Blind but brilliant Korean serves the U.S. presidentKang Young-woo, 62, U.S. President George W. Bush’s appointee to the National Council on Disability, is a firm believer in the power of positive thinking.
“After I lost my vision, I prayed to God everyday to give me my vision back. If God answered my prayer, I wouldn’t have come this far. Losing my sight became the biggest asset in my life. I was able to succeed because of it,” he said.
Mr. Kang came to Korea on July 29 to commemorate the local publication of his book, “If There is a Dream, There is a Future.” The book is about his experiences overcoming his disability and his ideas on education. Mr. Kang said he plans to stay in Korea for two weeks giving lectures.
Dr. Kang is perhaps the highest-ranking Korean-American in the U.S. federal government. All nominees to the National Council on Disability must be approved by the U.S. Senate.
On July 13, he was selected by the Roosevelt Foundation as one of 127 persons to be lauded for “meritorious services.” Dr. Kang was the only Korean-American among them. The list included eight former U.S. presidents, including Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton.
The foundation said it selected Mr. Kang because he overcame prejudice against the handicapped and became the first disabled Korean to obtain a Ph.D. It said Mr. Kang has dedicated himself to helping people with disabilities, serving as the vice-chairman of the U.N. World Committee on Disability.
Mr. Kang was not nearly so lauded as an adolescent, however.
He lost his vision in middle school, when he was hit directly in the face with a soccer ball. Shortly after, his father died of an undiagnosed disease; his mother, upon learning that her son was permanently blinded, died of a stroke that same day. His sister, who worked in a garment factory in Dongdaemun, Seoul, and took care of the family, died of exhaustion and malnutrition.
His younger sister was sent to an orphanage and his brother was sent to work in a hardware store. Dr. Kang was sent to a rehabilitation center for the blind.
After graduating from the Seoul National School for the Blind, he applied to Yonsei University to major in education, and was accepted despite the social prejudice against the disabled at the time.
However, after he graduated with honors from Yonsei University, he was given a chance to study at University of Pittsburg with a scholarship from Rotary International. In three years and eight months, he received master’s degrees in education and psychology and a doctoral degree in educational philosophy.
His children have also been successful. His eldest son attended Harvard University and became an ophthalmologist, and his younger son is an attorney working as the chief legal assistant for the Democratic Party’s floor leader.
Mr. Kang said his philosophy on raising children was simple: “Rather than shoveling them full of facts, it’s better to help their confidence mature and to have positive thinking.”
For Korean education that focuses only on gaining knowledge, he said, “No matter how smart you are, you can fail if you have the wrong attitude. Korea’s education leans toward raising one’s intelligence quotient and is ruining the more important emotional quotient.”
by Cheong Chul-gun