Back in America, people go on and on and on about the "Asian education system" and how it's so great. They picture perfectly behaved seven year olds solving calculus problems in their heads while the teacher stands in front of the class, smiling beatifically.
The reality is a bit different. Culturally, Korean students are more respectful of their teachers because the position is considered so highly in Korean culture and parents do value education above all other areas (as you can see from the fact that they spent 6.8% of the GDP on education in 1999). So, while a Korean kid would never talk back to a teacher to their face, like all teenagers, my students respect and disrespect teachers behind their backs according to who has "earned" respect in their opinions. And many foreign teachers (especially in hagwons) complain that this general respect for teachers does not extend to foreigners that Koreans view as outside their culture, so the kids act exactly as American students where you have to prove to them you're a teacher before they'll listen to you.
Also the test is paramount.
I complained a lot in the past about NCLB's effect on the American education system and how useless standardized testing is for educating students. But I've gotta say that when you look at standardized testing in America, we've got NOTHING on Asia.
Today I have the day off because it's KSAT day. William explains the significance of this more completely in his blog entry on the subject, which you should read. Like I say in my comments on his blog, what a waste. What a whole freaking waste. No wonder modern Korea has so little innovation and literature of note in the greater world--kids spend their most valuable years learning how to be drones.
I'll tell you what. They might score better on a test, but if I got stuck on a desert island and had to survive all on my own, I'd sure as hell hope my partner was American-educated over a Korean-educated one. We'd stand a much better chance.