중앙데일리

[VIEWPOINT]As the Twig Is Bent, the Bough Grows

Good teachers can instill in their charges a sense of awe about the wonders of our world.

May 22,2001
Someone who is very close to me once told me, "If you ask people what the most delicious dish in the world is, you will get a wide range of answers; from bears' feet or swallow's nest soup to Italian cuisine or kimchi." It is very hard to find an objective answer to this question because each individual's taste is developed through distinct experiences.

But according to my friend, this seemingly difficult question does have a definite answer: The food that your mom cooked for you in your childhood is the best. People grow accustomed to the taste of their mothers' cooking, and spend the rest of their lives looking for the tastes that they enjoyed as children.

I think my friend was right, and French philosopher Gaston Bachelard (1884-1962) wrote that childhood experiences affect a person's whole life. Mr. Bachelard asserted that the four elements that people face in their childhood - water, fire, earth and air - determine most of their unconscious actions throughout their lives.

As to prove this hypothesis, poets who grew up near nature fill their poetry with their memories of warm hearted people in their home towns, trees, birds, water and earth. Many of those poets have spent several decades in cities and had enough time to get used to urban life, but the dream of the four elements would not die.

I grew up in the seaside village of Namyang-man in Kyonggi province, and I am no exception. When I was a 4th grader in elementary school, my teacher formed a literature club at our school. In May, our teacher took us on excursions to mountains and beaches despite the principal's criticism that we were neglecting our studies.

What I will never forget is how he asked us to "touch the skin of the wind" on a hill overlooking the sea, and to "listen to the heartbeat of the earth" as he pressed his ear to the ground. It was then that I first realized the beautiful and dazzling scent that the world was emitting. The memory of the soft touch of the wind instilled the dream of literature in me.

If my teacher had not encouraged me by holding my head to his chest and saying I would receive the Nobel Prize for Literature, and if I had not been made aware of the beauty of the sea, mountains and wind, I would have lived a totally different life.

A moment governs our eternity. Childhood experience determines one's life. It is not an overstatement to say that middle-aged people today had few opportunities to truly experience literature. I could become an exception only because I met a great teacher.

Therefore, the culture accepted and enjoyed by the older generation, who were taught to cherish material value over cultural value can only be limited, unsophisticated and crude.

Books do not sell well in Korea compared to more culturally advanced countries, and high-quality works of art often fail to reach a broad audience because of the social and cultural environment.

It is normal that people in other advanced countries, who grow up with art even in their city streets, are so different from us.

We should strive to make the older generation recognize culture, but the more important thing is to raise the young generations as cultural citizens by making them feel the shock and wonder of art by giving them high-quality cultural education programs when they are still at their most impressionable.

If we promote cultural experience in today's young people they may, for instance, go to watch plays when they are older because of the shocking new world that was opened up to them when they saw a play with one of their school teachers.

As people look for the taste that they enjoyed in childhood, it is the duty of teachers to give students opportunities to meet the resplendent and beautiful light that radiates from a hidden place in this dry world.

May is a more beautiful time because of those teachers and children. Hail to our teachers.


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The writer is a professor of culture and tourism at Sookmyung Women's University.


by Hong Sa-jong




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