Friday, December 02, 2011

Cleaning the Classroom

Dear Korean,

I'm sure you've heard about this by now? How Newt wants to pay poor students to clean their own schools? I see that liberals and teachers unions are 'horrified' by the idea. Interesting thing is, as someone who went through elementary school in S Korea in the 1980's, I actually love the idea of having kids clean their own school campuses. Even though Newt is being demonized for this, I think it's a great idea. In fact, I say forget paying just the poorer students to help clean up. Make ALL kids help clean up (without PAY) like I used to in S Korea, the nation with 1st (or was it 2nd) K-12 education system. I see so much benefit out of this:
  1. Kids will get to study in dust free, cleaner classrooms. I've seen classrooms of inner city schools and bathrooms (imo Super Fund sites) and they've been getting WORSE and WORSE due to budget cuts. One or 2 janitors for an entire school where they can barely empty out the trash bins, let alone sweep out dust from the floor.

  2. Kids will actually KNOW why education matters. Guess what you will do if don't study? Do you want to clean out bathrooms or study and do something else? It was VERY REAL for me and also a big motivator for trying to study. I speak from experience as I used to help my parents who were janitors.
Maybe you don't agree? But what's your thought on this?


The Korean is a fairly reliable Democratic voter, and he will be so until Republicans change their disgraceful stance on immigrants. But the Korean still considers himself a fair-minded person, and he does find some Republican proposals resonant. Problem is that in most cases, those proposals do not go far enough.

For example, Republicans want to deny citizenship to illegal immigrants, because illegal immigrants harm America. Fair enough -- the Korean is above all a nationalist, and he does not wish harm on America. There is no question that at least some illegal immigrants harm America. But by that logic, shouldn't we deny citizenship to American citizens who harm America also? The Korean's preferred immigration policy is to make everyone in America take citizenship tests every two years, and those who fail will be treated like the way illegal immigrants are treated now. But will Republicans go for a logical extension of their own policy like this? Of course not.

At any rate, like Paul, the Korean also likes Gingrich's idea -- as long as it is taken to its logical end point rather than cut off arbitrarily like Gingrich did. Why just poor children? And why pay them? In Korea, all school children (except first and second graders) are required to clean their own classroom and a designated area in a school, every day, throughout the school year. The Korean is not talking about tidying up the surroundings -- Korean students actually grab the mops and brooms (which are kept in a box in the backside of their classrooms) and clean. Schools usually have no more than one custodian, whose job is mainly to change light bulbs, replace broken windows, etc. One year, the Korean was assigned to a class which was assigned to clean the boy's bathroom, and it was not a pleasant affair.

(Aside: It must be noted that this system is possible because of the way Korean classes are set up. For the most part, Korean students are assigned to a single classroom shared with the same classmates for the entire year. The teachers for different subjects come to the class. This is in contrast to most American high schools, for example, in which the teachers stay in a certain classroom while the students move to take different subjects.)

Having the students clean their own school does have benefits, and the Korean is certain that those benefits will be even greater for the current generation of American students who have become soft in their prosperity. In addition to what Paul said, cleaning one's classroom builds camaraderie among classmates and a sense of responsibility and ownership for the school. It's a good idea. But the chances of this ever happening in America? The Korean will file this next to his preferred immigration policy and the Godfather offer that Japan should make.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at


  1. I would just like to note that 'liberals' (and really, the moderates) are horrified at the idea because such actions will further stigmatize the economically poor children. It literally creates an officially sanctioned caste system within the school, and whoever thought that up (Newt or one of his subordinates) needs to remember his or her own high school experience.

  2. We had a similar sort of system going on during my primary school years here in Australia, every day we would vacuum our classroom and on Friday afternoons we would have to get out cleaning products and wipe down all the tables and chairs. Wasn't a big deal honestly, there were so many kids in the class that it seldom took longer than 5 or 10 minutes.

  3. I agree with what bumfromkorea said. It's not so much the literal idea that's horrible, but the intent behind it. Basically, conservatives believe that poor people are poor because they're not as virtuous as rich people, so the only way to end poverty is to teach them "virtue" through hard work and suffering.

    In this case, they'd be literally cleaning up the waste of kids from richer families. Not to mention, taking jobs away from adult janitors who desperately need the work.

  4. I spent a significant period of time as a kid wondering why not everyone had a system like that! When I attended montessori school here in the US, we all cleaned up constantly. We were only expected to clean our own classroom, obviously—bathrooms were janitorial territory—and we had a schedule set by our teachers for who would clean what each week. When I transferred to a new school, I remember spending weeks wondering why we didn't have anything resembling classroom chores. Either way I think it's a great idea for ALL students to start cleaning up in the classroom; it instills a sense of responsibility that all kids appreciate on some level, it translates to their behavior at home, and if everyone's cleaning no one will be stigmatized for it. (And really, no one needs to be paid for tidying up a space they made messy in the first place.)

  5. A great system as far as teaching the students to take responsibility for themselves -- if you trash your classroom, you're the one who has to clean it up at the end of the day. American children could really do with this lesson in entitlement. I've seen far too many grow into adulthood without the basic training that you should at least clean up after yourself. The principle behind this lesson, that one must take responsibility for their own actions, is one that's fairly lacking in at least my American generation.

    However, as far as viewing it as an effective way of doing things, as the questioner suggested, not so much. It actually just creates more work for the teachers, who have to constantly stand guard and nag the students into cleaning properly. And even then, the results are questionable. Our school has taken to hiring a handful of ajummas who spend all day walking around doing the real cleaning. The work the students do is really more symbolic.

    Also, there's a fair amount of student hierarchy involved in the whole thing -- the top ranked students (socially speaking) hardly ever lift a finger and, instead, their weaker classmates do their portion for them.

    But it is an aspect that I appreciate, which leads into why I find Korean schools to be much "homier" than American schools.

    Bumfromkorea's got it right, though. The poorer students are already stigmatized in so many ways (the clothes they can afford, the kind of food they eat at lunch time, etc.), and will continue to be for the brunt of their young lives at least, that there's no need to make it even more obvious that they're different. The kind of scenarios I can imagine resulting from this make my skin crawl.

  6. I'm with everyone else here- liberals would find it much more acceptable if all the students were made to clean, and not just the poor students.

    Also, even though I don't worry about chemicals in general, the most effective cleaning products are pretty toxic, and I don't know if I want young children messing with those. I also don't know if I want kids cleaning bathrooms, which means exposure to fecal waste and possibly blood and vomit. I don't have problems with high school students cleaning, but are we prepared to deal with 13-year-olds getting stuck with needles while emptying the bathroom trash?

    In addition, honestly, the janitors unions aren't going to allow this in the US.

    1. It's about time we changed to less toxic chemicals anyway but your point about the blood and vomit is a good one. I don't think we as Americans have the discipline in our schools to pull something like this off. Korean's have no problem requiring respectful behavior towards the teachers, classmates and their school environment which in turn promotes personal self respect. These basic concepts set the foundation for something like cleaning your own schools a successful option. We, as a country, need to get back to our roots and love our neighbor as ourselves. There are tons of fantastic ideas that just won't work on a group of kids (and parents) who like the Korean says "have become soft in their prosperity".

  7. With all due respect, this is a monumentally stupid idea for multiple reasons, and you can realize this by considering only one, who it is coming from: Newt Gingrich of the GOP. Whether it is a proposal intended to instill a work ethic in disadvantaged children or a Trojan attack on unionized school employees I can't say with certainty. But the GOP has produced so little that is substantive or productive when it comes to public education; other than to pull the old “bleed the beast” from the play book. GOP cadres frequently go on about the problems associated with tenured, under performing teachers (true) and the need to destroy (rather than reform) the unions in order to solve the problem. This “put the kids to work in the coal mine, er, school” sounds like more of the same, only using children as scab workers. Furthermore, it will do nothing to make education more relevant to them, teach them how to clean up after themselves, love Jesus, cheer for the Packers, or any other particular set of values that come from the family not the freakin' janitorial service! Anything Newt Gingrich puts out needs to be examined critically on its merits and its motivations, something you have failed to do and most commenters here have completely missed.

  8. It sounds like one of those nice cute ideas politicians will put out that in some theory sounds good and is cheap, but When applied can go any which way. As if Midnight Basketball was the silver bullet for urban crime. It was and could be effective, but that's most likely due to the localized effort by a few people. Something like that probably isn't scalable to the federal scale.

    I'm sure the cleaning of the school would actually be good if you could get parental and teacher buy-in and take it k-12. My guess is some would give subsidies for some nominal work, and still have their janitors, but plenty enough would be corrupted to inflate the numbers and take a cut for themselves.

    To me it seems a flaw that comes with these ideas is that it is a top down approach. In something where you really need personal guidance to drive home the lessons, I hardly think it would work. It might be a whole different thing, if you tried to make school districts to come up with their own plans, then use those successes to try to gain grant money as well as share their ideas.

  9. The idea of poor children cleaning the classrooms and that of all children cleaning the classrooms are almost opposite: one is capitalist, the other is socialist.

  10. All the students in Japan cleaned their classrooms as well. I honestly think it's a far better method than the ones we use in the US, though I think there would need to be janitors as well.

    I see the problem of organization not being in classrooms after elementary school, but most students do have a "homeroom" of some kind, which could be the basis for structuring it.

    I don't think it should be limited to poor schools, though. I mean, education has enough problem gaining funding as it is.

    One problem I definitely foresee is parents trying to exempt their children from cleaning for medical reasons, such as allergies. While that might be legitimate in some cases, I can just see it being abused.

    It would be a hard thing to push, no matter how well the system would work, because there is a stigma of "drudgery" involved with cleaning anything but one's own home, which is ridiculous, however you look at it.

    Another huge separation is the fact that students are not nearly so involved in the community of their schools in the US as they are in Japan and Korea. Some students have after school activities on campus, sure, but most students leave as soon as the last bell rings - on the whole, they're not going to care whether the school is clean or not. That doesn't foster the sort of pride it probably should.

  11. I'm all for building character, but I could imagine the union at my school up in arms. My high school calculus teacher installed a shelf (with school's permission) in the classroom herself and ticked off some workers.

  12. There are ups and downs to this idea. Yes, I'd love for the kids to take pride in their schools, but limiting to the poor kids is just BEGGING for horrific bullying. As for the buildings being cleaner... I doubt it. I teach in Korea right now, and let me say, my socks and shoes will never be the same. They originally were a pretty white color, they now reside around charcoal, because I walk the 10 yards from the door to my classroom in my socks every morning. Trust me, the building isn't getting clean, but I do enjoy getting to see various students I don't get the pleasure of teaching every day.

  13. To all who say it shouldn't be limited to poor kids only and that they shouldn't be paid, yes I agree. But seriously the condition of the classrooms, yards, bathroom (seriously sickening) are getting worse due to budge cuts.

    I know this will never happen in US but times are different...

    BTW, my wife is a teacher in inner city and she randomly selects a few students once in a while and make them help clean, like wipe down desks. So it can be done.

  14. I teach in Korea and my schools are some of the dirtiest I've seen. The children 'clean' by running up and down the halls dragging a mop or broom and then run away.

    The idea that it will instill a sense of responsibility may be a good one but in my experience it teaches kids that that while they are responsible for one area, they aren't for others and they treat those areas very poorly. I've never seen so much spitting in a school hallway in my life.

    I'm sure that American students would be just as lazy and irresponsible in taking care of these duties as their Korean counterparts are.

    In the two schools where I teach, both public schools, they only approach clean because of the Ajumas that the schools hire to clean them.

    As for your comments concerning immigration, they are, in my opinion, moronic.

  15. A minor flaw to your idea is the fact that "students" do a POOR job at best of "cleaning" their own school! If you can call "pushing the dirt around" as cleaning. They half-ass sweep/dust. Take a mop that is BLACK (was white/clean for about 1days use), get it wet then walk up and down the floor dragging it behind them. This is not "cleaning". It is unsanitary and just filthy! Then they open the windows to let CLEAN AIR in! HAHA Seoul is so freakin polluted that the window screens are BLACK thus reverse filtering the air to make it dirtier than it actually is! And in the DEAD of winter (high temp of -10F) letting all the warm air out and freezing me to death. Next, while they sit in the classroom with their "padding" <--Konglish word for coat/jacket on and the heat turned up to 30C and say "teacher,,,hot". A real point would be if you actually taught students to actualy clean, it would help build a responsibility for one self and ones surroundings. Will this ever happen!! NEVER!!

  16. My wife is Korean and based on her descriptions there was a fair amount of abuse in this process. They were forced to wax the floor with candles. Many assigned tasks were grounded in sexism. Without adequate regulation I would never support this. Obviously based on the above descriptions the level and quality of the work has changed, but I would consider this a good thing considering the past treatment of Korean students.

  17. As long as it doesn't lead to child abuse. If it can be implemented in such a way that it enhances the learning process instead of detracting from it I would be okay with it. My wife is Korean and having the children clean the classrooms was a common theme there. In her case the teachers would make the children wax the floors with candles; an arduous task at best. This brought with it a certain level of abuse. If the windows weren't cleaned to perfection or the floors weren't polished super shiny the teacher would hit the students with a stick. Why would anyone want to return to this level of child abuse?


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