Saturday, April 24, 2010

Wry Face

Okay kids, the vocabulary word of the day is "wry." Who can tell me what it means? We've all heard of and probably seen a "wry" smile, or a "wry face," but what Webster or Roget amongst you can put it into words? A little lit. for ya, Victor Hugo in Les Miserable said of Paris, "Its hurricanes spring sometimes from a wry face. Its outbursts, its great days, its masterpieces, it's prodigies, its epics fly to the ends of the universe, and so do its cock and bull stories also."

I don't know much about Paris or France, certainly not as much as old Vic did, but I can tell you a little bit about Asia and take it from me it's much the same here. "Wry" can mean dry and mocking. It can be used to describe an expression of disgust, disappointment or mockery. Here is a pretty thorough definition.

As most people know, "face" can have a different meaning when applied to Asia. Saving "face" has historically led to people doing any number of extreme things not excluding suicide. Japanese culture brought us "hari kari" or "seppuku" a ritual suicide that consisted of a person shamed, or a person who has "lost face" plunging a dagger into his/her abdomen in a slicing motion from left to right. It was originally used as part of the Samurai honour code as a way to die an honourable death rather than be killed by one's enemies. But it was also used as a way to make amends for a perceived disgrace.

Korea abounds with stories, (hurricanes? masterpieces? epics?), of businessmen caught in financial scandals killing themselves; students failing to achieve high scores on college entrance exams holding hands and jumping off the school roof; even recently a former president, Roh Moo Hyun throwing himself, (?), off a cliff in what many believe was a suicide due to the allegations that he took 6 million bucks or so in bribes from businessmen while in office. I am skeptical about that one. I believe it could just as easily have been a murder committed by any of the many businessmen exposed by Roh's vigilant fight against corruption that is at the heart of business in Korea but Koreans prefer to memorialize Roh in an honourable way so we won't get into that right now. And as you know if you've read this blog a time or two, I believe this "face" has degenerated into not much more than a great cock and bull story used by "clever" people to lie to, steal from and cheat the not so "clever."

I guess it's because I am in the "education" racket here. Nowhere is "face" more aparent. Now you may be thinking, "Dave, what about the business world?" Well, dear reader, as I've said a thousand times if I've said it once, the very reason I never type the word "education" when referring to what it is the Koreans have here without quotation marks bookending it is because education IS business here. It has been since '45 when the Japanese occupation was brought to an end. At the end of WWII Koreans thirsted for education and they still do. But rather than use that as a way to create a free thinking, well adjusted population, it was perceived as a great demand that could be used to make big bucks. It's hard to blame Korea for this since the country was pretty poor in '45 and since then it has become an economic miracle of sorts. So you can say the approach worked. But where I find fault is the little, if any, progress that has been made educationally since.

This is a huge jump in logic, but it's my blog and I can jump if I want to: I watch a LOT of Korean baseball and one of the biggest differences is the reluctance of scorers to give errors. I saw an absolutely hideous game a few days ago when Kia played LG and both teams were booting balls, throwing wild, missing catches and at the end of the game there were 2 errors on the board when there should have been about 10. "Face" is even made a part of things that are NOT Asian over here. Bunting in Japanese baseball, (and the source of most of my frustration with the Kia Tigers strategy), is done not so much strategically, but as a way to appease fans who expect it. Or so the story goes. If the coach doesn't call a sacrifice bunt with a guy on first and nobody out, it might be perceived as a failure. And nobody fails in Asia.

This brings us back to "education." I can't tell you how many times I've been told to fudge grades and attendance here. It's midterm exam time and I have three Hotel Cooking classes who performed abysmally on their midterms. In class A, (which I call class F), 5/45 passed the midterm. Class B 10/45. Class C 9/45. That's less than 18%of my students who were able to get 50% on their tests. And I was a bit surprised those numbers were so high. This is with an incredibly easy curriculum dumbed WAY down and MASSIVE hints given a few days before the exam virtually telling them what was going to be on it.

I have no doubt that at the end of this session after they have similar results on the final exam I will be presented once again with a list of "amended" grades upon which every student has been magnanimously given no less than 75%, including the ones who never saw the inside of my classroom, and asked, with a wry smile, to sign it. This has always been what I figured would be the death of my career in teaching here in Korea.

Another big jump: What are the currencies of Korea, China and Japan, or at least their Anglicized equivalents respectively? Won, Renminbi, and Yen. Look at the first letters of those currencies and you will see the point of this blog entry. The wryest smile I've seen is from administrators in the various "schools" where I've worked telling me I need to grade on a curve; I need to have a minimum of 10 A's, 10 B's and a maximum of 10 C's; asking or demanding that I sign fraudulent grades or attendance and all because they are trying to save "face" for the students. What a crock of shit! It's all done to increase or maintain enrollment numbers, or what I more accurately refer to as, "recidivism" numbers.

So if ever this post comes to public attention and it is perceived as having cost the Korean "education" system face, do you suppose the Seoul Superintendant of Education, (who is pretty much in charge of everything because he's in charge of the budget and curriculums), will blow his head off to save face? Ha ha. Get it? Blow his head off to save face? I think not. But what would be for more likely is some thugs coming to my room and killing me then leaving a suicide note that says I was shamed by the many false grades I turned in and the crimes of academic fraud I had perpetrated over my years in Korea. This is what caused me to stab myself. In the back. 17 times.

I want you to know I will never commit suicide or do anything drastic like that to "save face." Furthermore I never have, nor will I ever sign the phony grades or attendance I'm continuously asked to sign. And I won't commit any other kind of academic fraud whatsoever. But I guess this post could be altered too.

But if I make it out of Korea before that happens and I return to Canada, (and the day is hastened by the phenomenon of which I write), and I am interviewed by a school for a position most likely as a substitute teacher they might ask me how many years of experience I have. My reply will be something like, "About 15 years, but only the years in Canada really count." You can bet I'll say it with a wry face.

No comments: