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THOMAS 1 Allison Thomas Dr.

Karin Mendoza Intermediate English Composition (ENGL-2089) 4 April 2014 Should We Be More Like South Korea? As the United States math and science scores drop, adversely, it seems, South Koreas rise. It is easy to look at such a nationone who has seemingly experienced rapid economic, technological, and educational success in such a short period of timeand wonder, if we emulate them, can we achieve the same success? Through my research this past semester, it has become apparent to me that many people, experts even, think following the South Korean educational model will boosts the United States test score rankings once again. Others slightly disagree and take into account traditional and cultural differences that would make it nearly impossible for such a reform to take place in America. Others disagree completely and argue that if the United States wants to reshape their education policies after another country, South Korea might not be the best example to follow. The following three articles, while not necessarily argumentative in tone, look at the topic from different viewpoints. The first source is an essay written in the Wall Street Journal entitled The $4 Million Teacher by Amanda Ripley. Ripley, a Cornell University graduate, is the author of The Smartest Kids in the World, a New York Times best seller that focuses specifically on taking three American high school students and supplanting them in three different countries, the socalled educational superpowers, Finland, Poland, and South Korea. Ripley, who obviously has done extensive research about South Korea and its education system before, even having travelled there to directly observe it, is one of the many that believes the U.S has much to learn

THOMAS 2 from the Asian superpower. She especially holds the teachers in high regard, as her essay follows Kihoon Kim, a private tutor who is in high demand amongst Korean students and their parents. More so than actually focusing on the school itself, Ripleys article documents the use of hagwons, Korean after-school tutoring programs where students often spend more time in than the actual classroom. It is very easy to see that the author is a strong advocate for introducing such a program into the American school system, stating undoubtedly that this is the reason for South Koreas educational success. She makes her bias very obvious, constantly throwing out numbers that American schools can only hope to one day live up to. She compares the U.S and Korea at any given chance, continuously highlighting Americas shortcomings. Ripleys essay is well written and factual, all the figures and statistics line up directly with nearly every other source I have come across in my research thus far. All the facts are there; Korean students spend countless hours studying, their coursework is demanding, and parents pay thousands of dollars a year to ensure that their children are learning as much as they possibly can. Teaching becomes a business endeavor, and teachers are fired if their satisfaction rate among parents and students are low. Hagwons have to be given curfews so students do not spend too much time there. To many, it sounds excessive, but to Ripley, it is just what American schools need. Given that Ripleys intended audience is more than likely the average person, it is a bit strange how she goes about defending her argument. First, she condemns the United States low graduation rates, and a paragraph later speaks of the psychological toll attending after school tutoring takes on students in Korea. Even people who have a minimal knowledge of Korea, such as Ripleys audience, could list off several reasons to not adapt to the South Korean school system after reading Ripleys article alone. Though it is undoubtedly not her intent, Ripley pinpoints many of the main problems with the South Korean school system.

THOMAS 3 Valerie Strauss, a veteran educator and writer for the Washington Post, states the same exact facts in her satirically titled piece Why Cant We Be More Like South Korea? found in her column The Answer Sheet. She does not agree with Ripleys view, but the subject of her article, the U.Ss Education Secretary Arne Duncan, does. Duncan, who was once the CEO of Chicago Public Schools before being appointed to Secretary of Education in 2009, is a firm believer in judging teachers based on student satisfaction and test score performance, much like South Korea. Duncan, who much like Ripley is well aware of the rigorous, often relentless demands of the Korean school system, still seems to be an advocate for adopting several techniques similar to that of Koreas, such as a focus on standardized testing and after school tutoring. Strauss agrees to disagree. She notes that the U.S is indeed falling behind on standardized test scores, but rebounds with the fact that the college enrollment rate for minorities is at an all time high, what Strauss calls real and meaningful progress. Strauss admits that even though its methods might be harsh, South Korea is the most successful nation in terms of test rankings, but even so, the U.S. is not to be condemned yet. Strauss is an educator writing to other educators, and as someone who has worked in the American school system for years, she is not as quick to let others believe that emulating another country, no matter how successful, is the best idea. Strauss is even a colleague of Ripleys and pulls several examples from her book The Smartest Kids in the World, though while Ripley speaks of the Korean school system with stars in her eyes, Strauss is a bit more wary. She even states out right that the U.S. should not be more like South Korea. However, Strauss contradicts herself quite a bit, whether knowingly or unknowingly, in the second part of her article. She states that the problem does not lie with the students or the government, but rather the parents, as they need to be more demanding of schools and teachers. Through my research I have come to find that in South Korea, even parents in

THOMAS 4 lower class families demand the highest-class education for their children. The former president of Korea Myungbak Lee has stated on several occasions that so much of Koreas spending goes towards education because of the high demand from parents. While Strausss intentions are good, she is unknowingly urging parents to do the very thing that causes the Korean education frenzy she is opposing. Of parents, BBC education correspondent Reeta Chakrabarti says that Korean parents feel like they have no choice when it comes to demanding the best for their children. In her article for the Family and Education section of the BBC News, Chakrabarti interviewed South Korean student Hyemin Park, following her around during her typical school day that started at six in the morning and ended around midnight. When asked of her daughters situation, Hyemins mother explains that due to South Koreas dense population and lack of resources, it is the peoples job to make the best of themselves, therefore causing education to be a highly competitive market. Of the sixteen-plus hour school days, Hyemins mother says its the only thing she can do to achieve her dream. Like the previous two articles, Chakrabarti goes through the motions of explaining how South Korea has evolved from a war torn country into a world superpower in only a matter of decades. Both in the video interview of Hyemin and Chakrabartis written article, it is made very clear the hardships that students go through just to be able to keep up, let alone succeed. Chakrabarti commends South Korea on their acheivements, but unlike the two articles before, she realizes that such acheivements do not come without a price. South Korea has an eerily high rate of suicide in people under forty years of age, and the author believes that the stress put on students, parents, and teacher to excel is one of the main causes. Where Chakrabartis main argument deviates from the other articles is the fact that while the intense curriculum and long school days may have worked to build South Korea up from the

THOMAS 5 illiterate country it was years ago, now that it is an established nation, it might be time to switch gears. In recent years, Korea has suffered greatly financially, mentally, emotionally, and physically due to intensive schooling, and even government officials now admit that they are paying the price for it. Chakrabartis article argues that if South Korea is now working hard to reform their self-admittedly flawed system, why would other countries want to emulate it? Even Strauss, who did not advocate adopting aspects of the Korean school model but rather placed the blames of parents not being demanding enough, is wrong in her thinking, according to Chakrabarti. She takes several quotes from past Korean education officials to support her claim that before something like the education frenzy can be handled, the people need to be taken care of first. Parents need to be less demanding and students need to be more willing to learn creatively but, according to Namsoo Seo, the current education minister of South Korea, there is still a very long way to go. All three articles agree that Korean education is strenuous. They all also agree that such a system has greatly benefited the country in past years, though Strauss and Chakrabarti believe that it is perhaps doing more harm than good in the present day, while Ripley thinks that longer school days and standardized curriculum would be greatly beneficial to Americas failing system (that Strauss argues is actually not failing at all). All three authors are expert educators writing for very well-known newspapers that are read by a large amount of the general public. The obviously know what they are talking about on the education spectrum, but Koreas education frenzy has its roots deeply embedded in Confucian culture, something none of the articles really touched on, given that none of the writers were Korean or experts on Asian culture. Chakrabartis article comes closest to closest to touching on this point. Her article falls in line with much of the evidence I have found through researching thus far. These articles are

THOMAS 6 important to look at because they show that even some of the top educators in our nation are wanting to adopt an education model that has just as many flaws as our own. They show that just because Korea is exceling in test scores, they are failing in many other ways. If America is serious about trying to reform their education policies to be more like South Koreas, much more research needs to be done, such as taking a deeper sociological look into the Korean society and why they are the way they are. America is not Korea, and Strausss article especially defends the fact we are succeeding in many other areas besides test scores.

Works Cited Chakrabarti, Reeta. "South Korea's schools: Long days, high results." BBC News. 13 Dec 2013: Web. 26 Mar. 2014.


Ripley, Amanda. "The $4 Million Teacher." The Wall Street Journal. 03 Aug 2013: Web. 24 Mar. 2014. Strauss, Valerie. "Why cant we be more like South Korea?." Washington Post 18 Jan 2014. Web. 24 Mar. 2014.