Monday, January 09, 2012

Liberal Education and Coffee

Korea famously boasts an excellent educational system, which sends over 80 percent of its high school students to college. But as Korean economy faces a persistent problem of youth unemployment, commentators are observing that Koreans are being over-educated. Essentially, the idea is that Korea has youth unemployment because it has too many college graduates. The following BBC article nicely captures that sentiment:
South Korea's education system is held up as a model around the world. Some 80% of its high-school students now go on to further education. But according to South Korea's president, that academic success is creating its own "social problem" - a youth unemployment rate of 6.7% in October, more than twice the national average, even as parts of the labour market are hungry for workers.

"Because there are so many people graduating from university at the moment, and looking only for high-end jobs, there's a mismatch between the job-hunters, and the positions available," explains Kim Hwan Sik, director of vocational training at the Education Ministry.
South Korea's Wasted Youth [BBC]

(Aside:  In a typical BBC fashion, it messed up the name of Korean grandmother interviewed in the article by referring to her as Ms. Eun Ju-sung. In all likelihood the lady's name would be Ms. Ju Sung-Eun, and in no event should she be referred to as Ms. Ju-sung. Readers of this blog would know that BBC is prone to egregious errors when it comes to covering Korea.)

The Korean thinks the idea that Korea has "too many college graduates" is incorrect, for a number of reasons. To give a short (and incomplete) summary of the reasons:
  1. The idea ignores the fact that Korea currently has the lowest birthrate in the world, which means Korea will soon face a severe shortage of people generally, and young people in particular. Whatever youth unemployment there exists currently is a temporary problem.

  2. Research on this topic shows that it is not the college degree that hinders employment, but differences in other skills. In other words, the young unemployed population is unemployed not because their standards are too high, but because they are not desirable candidates for the employers.

  3. The idea is based on the erroneous premise that as long as we deny people from attending college, we can sufficiently crush their aspirations enough for them to accept menial jobs.
In this post, however, the Korean exclusively wants to discuss the reason he considers the most important, that is:  4. Liberal education has value that reaches far beyond employment, such that it enriches the society even if the educated people are unemployed.

To be sure, the benefits of liberal education is not obvious -- which is partially why Korean president Lee Myeong-Bak has said: "A soccer player does not need a diploma from Seoul National University; he only needs to kick the ball well," as he joined the chorus of observation that Koreans are getting over-educated. But in some rare instances, one can get a clear and unobstructed glimpse of the benefits of liberal education manifested in a society. One of those rare instances involve coffee in Korea.

(source)
(More after the jump)

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



Let us back up for a bit and get some terminologies and history straight. First, about the term "liberal education." There may be many definitions of the term, but as good as any is the definition offered by the Association of American Colleges and Universities:  "philosophy of education that empowers individuals with broad knowledge and transferable skills." Under this definition, liberal education prefers to produce generalists rather than specialists. Instead of focusing on a specific area, liberal education asks the students to be broadly knowledgeable about various topics and cultivate the life skills that can be used in any situation.

Korea's educational system, including primary (K-6th grade), secondary (7th-12th grade) and tertiary (college and beyond) education, is strongly premised on the philosophy of liberal education. Korea's colleges are set up similarly as American colleges, which generally emphasize liberal education. More importantly, Korea's middle and high schools demand the students to be proficient in a number of subjects at the same time -- as many as 15 subjects in high school which includes Korean, English, math, science, social studies, literature, ethics, music, fine arts, etc. Students have relatively few choices for electives. Critics of Korean educational system argue (mistakenly, in the Korean's estimation,) that this system is wasteful for students, whose energy would be better served by specializing in a number of electives.

Second, about coffee in Korea. As the Korean explained previously, Korean people's love for coffee runs deep. Although coffee obviously is a recent introduction to Korea, virtually every Korean at every level of society -- rich, poor, urban, rural, old, young -- loves drinking coffee. Korea's love for coffee, however, did not translate to a particularly high quality of coffee. For a long time, and for the most part, the only coffee available in Korea was the Tasters' Choice instant coffee mix, intermixed with a healthy dose of coffee creamer and sugar. Even as recently as five years ago, the only coffee that was halfway decent in Korea was from a handful of Starbucks outlets, located primarily in Seoul.

Now, here is the main point:  in the last five years, the quality of coffee in Korea improved astronomically. To be sure, Tasters' Choice instant coffee mix remains popular among Koreans, particularly in the older generation. (It is the only coffee that the Korean Father drinks, for example.) But gone are the days when the choices for a decent coffee in Seoul were between Starbucks and Starbucks. (Emphasis on the word "decent" here -- Starbucks in Korea is just as good as Starbucks in America, so you can guess the quality of the best coffee Korea had to offer as recently as five years ago.)

There are more than a dozen "gourmet coffee" chains in Korea, and the average quality of coffee available from those coffee shops is incomparably better than the quality of the average coffee available just five years ago. When one seeks out the best coffee shops of Seoul, their coffee compares favorably to any coffee that the Korean has ever had around the world. (New York Times noticed, apparently.) The Korean can say without any hesitation that five years ago, Seoul had worse coffee than Washington D.C. Now? Seoul is blowing D.C. out of the coffee mug.

But how did this happen? Korea's coffee tradition is extremely short. And just five years ago, excellent coffee in Korea was completely unavailable. Korea is a country marked by fast changes, but even the Korean himself did not expect this. How does a country go from shitty coffee to excellent coffee in just five years?

The big part of the answer is Korea's liberal education. This may seem unlikely -- what does educational system have to do with coffee quality? But think about what is required for a general increase in quality of coffee over the whole society. It is not enough to have a small cohort of specialists. Even if Korea had a small number of world-class coffee roasters, those roasters won't be able to make a living if they could not sell their coffee. The general public needs to have the ability to make fine distinctions, separate good from the bad, and support the work of the specialists by paying for their product.

Here is where the value of liberal education shines. Few Koreans ever received a detailed, professional education in coffee. However, they received an education in a number of different subjects, such that they grow to have a certain body of meta-skills that connects the different knowledge gained from all the different subjects. If the population of a given country has a stronger set of such meta-skills, that country ends up operating at a higher level.

The application of chain of events is extremely subtle, and rarely can one isolate the contribution of the meta-skill in any given social enhancement. Korea's improvement in coffee quality, however, provides as clear a picture as one could get. One of the meta-skills acquired through liberal education is an appreciation of fine differences, gained through art, music and literature. Give better coffee to a population that knows how to make small distinctions, and what happens? Coffee quality improves dramatically.

Of course, even in this best case scenario that shows the benefits of liberal education, the causal mechanism is not neat. There are certainly other intervening factors. If Koreans had not loved coffee (however crappy that coffee was) for the last few decades, it is doubtful that they were able to notice and go for improved coffee, even if they had the best liberal education possible. (This is probably why, for example, pasta in Korea is still not that great, although the quality of pasta in Korea also has been improving significantly in recent years.) Certainly some part of the trend is fueled by hipster poseurism, with a number of people going along with the trend without truly understanding the coffee quality in an effort to look cool. But regardless of these caveats (and there may be more,) the main point holds:  there is no way the quality of coffee over an entire country could improve so dramatically in just five years, unless you have a liberally educated population capable of making fine distinctions.

In fact, how Korea came to have good coffee is a scale model of how Korea came to be a first-world country at an unprecedented speed. The improvement of coffee quality in Korea is merely the improvement of Korean society, writ small. One thing must always remember this about Korea:  no country in the history of mankind has gone from one of the poorest countries in the world to one of the richest in just 60 years, while going from a dictatorship to a democracy to boot. And a major reason why Koreans could have pulled off such a miracle is because Koreans consistently employed a version of liberal education -- a Confucianism-based educational philosophy that is designed to build a whole person, rather than injecting specialized knowledge as if adding options to a car.

(Aside:  Here is a Washington Post article that makes the same point, stated slightly differently.)

This point is worth reiterating:  a society with liberally educated people operates at a higher level. Of course specialized knowledge is necessary, especially in today's world dominated by technology. Yet equally necessary are liberally educated people who have a strong set of meta-skills applicable to all fields of knowledge. Those educated people appreciate the specialists' works and support the specialists by consuming such works. They provide feedback in a way that helps the specialists do better in their fields. They provide a political and social structure -- democracy, free enterprise and the like -- in which the specialists can truly shine.

Most importantly, liberally educated people do better in a rapidly changing world. Even if the world may appear to be changing into a completely different place, the relevant meta-skills remain the same as long as it is humans who are driving the change. The specialized skill du jour may change with time, but the meta-skills that are required to quickly pick up the new specialized skill and/or understand the product of the specialized skill do not change. The stronger the population's meta-skills, the faster the population is able to adopt to the rapidly changing world.

Koreans had no historical experience with coffee, but now have good-to-excellent coffee. Koreans had no historical experience with democracy, but now have the most robust democracy in Asia. Koreans had no historical experience with modern shipbuilding, steel production or consumer electronics, but now are world leaders in those industries. Liberal education in Korea made such rapid adaptation and advancement possible.

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

36 comments:

  1. TK,

    Happy New Years!!

    I just learned this term the other day while I was out with my church: a professional nomenclature for "coffee roasters" is Barista.

    Glad I can help you for once!

    You're the best.

    MC

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  2. 1) Probably doesn't hurt that certain popular Korean dramas (e.g., Coffee Prince and Coffee House) have helped raise the general population's curiosity and appreciation for high quality coffee. They certainly raised mine.

    2) One of the things I really appreciated about my university was it's emphasis on liberal education (although it is in Canada rather than Korea). Student's in the Arts were strongly encouraged to get a certificate of liberal arts in the process of getting their baccalaureate degrees. I think this approach to education makes student's more comfortable independent learners.

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  3. I agree that liberal arts education is very important. But I think the real problem here is that, OK, 80% of people go to college and that means that 80% of 20 somethings are looking for what they might call "good, respectable jobs". In America, there are a lot of folks out there who realize that there's no problem in becoming a plumber or electrician, and you can make quite a decent living doing that sort of work. Korean parents usually expect their children to become buisness people, doctors, lawyers, etc. Once you graduate with a liberal arts degree (or any college degree) you are highly unlikely to say, "well, I can't find a job in my field, so I'll go become a plumber." And so they are more likely to take jobs in coffee shops or other low paying jobs where they can at least keep their hands clean and not be seen as some kind of laborer. And I wonder what will happen when all the 40-50 something ajosshis who now do those jobs retire in another 20 years or so and there is a shortage of people to do these skilled labor jobs that they consider so beneath them.

    Anyway, that's just what I see, obviously I don't come in contact with the 20% of people who don't go to college, so maybe they're all picking up trades and maybe I'm completely wrong. Feel free to correct me here.

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    1. My brother-in-law is in the heating/cooling business in Korea. He's basically just an average looking ajushi who goes around installing and repairing AC units. On a good hot summer day - he can earn a million won. He busts his butt though...12 hour days are the norm.

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  4. Just the article I needed to read to get over the foul taste in my mouth left over from the opening sentences of this one:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/09/opinion/china-as-a-destination-for-job-seekers.html

    I just don't understand why somebody would ever want to declare themselves 'over-educated'. It is an example, I suppose, of an understanding of education a something which is useful for getting a job and nothing more. Perhaps I'm rather sensitive about this because I'm turning 29 in a month, preparing to embark on two more years of post-grad study (and considering further years of formal study beyond that). Yes, there are practical issues regarding finance, responsibilities, what you value the most in your life, but I would never doubt the intrinsic value of my education. It has made my life oh so much richer (in a non-monetary sense ^^) that I couldn't imagine myself without it.

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  5. Now if only this liberal education would help with respect to the quality of beer. I have to admit that quality beer is appearing, slowly but surely. The impetus seems to be the influx of foreigners as NSETs. I guess only time will tell.

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  6. "It is an example, I suppose, of an understanding of education a something which is useful for getting a job and nothing more."

    I think it can also be referring to the belief among many Americans that education in a formal academic setting is not a prerequisite for being a learned person. For example, I get the feeling that autodidacts are more admired and respected in America than say South Korea, but I admit I can be be wrong in that view.

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  7. "This point is worth reiterating: a society with liberally educated people operates at a higher level."

    I totally agree. Interesting, isn't it, that the US has moved away from the general to the specialized education in some high schools and most colleges and our country has great poverty, hunger, unwed mothers, suicides, etc.

    I teach at a classical school which emphasizes the liberal arts so that students learn how to learn and can be successful in most any job. It's called classical for a reason. Sounds a whole lot like the Confucianism you mention...

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  8. I think economists overlook the fact that an overeducated populace is much better suited for pursuing enterprise (thus creating employment), rather than expecting and waiting for the chaebols or the government to create it for them.

    First comment from an avid reader by the way!

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  9. I believe that more liberal education leads to a more productive, better populace, but I don't bite on the coffee analogy.

    The main reason I don't is because the beer scene in Korea was probably the worst in the world and apparently had been long before. Korean beer is some of the most bland crap I've ever imbibed, there is little to no microbrew/craft brew culture, and the range of imports, while getting better, are still relatively sparse.

    And while this is highly anecdotal, the music teacher at my old public school, a highly educated man, proudly proclaimed to me at a baseball game that "Korean beer is the best beer in the world." There are many older folks I spoke to who feel the same way.

    It seems to me the Korean fascination and adoption with coffee was fueled by something other than liberal education.

    As a caveat, Koreans have been drinking beer much longer than they've been drinking coffee, and perhaps long traditions are slower to change. Still, I wish your premise, "introduce something of better quality to highly educated people, and they will adopt it rapidly," held true for beer in Korea.

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    1. As TK said, part of it is "hipster poseurism".

      For the same reason why Italian brands are popular, it's cool, trendy and classy to drink expensive coffee.

      Beer? Not really.

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  10. I agree with Phil. Well written and well thought out post as always, but without more research to back it up, it's mere conjecture.

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  11. "a youth unemployment rate of 6.7% in October"

    You call that much? In my country (Croatia) it is almost 40%.... And Spain has a bigger percentage too.
    And we've got the same birthrate problem just as Korea is facing. I dunno about the percentage, though, but I can see it with my own eyes that every year there are less kids starting elementary school. A teacher almost lost her job because of that.

    Europe is in a simmilar situation as Korea, but somehow to me Korea still seems wealthier. I came here from Europe and I can see the people got higher pays and higher standards in Korea.

    Duh, wherever you go it's a taugh situation. A big big mess.

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  12. The author of the WP article praises the Confucian education of Joseon, but in a different article (http://www.tnr.com/article/politics/75973/the-ugly-models) criticises the Chinese and Singaporean models for rote learning. A bit confusing - I believe that the real flaw the author means to point out is not rote learning, but the lack of free speech in those educational models.

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  13. Well, I have to admit beer in Korea has not reached the level of sophistication as in other countries, so there is something to that.. However, it does seem that some industries in Korea do mature much faster than others. Latest example for me? I was in Korea last November and asked a guy what sport he likes, and got the most unexpected answer. Wakeboarding. Wakeboarding was virtually non-existant in Korea less than 5 years ago, now it's apparently one of the more popular watersports in the country and a premiere destination in the summer.. I had no clue, in the past I might've been shocked at how they latched on to such a niche activity, but not really anymore. I've found Koreans really to be quite progressive when it comes to trying new products or activities, some miss some hit, but when something does hit they rarely let things languish in mediocrity..

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  14. 5 years ago I remember drinking coffee at Hollys, Angel-in-us, A Twosome Place, Pascucci and Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. Korea was pretty crazy about coffee by then already and all these places where pretty much en par with Starbucks.

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    1. In 2006, most those places had less than 10 stores around the country, some less than 5.

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  15. Training to be a barista takes maybe a few weeks at best. This is not a skilled labor position. It does not require a liberal arts education. The ability to have a rapid propagation of what is essentially a fashion that requires only a low level of skill is not something that requires having large numbers of liberal arts majors.
    No offense, but I find your analysis ridiculous.

    Starbucks may be decent coffee compared to Taster's Choice, but saying that it's very good is misplaced. Any serious connoisseur of coffee does not consider starbucks to be all that good.

    Regardless of the value of a liberal arts education to an individual, not having the qualifications for the jobs available means that you can be very well rounded and starve to death. If everyone went to medical school, be assured there would be a lot of starving doctors. It's all about what the economy needs/demands vs supply.

    Futhermore, while I don't know what the situation is like in SK, here in the US, I find most of the people who graduate with liberal arts degrees to have wasted their time. Most have gained little to nothing from their time spent. A lot of programs are not demanding enough, and as a result, too many liberal arts graduates leave college with not much more than a piece of paper. Most people who go to liberal arts programs do so because they have no clue what to do in life and seek the easiest way to spend the next 4 years after high school.

    I also tend to think that the east asian emphasis on learning facts is also a hindrance in this regard. From what I have heard, there are no vigorous arguments being engaged with professors, and among the students themselves, with regard to the different interpretations and analyses possible in many liberal arts subjects - and in my view such vigorous discourse is absolutely necessary to developing the intellectual skill set of a liberal arts major.

    Your assertion that liberal arts was a major contributor to korea's economic success is nonsense. Korea's economic success was driven by a lot of bone crushing hard work, mercantilist economic policies, and the development of large numbers of technically educated people.

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    1. You are mixing up liberal education with liberal arts education, just to point out one thing you are confused about.

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  16. I agree with your basic argument that a highly educated population is good for any country on the whole. The GI Bill was one of the main reasons that America was able to position itself as a world superpower in the 1960s and 70s. In fact, the whole notion of public education pretty much has its roots in America, and it is responsible for making it as prosperous as it is now. That can't be said of today with all the problems we're facing on the education front, but that's a different discussion entirely.

    President Lee sounds very ignorant in his quote above. Is he suggesting that after the soccer player's career is over that he just sit around and do nothing? That can hardly be good for society. "Over-education" is not the problem. The unemployment problem is complicated, but I believe it is primarily a combination of two things

    1. The Korean market is too small, making everything ultra-competitive with the main motivation being face-saving and/or shame. Parents drill into their children's heads that they need to be doctors, lawyers, or businessmen to survive, but not everyone in the country can be a doctor, lawyer, or a businessman. As a member of the working force, there are relatively few good companies to work for in any field. For engineers, it's often Samsung or LG or bust. But not everyone can work for Samsung or LG. While the motivation of most parents is genuine concern for their children, there is a very real feeling of having failed as a parent and the associated shame with that if your child can't find a job in the upper echelon of desired occupations. This sense of shame is even stronger for the person who can't find employment in one of these desired professions or companies. They just will not settle for a typical blue collar job because guess what, your so-and-so cousin is a high-powered lawyer! Remember your childhood neighbor Joe-Schmoe? He's a successful plastic surgeon! I feel like this is getting slightly better when I hear from my childhood friends still in Korea and how they are faring now as members of the workforce, but this is undoubtedly still very present in society.

    2. K-12 education in Korea is so intense with a very large emphasis on "return on investment" that is in my point of view extremely unhealthy. This leads to a ridiculous sense of entitlement for people who obtain college degrees. The pervasive sentiment is "I worked my ass off for 16 years, all so I could be a factory worker?" While I firmly believe Korean education is much stronger than the education received by the average student in America, there are a few undeniable problems, and I think this is one of the biggest. There is no outlet for students to vent their academic frustrations. There are no organized sports or meaningful after-school activities for the serious student once he enters middle school. It is pretty much study from 7am-2am (especially in 12th grade) and they are expected to endure that for a high paying career which they are promised after it's all over. In a short comment to TK's parenthetical statement about having 15 subjects, I believe this is part of the problem. I agree with what you say about liberal education. But 15 subjects is too much. And to be tested on ALL of them??? In my own personal experience, my greatest academic epiphany occurred in college when I realized that if I stop being overly ambitious and only take two upper division engineering classes instead of four of them + humanities in an effort to graduate early (which really was just for bragging rights), I WOULD LEARN SO MUCH MORE. Back to the point, however, for Korean students, it is high stress all the time without a tangible reward in near sight. It's either that or drop out. There is no room for in between.

    The problem isn't over-education. It is a ridiculous sense of entitlement combined with an unhealthy level of shame that is contributing to the underemployment problem. Add to that a growing class inequality and you have Korea.

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  17. "In fact, how Korea came to have good coffee is a scale model of how Korea came to be a first-world country at an unprecedented speed. The improvement of coffee quality in Korea is merely the improvement of Korean society, writ small. One thing must always remember this about Korea: no country in the history of mankind has gone from one of the poorest countries in the world to one of the richest in just 60 years, while going from a dictatorship to a democracy to boot. And a major reason why Koreans could have pulled off such a miracle is because Koreans consistently employed a version of liberal education -- a Confucianism-based educational philosophy that is designed to build a whole person, rather than injecting specialized knowledge as if adding options to a car."

    This is historical revisionism.

    Korea pulled off an economic miracle by studying the sciences, engineering, business and employing this knowledge in practical ways.

    Korea could never have achieved this by studying the history of art, writ large.

    Indeed, it is the specialists that make the existence of the "liberally educated" even possible.


    Of course specialized knowledge is necessary, especially in today's world dominated by technology. Yet equally necessary are liberally educated people who have a strong set of meta-skills applicable to all fields of knowledge. Those educated people appreciate the specialists' works and support the specialists by consuming such works. They provide feedback in a way that helps the specialists do better in their fields. They provide a political and social structure -- democracy, free enterprise and the like -- in which the specialists can truly shine.

    You have it backwards.

    It is the scientists, engineers and chemists that support the liberally educated people, such as the artists, entertainers, philosophers, and social pundits. The specialists with practical knowledge that build the highways, manufacture the cars and erect the tall buildings patronize the arts, buy the highfalutin books, and attend the lectures given by the Wayne Dyers of the world.

    The stronger the population's meta-skills, the faster the population is able to adopt to the rapidly changing world.

    It is the specialists that often push forward the rapid change: the scientific breakthroughs, new mechanical devices, innovative electronics . . . not the Women's Studies major, now coffee entrepreneur.


    Koreans had no historical experience with coffee, but now have good-to-excellent coffee. Koreans had no historical experience with democracy, but now have the most robust democracy in Asia. Koreans had no historical experience with modern shipbuilding, steel production or consumer electronics, but now are world leaders in those industries. Liberal education in Korea made such rapid adaptation and advancement possible.

    Let's not hyperventilate with exaggeration. Making coffee is not exactly like designing microchips. I'm pretty sure any one of us could learn how to make good coffee in a relatively short period. I don't think the same could be said about microchips.

    Koreans have a long tradition of building ships, working with metals and developing pretty innovative stuff for its time.

    Arguably, it wasn't the navel gazers who accomplished these things. It was the specialists. And it is on the back of hard-working specialists that navel gazers owe their leisurely existence.

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    1. You are mixing up "liberal education" and "liberal arts education" -- which makes your entire comment irrelevant to the OP.

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  18. The Korean,

    You are mixing up "liberal education" and "liberal arts education" -- which makes your entire comment irrelevant to the OP.


    No, my comments address your arguments, the thrust of it being the generalist vs. the specialist.

    You say, "Liberal education in Korea made such rapid adaptation and advancement possible."

    It's agreed that a broad "liberal education" is a good thing, but many of your assertions including your coffee metaphor, are misleading or simply erroneous.

    Specialists make generalists possible, but you wrongly turn the tables around the other way.

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    1. No, your comments are irrelevant because you have the wrong starting point. The way you use the terms "generalists" and "specialists" is different from the OP. According to you, "generalists" are exemplified by artists, entertainers, pundits, "Women's Studies majors," while "specialists" are exemplified by scientists, engineers and chemists. That is not how the OP uses the term "generalists" and "specialists."

      You are going down the wrong track because you could not differentiate "liberal education" and "liberal arts education" at the time you wrote your first comment. Stop trying to salvage what is unsalvageable, and come back when you have something relevant to say.

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    2. It looks like most readers misinterpreted you... and no surprise, the nature of your argument lead them down that road.

      But unfortunately for you, whether you're talking about a "liberal education" or "liberal arts education" -- your arguments are still WRONG.

      And people who are fond of "liberal education" do often major in the softer subjects and not uncommonly deemed "overeducated" afterwards.

      Still, you're free to take comfort in what you want... but you'd be wrong to do so.

      Delete
    3. Unlike you, I can actually look at what most readers are saying about this post, since I get the feeds from everyone who re-posted the OP on Facebook, Twitter, other blogs, etc. And I can safely say that unlike you, most people got the point of OP.

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    4. Your feeling of safety doesn't change the fact that your arguments are wrong.

      As one commenter correctly pointed out, "Korea's economic success was driven by a lot of bone crushing hard work, mercantilist economic policies, and the development of large numbers of technically educated people."

      In other words, Korea's success wasn't paved by generalists, the liberally educated, whom you have heaped on with praise as operating at a "higher level" and "do better in a rapidly changing world".

      Indeed, latter Joseon can be said to be the epitome of decrepit liberally educated, generalists, pretending to know everything but able to do nothing.

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    5. As one commenter correctly pointed out, "Korea's economic success was driven by a lot of bone crushing hard work, mercantilist economic policies, and the development of large numbers of technically educated people."

      You mean, the same guy who couldn't get the distinction between liberal education and liberal arts education correct? You two should hang out.

      Delete
  19. ...there is no way the quality of coffee over an entire country could improve so dramatically in just five years, unless you have a liberally educated population capable of making fine distinctions.


    No, you only need *some* people capable of making fine distinctions. The rest will follow if they are properly motivated.

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    1. So we just need drones to follow the elite? That does not sound democratic. One of the reasons why we have a general liberal education in which students are educated in ALL subjects (including the arts and science) is for them to be able to participate in a democracy. We should be educated on how to become better people, not just to learn on how to do a job. As graduates, we know that a degree only tells an employer, 'well he can't be an idiot and must know how to learn, now it is time to learn HOW to do a job.' As a college graduate who only went to the university because he wanted to become a teacher (personal study was so much more full filling for me than school) I only went to the university so I could get a job, but I learned far more in college than I had in high school.

      On a side note, I think that I received the best education in Middle School where I took 10 classes a day, each of them 40 minutes each. That was true liberal education. I had some of the best math and science teachers who taught more than just math and science. Also that was the only school where I took grammar as a class. Thank God for that! I'm an English teacher in Korea with a major in History.

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    2. So we just need drones to follow the elite?

      You learn everything there is to learn about cameras, TVs, cars, etc... their inner working, mechanics, electronics, before buy one? Or do you read reviews, ask friends, experts? See what other people are using, talking about?

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  20. The Korean I agree with you on the pros of the liberally educated helping to fuel a strong economy, but I don't agree with liberal education fueling a strong boom in coffee over the last 5 years.
    My inner capitalist tells me the demand in Korea for the "coffee experience" which is paying 5,000won for a comfy chair, nice ambiance, a coffee and almost unlimited time to study or hang with friends are what Koreans want. The demand is huge seeing how the majority of young people still live with their parents until marriage and have no other social option which compares in price/time. Once those business guys saw Starbucks making a killing on coffee, they noticed the supply was almost non existent and joined the game. However, how are you going to compete now that there is a coffee shop on every corner trying to steal market share? Easy, have better quality coffee or better ambiance.

    Now young Koreans (mainly) have a better assortment of choices when they study or hang with friends. Now they can use their liberal education to make a choice but it was the supply and demand and capitalistic structure that gave them the opportunity to choose.

    As I am dating a Korean who lives with mom and dad, I experience going to a coffee shop on a continual basis and the choice between coffee places doesn't rest on the quality of coffee but generally the price, availability of seats, seat comfort and ambiance. Coffee shops give the best bang for your won.

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    Replies
    1. Sure, supply and demand is important. But how does supply and demand work at the exclusion of liberally educated tastes?

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    2. Would someone please inform senior El Coreano that one does not need a liberal college education to enjoy a soy grande peppermint white chocolate mocha from Starbucks?

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  21. Not sure about this. People can be capable of fine distinctions in one area, and oblivious in another. Up until the appearance of Starbucks, Koreans drank the cheapest nastiest instant coffee while, at the same time, their palates made fine distinctions in dining all the time.

    Here's another thing: for decades the Brits drank almost exclusively instant coffee (albeit not the nastiest kind), then real coffee came in as part of the yuppie culture, then Starbucks took off in the UK the same as everywhere else.

    I think sometimes these changes in culture are mysterious, arising organically; or they spread from centres of prestige; or sometimes they are a matter of controlling distribution channels and marketing. Someone decided to let Starbucks in, to hook Korea up to the great global supply chain of coffee growers and processers, and then to flood the media with the hipster Starbucks image. Supply - plus PR - created demand. Oh, and real coffee is a real pleasure, and people do appreciate having a comfortable environment to sit and relax in too. Kudos to Starbucks.

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  22. Another case in point: Korean beer. Why haven't Korean consumers become as discerning with beer as they have with coffee? Answer: perhaps they would but the government taxes potential competitors to current brewers Jinro-Hite and OB out of the market (See http://koreajoongangdaily.joinsmsn.com/news/article/article.aspx?aid=2964841&cloc=joongangdaily|home|online). This doesn't show that liberal education isn't a necessary condition for new and better products to take off, but it certainly isn't a sufficient one.

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