So What Next?

Given that I agree with most of this:

… I am asking myself: what next? It’s not just problems in education that have me wondering this, of course: there are other things afoot that have me checking the escape hatch to this orbital sat, making sure my suit doesn’t have any leaks, because hard vacuum is a bitch.

But for the record, I think the problems are systemic to education everywhere, but the parts that are exacerbated in Korean education are especially hard for me to reconcile myself with.

A colleague in another department I was talking with told me the idea that undergrads are incapable of individual or creative thought goes way up the ladder at my university, effectively almost all the way to the top.  She was told, when she was hired, that it is unfair to think students at the undergrad level can think critically at all, and it is unfair to expect them to do so.

Now, people I suppose are entitled to think otherwise. I cannot say the Korean education system as a whole is “wrong.” But I do think it’s a case of the system, the society, fighting the wrong fight here: I think critical thinking and creative writing are absolutely crucial skills for the world we’re tumbling into, for the world we’re now in. I think without them, we are utterly screwed.

It is unfair to ask students to think critically, if you’re not teaching them the skills associated with it. Persisting in not teaching it, though, is unconscionable if you ask me.

So… what next?

3 thoughts on “So What Next?

  1. Differing education levels based on many factors – the NEED for it (why learn calculus if you’re never going to use it is going to begin making a lot more sense) and the DESIRE for it (I want to be a writer, so I’d rather focus on writing than, say, particle physics).

    The concept of a ‘standard’ education needs to disappear out the window. There are things everything needs to use, of course, but even those can be taught in many different ways at many different times. The concept of ‘but my sixth grader has to know X, Y, and Z’ has passed.

    This, of course, presumes that standardized testing also falls by the wayside, as their existence as a gatekeeper prevents anything not on the almighty test from becoming a part of the curriculum. Replace standardized testing with what I’ll call ‘proofs’ – a pass/fail sort of exam proving you have an given level in a given subject. How that exam is given may hearken back to an oral exam, wherein a person is asked to explain some element of the field. Getting your ‘proof’ in, say, math, would require one to work through a given problem and talk about the process used. Your proof in geography could be as simple as ‘what country is this?’ to ‘why do country X and Y both claim island Z?’

  2. Actually, my own feeling is that some professors require too much of their students – requesting a totally original, deep work, when these students did not learn the basics of how to do research or even write a paper. (Profs believe that it is the high school’s job to teach these kids how to write a paper, and the high school believes it is the university’s job…)
    For myself, for classes that require a report, at the beginning of the semester, I tell my students what I want from them – which is, for a report of about 15 pages, to read about five reports or papers on a subject (more obviously is better), examine them, compare and contrast them, and come to a conclusion (which, for a policy paper, may just mean that the student agrees with the policy conclusions of one of the papers which he read – as long as the student backs up his conclusion with some reasons why he found that conclusion convincing).
    Maybe it’s because I am not requiring enough from my students, but I am sorry to say that more than half the time, they do not even do this much.
    The university apparently teaches the students how to write a paper in the CAP III class, but I have my doubts on how well they teach the students.

  3. Chris,

    Yes. Especially the idea of “proofs” being better than standardized tests because they allow evaluation to get out of the way of teaching and learning.


    Well, I might actually agree with you if I saw people asking as much as you do. I don’t tend to ask as much research because nothing usable is available at our library, and it’s embarrassing to have to tell students to go to Yonsei or some other Uni library where they can get in.

    I should differentiate between “creative” and “original.” As you certainly know, one can be creative without being original. I see that all the time: students spontaneously generating ideasd that have been had by many others many times before. But I’ll even settle for synthesizing ideas they’ve encountered in other classes, with approaches from the current class.

    (Like, say, the student who has studied sexist discourses in Hollywood films, and encounters the idea of internalization of discourses, and then tries to say something about internalization of sexist discourses.)

    Not so long ago, I even stepped away from requiring papers in certain classes. Since my department seems to privilege spoken presentation and literacy in the use of audio-visual media, I had students in my film class do ten-minute video presentations (with clips of the film they decided to discuss) with a thesis and supporting arguments. I’m still working through the videos and cannot say much about the results yet.

    But I can say that whatever schools and profs think about one anothers’ responsibilities, no institution seems to be teaching critical thinking effectively (at least prior to grad school) as far as I can tell. Even extremely bright students are usually hobbled by the twin deficits of being incapable of really critical thinking, and of coherent, organized writing. I tend to find the students who can do either have some kind of academic experience outside Korea, or in a foreign school, or something other than the standard mainstream public education/undergrad studies.

    And as I suggested in a meeting recently, if nobody else can be trusted to do it right, well then departments should be setting up in-house courses for it. From what students have told me about CAP III, you can plagiarize and cheat your way to a C and never learn a thing. Some of them tell me this explicitly, others demonstrate it.

    I’ve also stressed that it makes no sense to expect Korean students to master coherent academic writing in English without first having done so in Korean.

    My colleagues in my department semi-agreed, though I’m not sure an actual course will finally be created. Usually it takes about three or four years of suggesting for things to actually begin to happen, but I’ve only suggested this for a year now.

    (Far more depressingly, a prof in a related department agreed vehemently with me that most undegrads cannot write in English or Korean, and desperately need help with both areas. He agreed with me about their inability in both langauges (and bemoaned it himself) right up to the moment where I made this point about how they need to master it in Korean first, and then in English, which necessitates basic writing courses in Korean. Suddenly, he changed his tune, saying, “No, no, they write well enough in Korean. It’s… fine. Pretty good. Okay.” I’m not surprised, of course: teaching such basic writing courses isn’t fun. But it was still discouraging.)

    EDIT: One more thing. I know that some professors think I am asking too much of my students. However, I find that many of those in my classes rise to the challenge, so I am dubious. I am not, I reiterate, literally asking them for completely unique, creative solutions to problems or formulations of ideas; I am asking them to master the tools of critical thinking, including an ability to recognize fallacies in one another’s thinking, and their own, to a tolerable degree; to know not to take claims in print or public speeches at face value but rather to question them and assess the evidence as best they can, and so on. In those classes where these skills are brought to front and center, a fairly reasonable number of them are mostly doing not badly at it, even given the relatively little training in this skill set many have received prior to university.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *