[FORUM]To appease our angry children

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[FORUM]To appease our angry children

An interesting story was posted on the Education Ministry's Web site recently. Here is how it went:

Once upon a time, there was a boy named Han Seok-bong. He was a bright boy who enjoyed books, and his mother earned a living selling tteok, rice cakes.

Seok-bong (when he was 10 years old): Mother, I shall leave this place and go away to study.

Mother: Yes, you should. I will wait for you selling tteok.

So Seok-bong went off deep into the mountains and studied.

Seok-bong (six years later): Mother, I am back.

Mother: Yes; have you learned a lot?

Seok-bong: Yes, I have.

Mother: Then, turn out the lights. I will slice tteok, and you write some Chinese characters. Let's see if you are as expert in your field as I am in mine.

(With the lights back on a little later)

Mother: Oh, you've done a good job. But writing is not everything. What marks did you get in your school report?

Seok-bong: Well, ummm, they were the lowest marks.

Mother: What? That's the best you did? With those poor grades, how do you expect to pass the government examination?

Seok-bong: Mother, I am sorry. I will leave this place again and go off to study.

Mother (three years later): So, did you improve your grades?

Seok-bong: Yes, I did. I got the highest marks.

Mother: My son, they say they are changing the examination guidelines.

Seok-bong: What? What do you mean?

Mother: They are saying now that they will look at your skills and aptitude.

Seok-bong: All right, mother. I will leave this area again and go off to train my skills and aptitude.

Mother: Poor boy.

Seok-bong (three years later): Mother, I am back and I have cultivated skills and aptitude.

Mother: Is that so? You are a good boy. Go take the government exam.

Seok-bong (on the day the examination results were announced): Mother, I passed.

Mother: Oh! You have done it, finally. I am very proud of you.

Seok-bong: But, mother, they changed the system this year and everybody passes the examination without a test.

The piece, posted under the subject line, "A student preparing to enter high school dares to evaluate our education policy," parses our university entrance system logically. It makes us grin, not without bitterness, in its parody of the flip-flops in education policy; but for the students and families involved, it is a very serious issue.

The writer will soon enter the class that will be subject to the new college entrance system to go into effect in 2005, and he is speaking of the outrage of having to be a "laboratory mouse" as many of his seniors were during earlier policy changes.

Browsing through the Education Ministry's Web site, you will see that there is no shortage of postings by students that reflect an alarming degree of anger not only toward the government and the schools but also at adults in general. The rough hostility expressed in some of the writing makes us worry about what the pressure of studying for college entrance tests is doing to the minds of students.

Our students are bound to miss breakfast as they head out for their schools at dawn. They have recently become aware of their plight, laid out in no ambiguous terms in a television series that compared the life of high school students here and abroad. Comments you can read on the ministry's Web site include such sentiments as "It is sad to be a student in Korea," "I hate this country. I want to leave and live in another country," "Why do we have to go through this excruciating experience? It makes me really angry" and "Our future is gloomy with education like this." Students who are entering high school this year also express fear about the experience they are about to undergo.

Students have been traumatized by such changes as badly-done assignments to newly standardized schools in Gyeonggi province. Experts have warned of the level of rebelliousness in our children and of dire consequences if it is not adequately addressed.

The Bible teaches, "Do not provoke your children to anger." How do we begin to calm our angry children?


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The writer is the chief city news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Han Cheon-soo

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