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On Teaching Writing in a Korean University — Part 3: When in Rome… Stop and Ask Yourself: Why Do Romans Do What They Do?

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series On Teaching Writing in a Korean University

[Note: You’ll probably get more out of this if you start at part 1.]

So, we’ve established that Korean humanities programs — or at least a number of them — seem not to prioritize writing. We’ve established that this conflicts with the normal Anglophone idea (or at least, a common idea from the Anglophone world) of how a humanities education works.

I want to emphasize, though that this is not just a philosophical difference. The philosophical difference has profound effects, down to the level of budget, the level of resource allocation, and more — and that this is a self-reinforcing situation. If you think I’m slagging on Korean professors without context, here’s my chance to disabuse you of this notion: they’re trapped in the same system I am, and that system is structured in a way that profoundly limits how much writing ca be assigned to students — and how much teaching of writing can be achieved at the undergraduate level, too.

Here are a few examples of how and why I say this:

So I’m not blaming Korean professors alone for this. There’s a systemic component to it: while I have no doubt some couldn’t care less whether their students learn to write, I’m sure some do… but they’re faced with the same situation as I am, and the same necessity of triage that I am faced with. And, of course, enrollment in their classes isn’t filtered by people who couldn’t be bothered to sit through English-language lectures, so their classes are on average even bigger than mine.

So I am resolving, now, to two things:

  1. This is Rome. I might not need to visit the temple and worship Jupiter, but I’d damned well better find a way to make Rome livable for me.
  2. I’m not going to live like other Romans, however, in part because I think there are new ways of doing things that can push stuff in a positive direction.

I’ll give an example of this: I have at least a few former students who studied literature with me, and who have emailed me to let me know that they are working on becoming professors of Korean literature, or some other humanities field, and who plan on integrating as much as they can of the methods I used with them. I have a particularly touching email from a student who said she was so excited to teach students to have their own ideas and opinions — and express them — about Korean literature.

So I think that while adjusting to Rome is a necessity, I don’t think living as the Romans do is necessarily the way to do it. Not if you want to be a force for good in the lives of your students.

And I do.

How? More about that next time.

Series Navigation<< On Teaching Writing in a Korean University — Part 2: A Little Context For YouOn Teaching Writing in a Korean University — Part 4: Finding Your Own Way to Live in Rome >>
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