Archive for August, 2008

Since I’m rather busy right now, I’m restricting myself to a quick post. 


I bring to you, then, two examples of questionable pedagogy from within the intense, bizarre, and big-business world of English language education in South Korea. 


The first is a tale of Soviet-style indoctrination. Before class each day, I am required to lead my students in an embarrassing group pledge.  My students hate it has much as I do; it goes like this (repeat after me):Indoctrination Center


My Promise,


One, I am doing my best.

One, I am speaking English everywhere.

One, I am having fun,

Because I am learning English everyday.


You might be wondering why “one” is repeated three times?  Good, so am I.


The second example comes from a listening manual that seems to sell itself as “hip”.  Five characters lend their voice and graffiti-like appearance to the CD and textbook respectively.  Yesterday, on track 38 of CD B, cool-dude #1 leaned into cool-dude #2 and said: “Look at her.  She’s very fat.  She’s ordering some food.”  The underlined words were filled in by my students– ever the good listeners.  Unfortunately, the example was expanded in the review chapter, only this time a female voice joined the boorish boys.  When cool-dude #1 said, “She’s very fat, I think she can eat 5 hamburgers,” the girl countered with, “I don’t think so, I think she can eat 3 hamburgers!”


Soak it in, children.  Soak it in.



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I’ve heard it said by famously smart people that some of the greatest things they know they’ve learned from children.  After a year’s hiatus from kids younger than fifteen, I’ll admit it’s a refreshing experience to be back in their midst.  But the greatest source of knowledge?  Well, I’m not entirely convinced…yet, anyway.

There is, certainly, great comic relief in hearing the odd Korean child vent frustration over a wrong answer by dropping an emphatic, “aww shit-uh,” or an earnest “aww my gawd.”  While it’s hard to suppress a smile in those moments, the most I “learn” concerns the mimicry of children; how they absorb and imitate the culture around them.  I say “learn,” too, because it’s not really newly acquired knowledge for me.  So far, much of what I’ve gleaned from my students comes by way of reminiscence; by them, I am reminded of myself, once that age, once behaving in exactly the same way.  Does this sound familiar to anyone else?

  • When unable to escape extremely boring educational material, respond out loud with a variety of strange voices.
  • If told to work silently on said boring educational material, prevent insanity by squeezing air out through your cheeks and teeth.
  • The matter of first-in-line is definitely worth all the scratching, hitting, and, if need be, declarations of war.
  • Farting is always a matter of uproarious laughter.
  • Rock-paper-scissors solves everything.
  • Pointing out a teacher’s error is the greatest source of pride– even though the “mistake” may be imaginary.
  • If you don’t make eye contact with girls, you’ll never have to speak with them and they’ll never know you’re there.
  • Violence remains firmly entrenched as the best method of flirting, below the age of twelve.

Of course, it’s not all reminiscence, I must admit.  Sometimes kids can surprise you with the most philosophical of answers; answers that seem almost other-worldly or too poetic for such miniature hands to print out.  Yesterday, for instance, I was working on coordinating conjunctions with a few students, when I asked them to branch out and create their own sentences.  One girl, about ten years old, called me over after eagerly scratching pencil into paper for a few moments. “Teacher, teacher,” she said proudly, as she began to read her sentence: “There are more than twenty ways, yet I can’t even choose one.”

It was the most abstract moment I’ve encountered in a student.  I could only shake my head in amazement and laugh a little at the rightness of her insight; it’s our post-modern conundrum– far too many ways and a static, inability to really choose.

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