Monday, October 20, 2008

Woes at Work.

Why do I always have to make everything more complicated than it needs to be? I really think (I've been told this before) that caring too deeply, too passionately, about too many things is a serious flaw of mine. Certainly it becomes troublesome when people hit a sore spot.

Case in point:
Today I (well, we) received the following e-mail from the English cultures teacher (now here's a rant for another day--why is someone who spent 6 months in the U.S. teaching culture when we have TWO Americans teaching at the school... *sigh*):

Dear William and Diana,

I am [name redacted], teaching American and English culture.
There is a section 'Expand your knowledge', in which we need to ask Americans the following questions and record their answers.
Could you please answer them?

1. Should there be prayer in public schools?
2. Should public school systems provide vouchers that could be used to pay tuition in private schools?
3. Should there be sex education in the schools? If so, what should be taught?
4. Are drugs and violence problems in the schools in your neighborhood? What is being done to protect children in public schools?
5. How important is a college education? What difference does it make in a person's life?


I'm sick of this. I'm sick of being the "representative" American. I have no problem if my students were to approach me and ask my opinions on these or other controversial issues, but to type them up for another teacher to teach them to MY students violates all kinds of student/teacher boundaries.

This school needs to decide if I'm a mascot or a teacher. Because I can't do both effectively.

I pulled the teacher aside and explained to her my concerns about answering these questions. I even suggested that if she wants to "teach" written examples of American opinions that she research some published ones on the internet (I even offered to help her find these).

It didn't help that William had no problem at all with this. *sigh*

So I took the rest of the day, composing my answers (in between, you know, TEACHING classes). Made a hellovalotta work for me I didn't need to do, and stressed myself out. This was the result (which, naturally, I am still dissatisfied with):

Note to students: Before reviewing my responses to these questions, please understand that I have taught in both American schools and Korean schools. Currently, I teach in Korea and you are Korean students and so my answers are probably more relevant to my opinions about what needs to happen in Korean schools, though my opinions are heavily informed by my experience as a student and teacher in America. If I was answering these questions in America, I might answer them differently, as they relate to culture. Please consult me with any further questions you might have.

1. Should there be prayer in public schools?
Public schools are government institutions. I believe that the government should be separate from churches; therefore schools should neither promote any particular religion nor interfere with anyone's right to practice a religion. Prayer that does not interfere with other students' studies or routines should be permitted. Prayer should never be mandatory (compulsory, obligatory) and school officials should not promote or foster any one religion by praying with students or asking students to pray.

2. Should public school systems provide vouchers that could be used to pay tuition in private schools?
I do not support a voucher system. Most of the time the money provided in vouchers by the state is only enough to afford tuition at private schools with a religious affiliation. Public schools should remain separate from church; I believe this includes public money. I also think schools should not interfere with a parents' right to enroll their child in alternate education forms, should they deem it suitable. However, supporting these choices with public funds is ludicrous.

3. Should there be sex education in the schools? If so, what should be taught?
I believe public schools have a responsibility to promote public health, and that includes teaching about practices (abstinence, condom use, monogamy) that would prevent communicable diseases, such as STDs, and to help students understand responsible choices regarding procreation (birth control, family planning). Therefore I believe that sex education should be taught in schools. However, since sex is often a moral issue in culture as much as it is a health issue, schools should be careful about appropriate curriculum and methods regarding sex education.

4. Are drugs and violence problems in the schools in your neighborhood? What is being done to protect children in public schools?
I don't like answering this question in Korea. It's true that America has more problems with drugs and violence in general than Korea does, but if you are not personally involved in gangs and take some basic precautions, it doesn't really affect your life very much, even if you live in one of these "bad neighborhoods." The issue is so complex and so foreign, even to other people in America who haven't been exposed to neighborhoods labeled "problems," that it is difficult to explain it effectively. Often it leaves the listener with stereotypes about race and class that are not true, and that I refuse to promote. I could tell you about the poverty, the time I witnessed a boy get thrown through a plate glass window by a boy from another gang, about the time(s) I called a mother because I was concerned about her daughter's grades and the mother was high, about my neighbors who fought with their children so loudly I considered calling child services more than once... but it would only make you think America is a dangerous place. For those children, maybe it can be, but for most people it isn't.

Schools in America often have counselors, police officers, peer support groups, gang violence and drug awareness education, and other programs in place to offer as much help and support as we can to students who come from families already involved in the activities I have described. It's usually only moderately effective. However, school tends to be the only place a lot of kids feel "safe" in America... and I think that says something good about how public schools are dealing with the problem.

5. How important is a college education? What difference does it make in a person's life?
Personally, I valued my college education because it was a time for me to think deeply about many subjects and try out different intellectual ideas in a comfortable environment, but few people view the "value" of college from an academic perspective. I think our societies (both Korean and American) have over-emphasized the importance of college education to the point that everybody really must go to college to get a good job. It has become a necessity for jobs simply because so many people have college degrees that it is one more way to weed out applicants for a job.

However, most jobs don't require the skills you learn at a university. I wish that both Korea and America could understand that college is for academia and stop believing it is necessary to have a good life. The snobbery associated with not only whether or not you obtain a degree, but even from which school you get it, has grown to the point of ridiculous elitism, especially in highly competitive Korea. Many college graduates I know have no worthwhile skills in businesses and have to learn how to do their jobs once they get hired. Meanwhile, many people who did not finish college are gifted in other areas and make a wonderful life for themselves as artists, entrepreneurs, technicians, writers, and other skill-based professions.

I gave up and sent it, still frustrated.

But I do feel a little better after talking to Leah, and receiving this response from the teacher:

Dear Diana,
Your long and elaborate answer really really amazes me. You thought a lot and made such an elaborate letter.

I appreciate you so much and promise to use it only for educational purposes. What makes me inspired is your professionalism and enthusiasm. Thank you again. I will read it in detail and ask you questions if any. Whatever you might say, I come to think you pursue perfection!


Perhaps, even with my problems, complaints, and frustrations with being an outsider and having been hired in name only to be a "teacher," this school is worth demonstrating some patience. At least I am valued as a human being, despite my foreign-ness.

4 comments:

  1. Your responses take my breath away - you are an amazing person who just happens to be be child! I miss you very much, kid.

    Love,

    Mom

    ReplyDelete
  2. i tagged you on my blog. is this like a blog thing? feel free to ignore this, i'm merely following the rules.

    ~w

    ReplyDelete
  3. I agree with the "college" section. Although I don't quite have hindsight yet, I think I've learned more about myself being here than anything I've ever really learned in a classroom.

    -Rachel

    ReplyDelete

  4. I'm sick of this. I'm sick of being the "representative" American.


    Now you know how I feel. :)

    ReplyDelete

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