm starting to see parallels between Korea now and the America of the late 40s and early 50s. Men working late into the evenings at the office. Women being able to stay home as housewives. Everywhere you look, Koreans playing with new grills, fishing poles, hiking gear, and crowds of weekend, middle-aged mountain bikers riding up and down City streets - dressed as if they're going to compete in ESPN's next Xtreme Games. Oh, and a growing obesity problem as more and more processed food combines with said lifestyle of ease.

    As Korea becomes more globalized, culturally and in business, I wonder if there's a counter-culture arising - a beatnik generation, if you will. I'll be really interested to see where Korea's at in 50 years. If my students today are just as driven as their parents were and so forth.

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  15. The Korean,

    "Even amid the global financial crisis Korea grew positively, while American economy shrank by 2.4%. As of August this year, Korea's unemployment is at 3.3%, and youth unemployment is at 7%. America? Unemployment at 9.5%, youth at 17.8%."

    The other night, the Lady in Red and I went out for some galbi. For the couple dozen tables in this restaurant on a Friday night, I counted nine workers, about five of which were basically standing around. Were I in an American restaurant, they would've sent most of them home for the night, and in the long-term simply not hired them in the first place. That Korea views employing people as cheaper than providing welfare or other social services would necessarily drive the unemployment rate down. It also helps that Korea Inc. subsidizes the state-owned companies to cover the increased costs of such hiring practices.

    I would like to see Americans rank higher in internationally-recognized academic tests, especially after the recent results of the PISA. With that said, no standardized test can measure creativity, ambition, or willingness to think outside of the box. Figuring out cosines just isn't relevant in most of our occupations (dare I say yours as well?), so why test it?

    The danger here is employing the Americans to come up with the ideas, then watching the engineers at Samsung / Toyota / Hyundai come up with the implementation.

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  16. Chris,

    That Korea views employing people as cheaper than providing welfare or other social services would necessarily drive the unemployment rate down.

    That is an interesting theory, but you will have to give a better support than your experience at a restaurant the other night to make it convincing.

    no standardized test can measure creativity, ambition, or willingness to think outside of the box.

    Probably not, but economic development can -- because that is the whole reason why we want all those things in the first place, right? It is not like we want creativity because there is a race of creativity to win. We want creativity because there is a race of economic development to win, and creativity helps winning. And Korean economy has grown at an unbelievable rate for the last 50 years, indeed well after the point at which most countries plateau. Such development is not possible without creativity, ambition or willingness to think outside of the box. If you accept the position that education is an engine for economic growth (and there is little reason not to accept it,) you have to accept that Korea's educational system is a success.

    Figuring out cosines just isn't relevant in most of our occupations (dare I say yours as well?), so why test it?

    The Korean will give more detail in his education post, but one of the answers (in a short form) is: Because for most of us, our occupations are a series of tasks, which are more or less like tests. We need to sit down and concentrate. The ability to sit down and concentrate is a skill to be learned in and of itself. So is the ability to persevere in the face of a difficult question until you get an answer.

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  17. I think there is a loss of perspective here.

    Stress in high school is a very real problem, and it absolutely needs to be addressed. It's just that it is a problem that does not exist in a vacuum - it's just one part of the overall severe problems facing the American education system overall.

    The very best students in the USA are still extremely good. As much as people talk about how the US is slipping in international rankings, the very best in the US are still among the best worldwide, and they still work extremely hard and have a lot to show for it. The amount of stress they face is a very real problem. The expectations placed on them are extremely high, and they also face greater competition and pressure - the pool of applicants to the very best colleges has increased a great deal in the past 20 years, both domestically and internationally.

    Thousands of students who simply would not have completed high school or gone to college a generation ago, now are.

    Teacher quality is decreasing. As more and more students enter the educational system, more and more teachers are needed. Inevitably, average teacher quality drops, especially as education in the US continues to be underfunded and teacher salaries remain shockingly low, leaving the best and brightest to try to make their fortunes rather than trying to educate future generations. As a result, those students have to work even harder, because they are not taught as well.

    Flawed American educational policies in during the Cold War era left millions of Americans with extremely poor educations in Math/Science. The "new math" was essentially useless, and a huge proportion of an entire generation of Americans grew up with an extremely poor understanding of basic math and science. Many baby boomer and Gen X parents never learned math properly, and continue to struggle with concepts as basic as fractions and percentages to this day.

    With poorer teachers and parents that can't help you with your homework, it becomes even more difficult for students who are not gifted enough to excel on their own to do well, adding further to pressure and stress - or far more commonly, apathy. If my parents got good jobs and provided for me while never learning how to divide fractions, why should I bother?

    This type of attitude has also lead to the widespread proliferation of attitudes like the one Chris expressed-

    Figuring out cosines just isn't relevant in most of our occupations (dare I say yours as well?), so why test it?

    This is a commonly held attitude where people are completely missing out on one of the most fundamental benefits of a sound education in math - it's much less about learning how to calculate cosines, as it is about learning how to think in a logical, algorithmic manner. For most people, learning math isn't so about the math itself, as it is about learning how to think logically and rationally, how to approach problems step by step, to break complex problems into smaller items that can be each addressed using simpler tools and then combined back into a whole. I work in online marketing and I've forgotten almost all the calculus I learned in college, but learning math has absolutely shaped the way I approach problem solving and critical thinking, and it makes me better at everything I do. Being able to think logically doesn't automatically stifle creativity either, you can't think outside of the box until you know what's inside the box too.

    Finally, as the average student around them drops in quality, it also becomes harder and harder for the best and brightest to succeed. Teachers need to spend more time keeping the average up and less time taking their best students to the next level. Additionally, it's much easier to be a good student when the majority of other students around you are also good students; when placing #1 in a school exam is a real honor to be vied for among your peers rather than something half the school will ignore or even ridicule you for.

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  18. I'm a mother of an American public high school student about to graduate. Naturally my perspective on this issue is somewhat different from yours.
    But there is one thing I have to ask you. When you say, "Short of being driven to suicide, there is no such thing as 'too much work,'" do you really mean that? Granted there may be a certain amount of hyperbole in your statement. Does this mean that, in your opinion, constant emotional breakdowns and physical ailments due to stress and lack of sleep are acceptable? (I don't mean that all or even most high school students suffer these problems. But many if not most of the students in my child's honors classes do.)
    To me, that's reminiscent of an attitude which demands all else must be sacrificed--family, friends, health, happiness--in the drive to be competitive and successful. Perhaps I know too many people in today's corporate America who sacrificed all of these things. Their reward was to be worked harder and harder until their number came up in the next round of layoffs. I have wondered myself many times how we can teach children the value of being a hard worker if it doesn't seem to have made their parents' lives better.

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  19. John,

    The Korean generally agrees (ESP. the math point, thank you for that,) except for just one nit:

    The very best students in the USA are still extremely good. As much as people talk about how the US is slipping in international rankings, the very best in the US are still among the best worldwide ...

    The scary part is, that is no longer true. Based on the latest PISA results (cited in Waiting for Superman,) the top 5% of American students rank LAST in the developed world in math and science compared to top 5% of other countries.

    And here is another food for thought -- the Korean is willing to bet that at least half of the top 5% American students in math and science are Asian Americans. This makes for a nicely controlled social experiment -- those Asian American students were presumably raised in the same culture that values education, but they still fall behind. Why? It has to be the schools, right?

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  20. Donna,

    Does this mean that, in your opinion, constant emotional breakdowns and physical ailments due to stress and lack of sleep are acceptable?

    Yes, provided that it leads to learning how to deal with stress and lack of sleep without breaking down emotionally and physically. Another way of phrasing the laziness that the Korean pointed out is "lack of physical and mental toughness." And until students are pushed to the brink of breaking down, they will never become tougher. No one can aspire to become a better runner by only walking all the time, right?

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  21. Standards and performance are relative. Generally speaking, I think students in Korea spend more time memorizing more stuff, they're required to take more courses compared to students in the United States. So they may "know" more.

    As for stress, it's mostly up to each individual student. The greedier you are the more stress you may have.. So what?

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  22. Americans need to change their attitudes towards education first. It seems that most students where I went to school might've liked to be smart but found it was the worst way to become popular, and so Americans have to make studying and being smarter more socially acceptable.

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  23. i teach SATs and english at a "ha gwon" to high school students and i must agree that the culture here is no where as demanding as east asia.

    when i was a student here in the states it is a joke how easily i got through high school without doing any (real) work.

    however the higher education system (i.e. college and beyond) in the USA is highly sought after. it is a model that many countries, including Korea, tries to emulate...

    in Korea, most students burn out after high school, and college becomes a joke. this is becoming less severe these days, but it is still an issue. the issue being students in east asia burning out before their main career studies.

    i think there is something to learn from both sides here. like most things balance is they key. generally american high schools need to demand more of their students, but it is easy to make such a statement. it is difficult to motivate a student without giving them unnecessary burdens, stress, etc... especially to the point the student rejects the idea totally and becomes a rebel

    there is a much larger cultural problem that is linked with laziness... not sure what but i know for sure Korean culture despises laziness

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  24. Of course half is not most. Half is half. I very clearly wrote "more than HALF."

    Merriam-Webster, Most:
    : the majority of

    If you take 100 high school students and more than 50 of them do sports, then the dictionary would agree that is "most."

    Chris wrote "most." Chris' use of the word seems to agree with a pretty well-accepted, standard dictionary. However, I'd be happy to hear your definition.

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  25. Dear Korean, did you even watch the trailer for the documentary the commentators are referring to? The kids in the film do talk about their classmates committing suicide, having mental breakdowns, and being on medication for stress and anxiety.

    Unfortunately, when talking about "American schools" and "Korean schools," few people take the time to distinguish between the schools within schools that exist for honors students in America or the glaring dichotomy between "academic" and "vocational" schools in Korea. The documentary "Race to Nowhere" is ONLY applicable to kids who are trying to get into the Ivies, just as Korea's supposedly superior education system only applies to students who are aiming for SKY universities.

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  26. (...cont'd)

    I've been teaching at a vocational high school in Seoul for almost three years. I was chatting with one of my students the week before exams and asking how her studying was going. In no uncertain terms, she told me that "design students don't study for classes" and then proceeded to explain that for art majors, 50% of their university admission is based on their portfolio, 30% is the college entrance test, 10% is other application materials and 10% high school grades. Granted, I have no way to verify her percentages but I can verify that a large percentage of the design and tourism students won't so much as copy answers off of the board on to their worksheets. It's not just in my class. They do the same thing to my coworkers. And let me tell you, I work at one of the better vocational schools in Seoul. (Our students have to have certain scores/grades for admission.)

    All that said, I contend that the suicidal, med-popping American students are better prepared for the rigors of Ivy league education because of the American emphasis on work-life balance and holistic thinking that are grossly absent in typical Korean high schools. And the statistics seem to agree.

    [Side note: If you wanna start throwing around "lazy" labels, talk to my friends who spent a few years teaching in China before coming to Korea to teach. I don't think you'll like what you hear...]

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  28. Umm... so you think American students should be made to become data-processing robots like Korean students?

    I love my students at the hagwon and some of them are quite smart, but the number of them who can answer "why" questions is ridiculously low. They are, for the most part, not encouraged to ask questions, dream or engage in creative processes. So they work hard and have stress, but that doesn't make the Korean system superior.

    As to American students being "lazy", that may be true to some extent, or it may just be that American students are working an appropriate amount for a person who wants to have a life outside of the construct of work and school. And many students (myself included, when I was younger) use their off time on extracurricular activities. I edited the yearbook and the newspaper, took part in forensics, mock trial, French club and band.

    Point being that just because one country puts their students through hell doesn't mean that another country should use that other country might not have a different perspective on what a "reasonable" amount of stress to put students through might be.

    The whole suicide comment seemed crass as well. I feel guilty sometimes that I'm part of a system that drives some students to suicide. I do what I can to let the students know that there are other ways to live and that I don't measure them by their test scores, even if everyone around them does.

    It would be a damn crime to subject more countries to this kind of "education." Children are people and should not simply be viewed as bots in the global economic scheme.

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  29. Another way of phrasing the laziness that the Korean pointed out is "lack of physical and mental toughness." And until students are pushed to the brink of breaking down, they will never become tougher.

    Is your assertion that Korean students (and adults) are 'mentally tough'? As much as I love both my students and friends here, mentally tough is certainly not the first word that comes to mind when I think of them. Of their many, many positive qualities, this one doesn't strike me as being particularly prominent.

    It is not like we want creativity because there is a race of creativity to win. We want creativity because there is a race of economic development to win, and creativity helps winning.

    While this is kind of a tired point by now, I think it's again important to point out that Koreans and Westerners (as individuals, not as nations, necessarily) do not measure 'winning' in the same fashion. Koreans (and obviously generalizing a bit here) measure it through a fairly standard routine, whereby they fulfill their familial duties via advancement and financial gain, often foregoing their own personal desires to do so. Westerners, on the other hand, often measure it on much more subjective terms. Each person defines success individually and it's often much less tied to financial gain. Ever heard the terms 'starving artist' or 'labor of love'? They're not starving because they didn't study hard enough for the 수능. Interestingly, when I try to talk about this with my Korean friends, it is often pointed out to me that this is proof of the Korean stereotype that westerners are selfish, that they think of themselves and their own pursuits before their family. But if my mother ever thought that I was doing something for her or for my family (or simply for financial gain, for that matter) instead of for myself, she would be heartbroken. For how much any westerner here gets told how little they understand Korean culture, it's not terribly surprising how little many Koreans understand about some basic aspects of western culture. I'm not directing all of this towards The Korean, mind you. But I still think its a distinction that plays an important part in this discussion.

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  30. 아만다,

    Of course half is not most. Half is half. I very clearly wrote "more than HALF."

    No, you wrote "In the states surveyed, more than HALF of all high school students, male and female, played sports.

    So, yep, that is indeed "most."


    Merriam-Webster, Most:
    : the majority of

    If you take 100 high school students and more than 50 of them do sports, then the dictionary would agree that is "most."


    More than 50 is not "most".

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  31. Chris,

    The danger here is employing the Americans to come up with the ideas, then watching the engineers at Samsung / Toyota / Hyundai come up with the implementation.

    Where do you get this idea from? I know people who work at Samsung and they do most R&D in-house. So please do not make claims for which you have no proof. Perhaps they do hire American CONTRACTORS, I don't know. But you need to research your claims before stating them.

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  32. @Jennifer-

    I love my students at the hagwon and some of them are quite smart, but the number of them who can answer "why" questions is ridiculously low.

    Do you think the average high school student in America could do better?

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  33. I couldn't agree with you more. Just saw an interesting piece on Business TV this morning (I'm living near Seoul and they have some short segments on in the wee hours of the AM)... Anyways, they had a guy on there talking about how China is getting so far ahead because of their push on education and that the US needs to do something similar. However, they were unsure as of yet on how to motivate students because they figured that the 'be good for your country' type mantra that they said was used in China likely wouldn't resonate enough in the States. I thought it was pretty interesting stuff.

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  34. I agree with andrew, American have a lot of extra-curricular activities compare to East Asian students! All they do is STUDY! Because American students are exposed to "other" activities that deal with real life, Americans are much more mature than Asian students.

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  35. As to being physically and mentally tough, I would say that most Korean Americans are tougher than most Koreans or Americans. It's because most Korean Americans I know had to go through financial, social, mental, and physical hardship that comes with being a 1.5G immigrant. As others have mentioned, Korean students in Korea live a very pampered life compared to what I and most of my peers went through.

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  36. Krystale, Did you read the article about how well the Shanghai students did on the most recent international tests. They came in first because they picked the best students from the best city (Shanghai) and told them its for the country?

    That's what authoritative countries do I guess?

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  37. I both disagree and agree with this post in that I think that U.S. High Schoolers are under too much stress, but I think it has very little to do with the amount of school work required by the average U.S. High School, which is quite low. High schoolers are required to meet a wealth of different expectations, many of them antithetical to each other.

    In response to the academic bar being reset to "mediocre", most top students are trying to fill up resumes with sports and activities that they may be fairly apathetic towards.

    I think that upping academic requirements might actually decrease stress on teenagers. There's no real reason for kids to try too hard at school, because our grading system is pretty crap. Work them all harder, and give just enough free time to pursue the activities they really care about.

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  38. John Kim,

    i think there is something to learn from both sides here.

    The Korean agrees, with this caveat -- if Korean educational system and American system were standing opposite of each other, the Korean wanst Korean one to move 1/3 toward American system, and American system to move 2/3 toward Korean system. Put differently, the fixes for Korean system can be done around the edges; the fixes for American system have to be fundamental.

    Amanda,

    1. Chris never wrote "most." That was itissaid.
    2. The Korean prefers the first definition of "most" at Merriam-Webster -- "greatest in extent or degree". And "greatest" here is more about the feel rather than numerical superiority in the strictest sense. In common parlance, people rarely use "most" to signify technical majority as you describe. Few people would describe 50.01% as "most instances." (And note, you yourself qualified the usage of the word with quotation marks, because you knew you were just barely in the definitional range.)

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  39. t-Hype,

    Dear Korean, did you even watch the trailer for the documentary the commentators are referring to?

    Why is that necessary when the Korean was discussing the NYT article, and not the document?

    But the Korean did watch the trailer. Emotional breakdown just after six hours of homework? Puh-leeze. He could not stand the whining ninnies, and the adults who enable them.

    The documentary "Race to Nowhere" is ONLY applicable to kids who are trying to get into the Ivies...

    But that's not how the contributors -- every last one of them -- of the NYT article put it. And again, this post is aimed at them.

    ...just as Korea's supposedly superior education system only applies to students who are aiming for SKY universities.

    Not true. Students of all levels take the PISA exam, and Korea always places very high with relatively small achievement gap between the top and the bottom.

    As to vocational school, those are usually reserved for the bottom 25% of middle schoolers -- those students who are just not cut out for sitting down and studying. And life turns out ok for them in Korea also, because they are given vocational training and are usually led to 2-year colleges, sometimes 4-year. That is another option that America is lacking -- a way out for students who are not cut out for intense studying.

    The stat you cite is really misleading, and the Korean will address that in the coming series. Stay tuned.

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  40. Jennifer,

    So they work hard and have stress, but that doesn't make the Korean system superior.

    No, but better international test results and superior economic growth certainly do.

    many students ... use their off time on extracurricular activities. I edited the yearbook and the newspaper, took part in forensics, mock trial, French club and band.

    Good for you! Tell me, with all that education, have you helped American economy lately?

    Children are people and should not simply be viewed as bots in the global economic scheme.

    You obviously don't know what happens to the children when their country ceases to be competitive. Koreans know -- that's why they push so hard.

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  41. Andrew,

    Is your assertion that Korean students (and adults) are 'mentally tough'?

    The Korean will readily admit that Koreans are coddled in their own way, and they have much to learn from Americans in certain aspects. But as far as facing up a difficult task is concerned, the Korean is pretty comfortable saying that Koreans, on average, have greater mental toughness.

    While this is kind of a tired point by now, I think it's again important to point out that Koreans and Westerners (as individuals, not as nations, necessarily) do not measure 'winning' in the same fashion.

    It is an important point, but the Korean thinks it is irrelevant to the discussion here. As nations, Korea and Western nations are playing the same game. They are in the business of providing for their people by having a vibrant economy. Absolutely no country in the world can stay away from this business.

    Marcus75, the Korean agrees. That is definitely something Korea can learn.

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  42. I'm not going to comment on the pros/cons of the Korean education system because I didn't grow up in Korea, nor have I spent enough time learning about the system through friends who did go through it.

    But I will say this: American schools are RIDICULOUSLY EASY. Granted, I always was a top student, but I did very little studying and coasted by on my intelligence for the most part. Now, certain high schools (esp. private ones) are more challenging, but that is not the norm. At any rate, this was a great and easy life until I went to college. Unlike many of my friends, I chose a university with a reputation for being crazy hard. And I nearly flunked out the first semester, I was forced to drop most of my classes to avoid getting failing grades. Simply put, my ease in school to that point and my lack of study habits really bit me in the ass.

    So what did I do? I learned how to bust my ass like crazy, and I graduated 4 years later magna cum laude. Along the way I busted my ass every summer working full time, and sometimes working 2 jobs at once, because I had no money. Was this worth it while my friends had an easy party life?

    Well, let's see... I got a pretty decent job out of college, and unlike many of my coworkers who seem to be allergic to hard work, I continued to bust my ass. Granted, I am quite devious and not naive, so I ensured I was rewarded for my efforts and not exploited like many hard-working newbies. The result? After 2 years I was doing better than those who had been doing the same job for 4 years before I even got there. I was given management and professional development opportunities.

    All of this happened because I was fortunate enough to learn how to work hard at my university. But I know my experience is an anomaly, and most students in the US continue to be lazy after they graduate. I see so many of fellow "Generation Y" workers feeling entitled and lacking a work ethic. And I know it's because they've never had to struggle in their entire lives.

    The most hardworking people I know in the US are either immigrants, children of immigrants, or native born people who grew up poor or in single parent households (meanwhile many who grew up in stable and financially well-off environments are lazy - what a shock). In other words, people who knew the value of hard work because they were exposed to the grisly alternative.

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  43. bp: I agree that students don't seem to have respect for studying. As an American high school student I see first that the kids just don't care. They know they can get a job or live off their parents without a college education. They think "why should I waste my time???"

    Marcus75: "Americans are much more mature than Asian students."
    From my experience, I would have to say you are wrong. I agree that /some/ are, but the average student at my school is not. My school has a high population of Vietnamese immigrants that have only been here for a few years. I was fortunate enough to be in a classroom that everyone but five kids weren't Asian immigrants. Compared to all of my other classes, this class was quiet and orderly. It was a relief to hold a conversation with them without a sex joke or a swear word. Now I'm not saying they wouldn't ever do this. They just had the discretion to omit it from their speech during the school hours. Ah, another this my fellow American classmates seem to sometimes lack. Discretion and a filter.

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  44. @angelsfallfast

    you've quite obviously never been in a korean classroom at any level. suffice to say that it is not quite reflective of your experience.

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  45. The Korean,

    Amanda,

    1. Chris never wrote "most." That was itissaid.


    I never said "most" Americans teenagers this or that. I was simply correcting Amanda. You misread my post. And Chris did say that most American teenagers had a job.

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  46. Students of all levels take the PISA exam, and Korea always places very high with relatively small achievement gap between the top and the bottom.

    If true, and I don't doubt you, it strikes me as extremely curious. If you had asked me prior to reading this what one thing bothered me the most about the Korean education system, I would have said the incredible gap between those at the top at those bottom, and the apparent indifference of the system towards those falling behind. Achievement gaps are obviously a BIG problem in the states as well, but upon coming to Korea I was (and continue to be) dumbstruck by the complete lack of any kind of support system for these students. In addition, the fact that the Korean education system does not believe in failing students (from what I'm told, this is to save them embarrassment) results in students who have been studying English for 10 years not knowing the ABCs. This fear of embarrassment* and parents complaining to the school is the same reason why I'm forced to allow any and every student who wants to sign up for my advanced discussion classes to do so, all so they can say that they're in the advanced class, even if they can't write their own name.

    *Not that we're tallying points for mental toughness, but this one would not go in the plus column.

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  47. I should clarify, by 'failing' students, I mean forcing them to stay behind and repeat courses that have failed. In Korea, they move on to the next level no matter what.

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  48. As to vocational school, those are usually reserved for the bottom 25% of middle schoolers -- those students who are just not cut out for sitting down and studying. And life turns out ok for them in Korea also, because they are given vocational training and are usually led to 2-year colleges, sometimes 4-year. That is another option that America is lacking -- a way out for students who are not cut out for intense studying.

    Again, my impression of the situation was completely different. From what I knew of vocational schools here, and I used to teach next door to one, students went to school for two years, transitioned into a trade in their third, and few if any ever went on to further schooling. I had some academic problems in high school and went to a two year school before transferring to and graduating from one of the top public universities in the country. And that was a path that a very large number of students at that school took every year, a quite painless and common transition. No matter how badly you may have faltered in high school, there is always somewhere in the states where you can go and turn it around, and I had been told explicitly by Koreans that this was simply not the case here.

    In addition, for those students who 'are just not cut out for sitting down and studying' there is no counseling or support system for these kinds of special needs or learning disabled students, other than their already overburdened homeroom teachers. At my former school, while trying to work after school with a student who obviously had some sort of reading disability, I was chastised by a co-teacher for 'wasting my time with a retard' when there were students trying to enter foreign language schools who could better benefit from one-on-one instruction (I'm obviously not trying to imply that this is the prevailing Korean attitude, but I think it still lays bare some flaws in the system. I also suspect the teacher would've used more appropriate language if she had realized that the words she had chosen were so offensive).

    I feel like I'm just railing against Korea in all these replies, and I hate that. I'm not trying to troll. I really do love it here and love the people. And if your basic point was to say that American students could work a little harder in school, I still agree with that. Not because I think America has some race it needs to win, and not because I think they're soft, but because the best way for any person to find what makes them happiest is to educate themselves about as much as possible, and many unfortunately do not realize that until much later in life.

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  49. I don't really know anything about the Korean education system, but I definitely agree that the average American student is lazy.

    Ever since I was young, I've been labelled 'gifted'. I was speaking in complete sentences when I was 1 year old. I could easily read at the 6th grade level in 1st grade. I skipped the 2nd grade. I was in a gifted and talented program all the way through elementary and middle school. Standardized testing has always been an absolute breeze for me. And you know what? I am damn lazy.

    I never learned how to study, and my self-discipline positively sucks! I am a horrible procrastinator, to the point where I find it next to impossible to write or study without a huge amount of pressure. I simply cannot write an essay that's due in two weeks. I can't. But I can if it's due in two hours...

    I hate that I don't have this discipline I so desperately need. Even though I'm intelligent, I basically failed my entire first year in college just because I rarely studied and close to no assignments. Sheer laziness caused me to fail.

    Why? Well, I have to take responsibility for myself. It's my own fault. But I do feel I was allowed to get away with such bad habits, which are now thoroughly ingrained in every part of my life. In middle school, we spent the entire spring semester working on a science project of our choice. Every day in class was spent researching. I spent the time socializing. I did my ENTIRE project the night before I had to teach my whole class. I stayed up the whole night writing a 10-page essay, performing experiments, drawing up tables and graphs, taking photos, creating handouts, etc. I received an A. So the next year in 8th grade, what did I do? The exact same thing.

    Even after having taken advanced classes all through high school, I now look back and realize how little information I truly know. It's frightening! I don't remember sine, cosine, or tangent. I cannot even balance chemistry equations. I took Anatomy/Physiology my senior year, and would be hard pressed to name five things I learned. My knowledge of history is the absolute worst. I actually don't know when WWI was (I would honestly say something like before WWII). I don't know what year slavery was abolished in the US. I'm not even sure which decade... Hell, I don't even know what year it was that Columbus sailed the ocean blue. If that's not frightening, I don't know what is.

    I am, however, pretty good at comprehending difficult concepts, and I am very good when it comes to English. But I never really had to study, so all of these things that I SHOULD know... Well, I don't know them. And it's really sad.

    To add to the extracurricular activities debate- I played the violin in orchestra for 6 years in middle school and high school. I sang in choir for 2 years, I participated in drama for 3 years, and I took Spanish for 4 years. I was on councils and even received an award for Actress of the Year. It was wonderful! However, I haven't done any of these activities since I graduated 2 and a half years ago...with the exception of theatre. I got a D in Intro to Theatre my first semester in college, and took Internediate Acting before deciding theatre just wasn't for me. The only reason I got a D was because I was lazy and didn't do the work.

    I'm now struggling to improve my self-discipline, so I can actually accomplish something with my life. I definitely think there is a lot we can learn from the Korean system! Sorry for writing an essay. >.<

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  50. andrew,

    If you had asked me prior to reading this what one thing bothered me the most about the Korean education system, I would have said the incredible gap between those at the top at those bottom...

    The Korean thinks that is an indication of how important the informal support system outside of the school is. It is absolutely true that Korean school systems do not have great support system for students who are falling behind. (And especially so with students with learning disability, as you point out.) But the difference is that in Korea, there are mechanisms outside of the school that foster education as well.

    the fact that the Korean education system does not believe in failing students (from what I'm told, this is to save them embarrassment)...

    The Korean will address this issue later, but it is NOT about saving students from embarrassment. Beware of the easy, culturalist trap.

    No matter how badly you may have faltered in high school, there is always somewhere in the states where you can go and turn it around, and I had been told explicitly by Koreans that this was simply not the case here.

    The Korean does not know with whom you were talking, but transferring from a 2-year college to a 4-year one is most definitely possible in Korea.

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  51. @Jennifer: "Umm... so you think American students should be made to become data-processing robots like Korean students?

    I love my students at the hagwon and some of them are quite smart, but the number of them who can answer "why" questions is ridiculously low.


    I've read expat teachers say this about Korean students more times than I can count. People have been saying this about East Asian students as long as I can remember (not to mention the Asian population as a whole). But as John asked above, as others have asked numerous times in other discussions with no responses, Where exactly is the evidence that shows American students are more creative than their East Asian counterparts?

    The only gauge we have are these international tests like the PISA where the Asian students outperformed just about everyone else.

    “Large fractions of these [Chinese] students demonstrate their ability to extrapolate from what they know and apply their knowledge very creatively in novel situations.” This is a quote from Mark Schneider, a former commissioner of the Dept. of Education in the Bush administration who studied the results of this test.

    So by extension, Korean students were able to do this as well judging by their ranking. American students, on the other hand, were far below this mark.

    So again, where exactly is the empirical evidence that shows American students are better at answering these "Why" questions than Korean/East Asian students when there is so much evidence to the contrary?

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  52. I think that American students need to go to school a lot more than they do now. The typical school year in Korea is 220 days. In America, it's 180 days. Forget about hagwons, arguments over creativity vs. rote memorization and everything else. I think you can explain a lot of the achievement gap between Korean and American students with this statistic alone. Unfortunately, given the wretched condition of many state budgets, it looks like a lot of states are going to go in the opposite direction and make the school year shorter.

    With that said, I think the Korean education system is also in desperate need of reform. In particular (and I hesitate to write this, because it puts food on my table), the role that the English language plays in this system really needs to be reconsidered. I think a lot of the stress that Korean parents and students feel stems from the fact that they're supposed to become conversant in a foreign language when they really don't have the resources to do so. In fact, I would say that English education is THE place from which wealthy Koreans derive their educational advantage over their poorer counterparts. I mean, a poor kid on a farm in Jeolla province can memorize their periodic tables just as well as a kid in Gangnam can. They can't go to New Zealand to study English for a year, though.

    Given Korea's low birthrate and the fact that educational expenses are often citied by parents as a reason for not having more children, it seems like the system as it's currently structured also endangers Korea's economic wellbeing. Japan's aging population is often cited as a reason for its economic stagnation, and Korea's demographics are broadly similar. Furthermore, Korea also has to worry about the expense of eventually reintigrating the North into its economy. Given that, I don't think the Korean education system, as currently structured, is sustainable.

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  53. Someone made a good point (I forgot who) about comparing Asian-Americans to East Asians instead of comparing "America" as a whole to East Asian countries. I think this is a good idea. America has blacks, Hispanics, and whites, all groups that have lower average intelligence than East Asians. So this isn't apples to apples comparison.

    Having attended school in Taiwan and at a variety of schools in the US (elite prep, elite public (w/Asians), regular public, and religious private), I would still venture that East Asians in their home countries are receiving a superior education, especially in math.

    As the Korean will probably attest to, even the average students in East Asian education systems scoff at the joke they call the Math SAT. I know when I first came to the US, I was SHOCKED at the level of "math" being taught in class. I did no work and made As. Going to competitive high schools later in life didn't really make things harder either. And I was just a C student back home. Damn.

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  54. The Asian of Reason,

    Your blatant racism is intolerable. Please shut the fuck up and never come back. Despite what you might think, AAK! does not support the vile theory that you advocate on your blog.

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  55. On one hand, I agree with this post, and on the other hand, I don't. I'm a high school student in America at a private school, so I can't offer much on America's public school system, but I can say that the "too much work" philosophy is at least partially true. Many of my friends are continually pressured by their parents for college, getting yelled at when they make less than 95 percent on a test (not kidding), constantly pressured to be doing SAT prep or finding community service opportunities. A few of them have started saying things like "How long is four years again?" and "Do I have to go home?". I'm sure that the assertion that these kids are "lazy" would not sit well with them (it certainly doesn't with me, though again, private school). Also, I recall a previous post in which you say that many Koreans "hate their educational system". Maybe I'm misquoting, but how can you admit the Korean educational system's flaws in one post, and then villify the American system in comparison to the Korean one in another? Also, from what I've heard about the Korean system (including what I heard from a Korean exchange student my school had last year), are 12-course semesters and the like really beneficial? Isn't there a point where the pressures should stop before students are "driven to suicide"? On the other hand, the article at the link didn't sit totally well with me either. Dropping letter grades and AP classes? Really? So how do you, you know, measure what the students have learned/how they've been taught? Telepathy? Some of the suggestions - dropping class rankings for example, which my school does and which I wholly support - make sense, but overall, dumbing down the American system even more is just, well, dumb. So I guess I don't agree with the article, yet I also don't agree with your interpretation of it. Fair enough? Also, I apologize for the lengthy post.

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  56. What are the u6 unemployment statistics for American and South Korea as opposed tot he the U3 ones. I'll bet you money that the U6 unemployment is much higher in South Korea then the US

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  57. Be careful not to lump all Korean students together. I teach at a rural high school where only 50% of the students go on to college or another form of higher education. It's just like America -- some young adults just don't see college in their future and instead go do their Army service, or get a job at their parents' place, or find employment in a technical field. Sure, many Korean students work much harder than American students -- but some work much less.

    Also, be careful not to equate "working harder" with "working longer".

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  58. Adapt. Or eat dust by the roadside. No excuses. No whining. No mercy. Plain & simple.

    You think it's competitive now? What will happen when a billion+ Chinese gain an educational foothold. I can hear the rumbling stampede in the distance.

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  59. Ehh I currently like the system in the U.S. Blind, narrow education in SOuth Korea has made South Korea a nation that may read but never understand. Many I have met, even those who go to SNU or such, (so they must be smart right?) have no critical thinking. They have no reasoning, no logical thinking. You can never talk politics with a Korean-educated person. He/she has knee-jerk reactions to every issue. Now, AMerican education is without fault. Yes, it breeds potheads and idiots who can think of nothing else but to get with the girl next to them and get drunk every weekend. But the good ones they breed can actually think. They know how to debate, discuss and have critical thinking.

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  60. James,

    I sincerely doubt that you have an understanding of the Korean education system as an ENGLISH teacher living in Korea. Just because you work in a Korean school does not make you a Korean education expert. I sincerely doubt that you are fully familiar with the education policies even at your own school. I don't care about the handful of Korean adults you have spoken to. I'm sure the sample does not compare to the number of Americans you have spoken to in your life. I really hate how some expat ESL teachers really think that they know all about Korea just from teaching at a school where they are really sheltered from the actual happenings of the workplace. I'm sure your Korean co-workers would be much better informed of what is going on in the Korean education system as they have experience, personal and professional, as well as the language skills to discern what is going on.

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  61. Funny, I have never taught in a Korean school. No, I used to be a student in a Korean school until I moved to the U.S. And to be honest, I hated it. I hated the teachers, the curriculum, the ridiculous culture, and most of all, the ridiculous parents who will stop at nothing. Oh, and yes, I did experience the American high school life too. And I cannot be happier in an American college

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  62. James,

    Whatever you say, but how are we to verify that you are who you claim to be? Saying that you attended school in Korea and hated it really does not confirm whether you did or not.

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  63. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  64. James,

    I don't expect you to reveal PERSONAL information. However, it is all too easy for some who are not familiar with the Korean education system to say that they attended Korean schools. Fine, criticize Korean schools, but please give us something more SUBSTANTIVE than "Blind, narrow education in SOuth Korea has made South Korea a nation that may read but never understand. Many I have met, even those who go to SNU or such, (so they must be smart right?) have no critical thinking. They have no reasoning, no logical thinking." Exactly WHAT do Korean students not UNDERSTAND? If you say everything, you are full of b.s. No Korean adult is capable of carrying an intelligent conversation? Some broad generalizations there. You sound like a lot of ESL teachers who bitch and moan about Korea, but cannot give SPECIFICS about what is lacking in the education system, how they came to that conclusion, and what can be done about it.

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  65. Dude, what is NOT lacking in KOrean education? the lack of essays in learning lit. The lack of discussion and papers learning history. The lack of actual discussion and debate in the classroom. This leads to an "elite student," from SNU n all, who has a knee-jerk reaction to politics. For example, I met a student from SNU that believed that the book Animal Farm was about animal cruelty and environmentalism. ANd countless others cannot carry on an actual political debate, because they have knee-jerk reactions to everything and does not care to delve deeper into the issues at stake. Oh and not many bring this up, but the fact that you virtually cannot change your major in college is a big problem too. I know many that went onto some majors that they do not want in a "better school" over a "worse school," which really does not happen in the US as the avg US student changes majors at least 2 or 3 times during his/her career in a college. I mean, no 19 year old really should know what he/she wants to do for the rest of his/her life. They all think B-school, pre-law, or pre-med are the ways to go and never fully realize the beauty of a liberal arts education.

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  66. James, enjoy your life at Yale, which is a terrific school. In your next 4-5 years there, please remember to keep a tally of ridiculous idiots who attend your very prestigious school. (The Korean remembers them all at Berkeley -- including a guy who only knew Adolf Hitler as "that Jewish guy who bombed Pearl Harbor." The Korean swears he is not making this up.) Then you will understand where the Korean is coming from.

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  67. Period: Recent Past to Foreseeable Future

    Advantage: Rice paddies

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  68. I am from India..Our educational system is also quite rigorous..
    For example around 3,00,000 take the IIT JEE .The total seats are around 4000.
    IIT JEE contains three papers Mathematics,Physics and Chemistry.Can someone compare these with sooneung questions

    http://www.contentcarry.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/IITJEE-2011-Maths.pdf

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