Vices we love: Blood, guts and Big Nose: a brief history of English education in Korea

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Blood, guts and Big Nose: a brief history of English education in Korea

Many years ago, when Korea was a monarchy- certainly NOTHING like the thriving democracy of today- there was no need for English teachers. Or Korean teachers. How hard could it be to learn the joys of eighteen hour stretches in the field, picking corn? Koreans were born, went to work, married other Koreans, cheated on them, produced other Koreans, continued to work, retired, and promptly died.

This continued until about World War II. Known as the war to end all wars, World War I promptly bought on World War II. During Episode II, the Japanese (Japs as they were referred to in certain parts of Wyoming) looked westward and saw more land. This was important because, as anyone who has been to Asia knows, people have a tendency in this neck of the woods to be piled on top of one another like stacks of cordwood. The Japanese, busy bees that they were, not only attacked Hawaii (more land!) but also Korea. In an especially astute move, the Japanese allied themselves with a white supremacist who wanted them dead and wanted their (what else?) land. Not one of the better strategies. So stuff happens (I've been teaching here for too long and now am afraid of boring people with too much knowledge) and before you know it, the Japanese and the Koreans retreat to their respective island/peninsula to build televisions. Yes, Grampa Bernie died so that you can watch Fox News.

Sometime around the 1980s' a delightfully corrupt and incompetent government, grandly called "the evil empire" collapsed and Asia, whose population is now about 60% of the entire world got busy pretending to learn English.

At first it was all in good fun. People who didn't speak English instructed those who didn't want to learn and everyone was happy living in their respective delusions. The teacher pretended to teach, the student pretended to learn, and all was well. However, some picky people picked up on the fact that after years of English studies, students still couldn't speak English. And so, the idea of getting foreigners to teach came about.

This was not the first notion of its kind. The first recorded sighting of a paleface can be traced to an anecdote of an English teacher in Saudi Arabia in 1970. Prior to that, of course, missionaries filled the void, but their version of English was somewhat limited. Classes in the Pacific went like this:

Missionary: "Pray that Jesus will save you."
Native: "Go away. Is boring. Stop stealing me gold and touching me women."
Missionary: "Gimme your gold and women."
Native: "No. You bad man."
Missionary: "Bite me."
Native: "Okay!"

Soon, classes were cancelled en masse. This promising field lay dormant until the 1980s and 1990s when Koreans and Japanese (along with Saudis and some others) got the idea that if you have 1) white skin 2) good looks and 3) a passport from a Western country, you should teach them English. Scores of unemployed, unshaven, unskilled whities answered the call. Some took one week long classes to become "certified". In any case, a large segment of the English teaching population bore a striking resemblance to this guy. Certain folks discovered that they could make huge amounts of money by conning other folks into thinking that they were learning. Books? Lesson plans? A strategy? A business model? Goals? Who needs 'em! Just get wide butts into airplane seats and the rest will take care of itself.

Over time, foreigners and natives developed a symbiotic relationship as the former group ingested large amounts of rice wine and heroin supplied by the latter and paid for by monies also supplied by the latter. Asia was like a well oiled machine: Teachers pretending to teach, students pretending to learn, business owners paying teachers the monies which would be spent on drugs and alcohol and in this manner refunded to the business owner in question.

But all was not well in the land of drugs and linguistics. These foreigners, the ones hired explicitly for their foreign-ness, would prove much too foreign. As with any situation where you idolize a peculiar thing, the reality would prove to be inadequate. East Asians wanted Ken and Barbie. They got Homer Simpson and Selma. This would not do at all! So it was that Homer and Selmas hosts decided to make them as miserable as possible, from inpenetrable labor and immigration laws to corrupt bosses and students who could only charitably be described as human. The Westerners responded by writing hateful things about their hosts on internet websites and message boards while guiltily, yet desperately pocketing their meager rations.

True, a few managed to educate themselves and advance to the point where their rations are not so meager and they are given a chance to leave for extended periods of time, a grand thing indeed. But for most uneducated, unskilled youths, the value of their existence, as seen through East Asian eyes, can be summed up thusly:


Blogger asiatown77 said...

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9:44 AM  
Blogger Lucecilla said...

Asiatown THAT was the most accurate, and succinct history of English Education that I have ever heard.

May Santa Lucia de las Cejas Rítmicas, patron saint of writers, shine upon your work!


3:53 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

Are they still hiring?

3:46 PM  
Blogger asiatown77 said...

Absolutely Malcolm. Based on your photo, I would definitely say you are qualified.

6:12 AM  
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