[LETTERS to the editor] What witchcraft?
According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, witchcraft is: 1 a: the use of sorcery or magic b: communication with the devil or with a familiar; 2: an irresistible influence or fascination. I just double-checked so as to ascertain what I’ve been a part of for more than five years according to Grand National Party member Chung Doo-un.
The evildoers that I am among have been casting spells to lure and inculcate the brightest minds from around the nation while also feeding the flames of an ever advancing army of diabolical demons that is feeding off of private education fees. Such are the charges that have been made against foreign language high schools here in Korea.
Nothing of this is new to those whom have been in education and know well of the constant cry of “egalitarianism” and the equalization policies that took place during the past administration’s time in office. Yet, now, a new viciousness lies within the words of lawmakers and the like with little logic to mix with the pathos. The critics throw words like “failure” and “witches” about with ease and artfulness, claiming that hagwon proliferation is a direct effect of the desire to enter such schools and that measures must be taken to rectify the wrongs perpetrated by these institutions.
First, there is the call to make such schools autonomous, which basically means stripping them of the right to select the best students. (Something along these lines was done when these schools were no longer permitted to accept students nationally but only from within Seoul). Second, the Democratic Party is calling for the heads of these nefarious nullifiers of equality in education; simply, they say, the schools should be eradicated.
Nonetheless, no one is addressing the larger problems of poor public school education, the weight that one test - the CSAT - holds in determining college entrance and the maniacal obsession parents have with getting their children into the best colleges.
I cannot claim to know everything that the current lawmakers hold in their claims but I presume they think getting rid of elite schools will improve public education under some premise that the best students will be spread far and wide with pupils of many calibers mixing and sharing in an egalitarian renaissance.
In addition, it would seem that they are asserting that once these schools are crippled or “gone,” private education will dive or disappear with them. None of this holds water given the aforementioned facts.
What their proposals end up doing is removing institutions where the best students can compete, thereby sending the most capable individuals on to university where they can prepare to make a difference in helping Korea and the world move forward, sending parents, inevitably, on a new search to find out how to put their child into such an environment - perhaps at high-level hagwon, with private tutors or abroad - so they can enter the same universities and propagate the myth that life is fair and everyone deserves to be the best.
Instead these critics should be thinking about how to improve education in public schools with teacher training, evaluations and merit-based promotions while giving more freedom to colleges (something that is now slowly being allowed) in their admissions which thereby reduces the CSAT’s weight, and encouraging more engaging and morally centered curriculums across the nation.
Moreover, they should study what these schools they so despise are doing right: requiring volunteer work, promoting leadership education, exploring cultures through foreign languages, employing technology in the classroom and, albeit slowly, offering future career exploration for young people who are often lost or blindly driven toward someone else’s dreams.
Already the principals of these schools announced alterations to admissions policies like abolishing English listening tests, setting quotas for students from lower-income families and using admissions officers to conduct interviews. Surely working together toward compromise, creation and the overall improvement of Korea’s education system is better than seething vitriol and sending out the hounds to hunt down supposed practitioners of black magic.
John M. Rodgers, head English teacher in domestic department, Daewon Foreign Language High School