All Work and No Play

No Sleep ‘Til Harvard.

Came across an interesting article yesterday about elite South Korean private schools. The article, which came courtesy of Sam Dillon of the New York TImes, profiles two top-tier academies that prep their students for acceptance into U.S. Ivy League schools. The requirements for students who attend these schools are incredible – but also from a recently-graduated student’s perspective – a total bummer. All students must attain proficiency in 2 languages not including English, attend an extra month tacked on to the academic calender, have nearly flawless entry test scores, and a commitment to unrelenting study. And by unrelenting study, I mean, the never-leave-the-library-even-though-you-haven’t-slept-in -four-days kinda study. Here’s an excerpt highlighting the mind-boggling academic schedules these students face:

The schedule at the Minjok academy, on a rural campus of tile-roofed buildings in forested hills, appears even more daunting. Students rise at 6 for martial arts, and thereafter, wearing full-sleeved, gray-and-black robes, plunge into a day of relentless study that ends just before midnight, when they may sleep.

But most keep cramming until 2 a.m., when dorm lights are switched off, said Gang Min-ho, a senior. Even then some students turn on lanterns and keep going, Mr. Gang said. “Basically we lead very tired lives,” he said.

Now that I’ve been living in Korea for a while, the details of this article, while still incredible, are not shocking. As I’ve learned from talking with native Koreans and other teachers alike, is that Korean culture can be incredibly competitive and the desire to achieve can sometimes become all consuming. I see it with my kids too. Some will come in dressed in their Tae-Kwon Do uniforms and holding a violin, making my academy just one of three extracurricular stops during their day. Many children attend private academies on the weekends as well. There are science schools, art schools, music and dance lessons, math and computer courses, Chinese language lessons, and many others that I probably don’t even know about yet. I’ve already been told I need to give out more homework because parents at my school don’t think their children have enough. That really bummed me out, so lately we’ve been playing a lot of games. Whenever I say the “word” game the students eyes light up, probably because they don’t get much leisure time in their regular schools. Simple games that used to bore me to tears – Hang Man, Simon Says, and Bingo – are like revelations to some of my kids. I’ve been told that many Korean schools stress rote memorization of facts and phrases rather than actual cognitive processing (woah, that sounded kinda smart right there), so games are a welcome relief to flashcards and vocab lists.

Either way you slice it, I think the kids and the academies featured in Dillon’s article are missing the point. Education at the expense of experience isn’t worth it. Sometimes the best way for a child to learn is to let a kid be a kid. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a game of 20 Questions to attend to.

Link via [NYT]


2 responses to “All Work and No Play

  1. To your final comment, I say “Amen”. while not to the extent that you describe in Korea (and many other Asian countries), there is a great deal of competativeness in the U.S. as well–but it is not from the kids! My students’ “date books” are busier than mine! So many of my students tell me that they couldn’t do homework because they had dance class (or some other program), ate dinner and then it was time for bed! It is no wonder that the the favorite part of any kid’s day is recess!

  2. I always knew you had a knack for kids, apparently its part of the Schwimmer genes (although maybe its from the Green side). You made some very insightful comments about education; I’m impressed 🙂

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