Part 3: Hyperschooling and the Tiger Mom Retcon
Last time, I talked about the idea of “Tiger Parenting” and how it’s primarily been discussed in the context of American education and upbringing. I talked about the importance of considering education and upbringing within a social context–how parenting is contextualized by society and education, how education is contextualized by parenting and society, and so on. The implications are enormous, of course: a mainstream Korean-styled upbringing in Korea is different from the same upbringing as carried out in America, or in Vietnam, and choices about the type of schooling a child receives are yet another layer of context which can amplify or modify the approach or approaches that are considered normal by the society, or adopted by the parent.
But I think, before I proceed, that it’s important to talk about the history of education in Korea. I think this is important because some people seem to believe that the extremes undertaken by a lot of Korean parents today aren’t really anything new: they date back to time immemorial, such people argue. This claim ignores quantitative and qualitative changes in Korean kids’ education, however. The kinds of things Korean parents we’re dealing with–like worrying about whether their kids should start studying TOEFL in the third grade, or assuming that English lessons will be offered on Seollal (yes, on the actual day of Seollal)–represent a pretty radical break with how kids were raised in the past.
(While Korean kids in primary school aren’t all that particularly sleep-deprived, once they hit secondary school they’re among those who get the least sleep for their age group. While some of that is cell phone use and gaming, I can assure you: even the elementary schoolers I know are more than occasionally deprived of sleep in the service of getting homework done, a pressure that only mounts in middle and high school.)
Yet many people are really eager to promote a story that historically contextualizes all of this within Koreans’ massive emphasis on education. Koreans have always made a big deal out of education: well, yes. That’s abundantly clear and well demonstrated, and this book is a good place to start if you have questions. But whenever we hear someone appealing to tradition, it should make us anxious. More often than not, what we understand as traditions are actually invented in the present, and mapped retroactively onto the past, as Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger beautifully demonstrated years ago. Continue reading