[VIEWPOINT]Drama: a boon to our childrenIn March, children who have reached the 6th year of their life will enroll in grade schools in Korea.
In New Zealand, the system is a little different, and children enter school at around their 5th birthday. I can almost hear what Korean mothers, who seem to regard education as a 100-meter sprint, would say. Most of them would loudly complain, "My children will be disadvantaged against children whose birth dates are earlier!"
But you don't have to worry in New Zealand. Even after they register for school, children have fun and play there. They are not forced to memorize and take tests, to the horror of Korean mommas.
Compared with children in New Zealand, I feel sympathy for Korean children.
One of my colleagues told me the following story. He called his grandson, who had not yet entered elementary school, and asked him why he had not come to visit his grandfather as often as before. His grandson replied: "Grampa, I am so busy these days. I have no time to play with you." The boy took his grandfather aback when he continued, "I have to learn English, piano, and drawing; I have six classes a day."
How horrible. The boy fell victim to his mother's greed to teach her son more and earlier than others so he would be better placed in academic competition. The boy is, before reaching the age of 6, learning that the world is a place of competition and you are not supposed to lose.
If I ask the average Korean, "So what if you lose?" they would answer that that could happen. But I know they would secretly laugh at a loser.
That is why, for example, Korean people pay a great deal of attention to the champions of baduk, which the Japanese call go. Champions earn a lot of money, but the general public is indifferent to the rest of the players and how much they might earn.
Koreans attribute a large part of their economic development to their time-honored zeal for education. But the so-much-cherished educational system of Korea is laced with problems. First of all, there are many things that are supposed to be taught beginning in elementary school but are not. One of them is drama. Through acting in a play, children learn how to project their voices and how their thoughts can be delivered to others. In other words, drama can teach them speech and writing at the same time.
And there is more to education than just academic subjects. Children can learn through drama that even if they play the king or the queen this semester, they could also be cast as peasants the next semester when their friends get the title roles. They learn they can be something less than others - perhaps even trees, rocks or animals.
Drama is also useful in treating adults suffering from mental illnesses triggered by bad childhood memories. By playing roles as themselves as children, they can express those repressed memories and usually end up in tears, but with a better idea of what caused those tears. That is a well-known method for treating mental illness.
When I was in school, I was not taught drama, but at least I was taught to read textbooks aloud. Korean language teachers would point to students and tell them to stand up and read books aloud so everybody in the classroom could hear. I am not sure whether that is still a teaching method; probably not, based on what younger students tell me. Maybe that is because television channels have multiplied, but it seems that a lot of women in their late 20s and early 30s now stand in front of cameras without enough training. In the worst cases, they just elevate the pitch at the last syllable of every word. To do so, you have to tighten your larynx at the end of every word, and that ceaseless up-and-down intonation is very annoying to the listener.
Why? I am not sure, but I think it is a device to try to project good humor and friendliness artificially. It does not work well; if you listen to the speaker's rhythm and intonation, you can hear the underlying irritation in the speaker's voice. Intonation is a mirror into a speaker's mind.
I hope we can teach young children good intonation. That is why I say we should teach them drama. After 10 years, we would be able to observe the results - we would have a generation of well-spoken Koreans who could also listen carefully to others.
The writer is a professor of music at Seoul National University.
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