Every life is a book unto itself, says group

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Every life is a book unto itself, says group


Members of the authorship education group Chaekttase celebrate its 20th anniversary in Sinchon, western Seoul, on June 26. [KIM KYUNG-BIN]

“Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere.”

Education group Chaekttase takes this line from the 2007 Pixar film “Ratatouille” to heart. The nongovernmental organization, which started as a small group of teachers in 1998, helps anyone from elementary school students to homemakers publish their own book.

“I couldn’t have imagined writing my own book a year ago before I started with Chaekttase,” says Han Hee-ja, 52, who published a book this February about her 19 years of experience teaching people to read. When she completes teaching a course on authorship mentoring for the city of Bucheon at the end of this month, she will join Chaekttase’s 23 active mentors.

Chaekttase, short for “teachers who make a warmer world through books,” first helps people write their own books and then encourages them to donate the copyright to help people in need, a process they call “copygifting.” Many education groups encourage people to read more books, but Chaekttase takes a step further to tell them they can write one. Heo Byung-du, a high school teacher who started the group, explained.

“At first when I ask people to write a book, they’re all baffled,” he says. “But they completely change once they find a topic they’re interested in. They become crazy passionate and stay up writing all night long. They are overcome with confidence that they are doing something meaningful with their lives.” Heo first suggested the idea to a class of high school seniors in 1997. Students who had little interest in academics were encouraged to pick a topic that interested them.

Heo explains that writing books is very different from writing essays for college. “In college essay tests, students are asked to create something original from cookie-cutter ingredients, and that becomes really stressful. But writing books is totally different. It’s an active process that thrives on unique viewpoints and personal styles. It gives people an opportunity to break out of the passive position of being a reader.”

Han Hye-jeong, head librarian of the Bucheon Sangdong Library, is an active member of Chaekttase and helped several people become authors. “I’ve seen all kinds of people become authors, from village leaders to homemakers,” Han says. “They look back on their lives while writing and when they see the finished product, they’re moved to tears.”

Age is just a number when it comes to writing. Yoo Yeon-jeong, a member of Chaekttase and a 4th grade teacher, helps her young students become authors. Yoo says that when she first suggests the idea, her students laugh at her. She helps them narrow down their interests and write a six-page book. Students often face challenges, asking her if they’re allowed to do this or that, until they work through them and finally hold the book in their hands. “They become really proud of themselves,” Yoo says.

Chaekttase celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. It’s led by two co-chairs and managed by a group of 70. The group’s activities aren’t limited to writing; they have been recommending books for students to read over winter break since 2000. Park Yoon-joo, a middle school teacher who has long been part of the recommendation processs, said that they “choose from 25 to 30 books each break without any input from publishers.”

Chaekttase also offers teachers courses in reading education every break. It was directly behind education policies such as Daegu’s “Million Student Authors Project.” However, the project was accused of being just another channel for students to gain an edge in college admissions, so Chaekttase disassociated itself from the project.

Heo, founder of Chaekttase, says, “Writing research papers for college admissions tarnishes the essence of authorship education.” Chaekttase is currently cooperating with the city of Bucheon. Their mission is being adopted by regional governments and education offices.

Chaekttase and its members have published 70 books. All profits from books published under the organization and part of the profits from books published by its members are used for operating costs. To prevent any private education companies from influencing its projects, the organization runs entirely on member dues and volunteers. Cho Yeong-su, a representative of Chaekttase, says, “We are aiming to broaden authorship education beyond schools and into the local community.”

BY KANG HONG-JUN, NOH SHIN-YOUNG [noh.shinyoung@joongang.co.kr]
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