WHO is a person? How do you qualify for basic human rights? What is required for you to be able to speak or worship freely or to be free from torture?
Thoughtful piece by ERIC L. LEWIS
— Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
It’s simple: you pay attention during class, you do your homework, you study hard, you pass the tests and you get into a good university. After, you can get an amazing job and then one day, you get a life partner and have a family, right? If only it were that simple.
The second Thursday of every November has become a nightmare for most South Korean students, as it is “sooneung,” which in Korean means the National College Scholastic Ability Test. This daylong test has become the main determinant for the futures of many of South Korea’s youth. The top universities of South Korea make their admission decisions largely based on the results of this exam. But what most outsiders don’t know is that for most South Korean students, their whole lives are a series of tests.
Starting as early as kindergarten, if you’re economically advantaged, Korean parents compete for the best “hagwons” or private academies where their children “cram” in more schooling at different age levels leading up to their eventual level tests to determine the extent their intellectual capabilities. If students do well on their level tests, they are more likely to be accepted into the more prestigious elementary schools, eventually leading to better high schools and ultimately the best universities. Admittance into these universities is heavily based on academic credentialism, not the students’ abilities, accomplishments or potential.
This need for private education has created a serious economic strain for the average Korean family. According to the OECD Economic Survey for Korea in April 2012, the proportion of 15-year-olds participating in after school lessons, or tutoring, is more than double the OECD average. This accounted for 10.7 percent of average household income per student in 2010. Tuition fees paid by households are the third highest in the OECD, while government scholarships and grants to students and student loans are far below the OCED averages. The survey states, “A student’s socioeconomic background is significantly correlated with the quality of the tertiary institution they attend.”
However, is this focus on private education at least producing results? Well, in 2009, 25 percent of tertiary graduates under the age of 30 were inactive, meaning not engaged in employment or education, which was double the OECD average. The survey continued, “Tertiary education has become the norm regardless of students’ capabilities or career aspirations.”
With an education culture so driven by quantitative standards, is there room for creative expression in Korean schools? Additionally, what about the students who do not test well? Are they forever doomed to be categorized as “stupid” because their brand of intelligence does not fit this system’s criteria? As Sir Ken Robinson discussed in his TED Talk about creativity in schools in February 2006, intelligence is three things: diverse, dynamic and distinct. He states, “Academic ability has really come to dominate our view of intelligence because the universities designed the system in their image.”
A group of 14-year-old Korean students were shown Robinson’s video and asked the question, “Do schools kill creativity?” Their responses were all the same, “No, it’s our faults. We’re lazy.” When they were asked if they were being tested too much or spending too much time during the day studying, they all answered yes to both questions.
“We could make it more interesting or think differently, but I have to just study for most of the day if I want to get a job,” said Alex, a 15-year-old boy who goes to hagwon at 7 p.m. until 10 p.m. “I don’t care if I’m thinking differently. A job matters more.”
Romney said the phrase (“binders full of women”) while answering a question that first went to President Barack Obama about inequalities in the workplace and fair pay for women. Obama answered the question by focusing on the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which he signed into law.
Romney took a different route in answering the question. He talked about his time as Massachusetts governor and how he wanted to hire some women – and not all men – for his cabinet.
“And – and so we – we took a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our cabinet. I went to a number of women’s groups and said, ‘Can you help us find folks,’ and they brought us whole binders full of women.”
Romney needed help finding women for posts. There were no women in at the top of the all-male Bain Capital. “Binders Full Of Women” was certainly an awkward phrase to say and it failed to even work as an answer to the question. Instead, it reminded people of a time when women wore girdles or women in China bound their feet as status symbol that allowed them to marry into money. For some, it sounded like a great idea for a Halloween costume.
And like Big Bird, it became an instant meme.
Romney then went a bit patriarchal, reminding me of the Dabney Coleman character in the 1980s movie, “9 to 5.”
“Now one of the reasons I was able to get so many good women to be part of that team was because of our recruiting effort. But number two, because I recognized that if you’re going to have women in the workforce that sometimes you need to be more flexible. My chief of staff, for instance, had two kids that were still in school.”
He continued, saying that his chief of staff couldn’t work late because she had to be home “making dinner” and “being with them when they get home from school.”
Romney said, “Let’s have a flexible schedule so you can have hours that work for you.”
Do fathers not have to get home and cook dinner? Do they not want to be there for their children when school is out? After all, there are such things as single dads who balance children and work. Mitt Romney has obviously been watching too many episodes of “Leave It To Beaver” on TV Land on the campaign trail. The days of Donna Reed are long over, Mr. Romney."