Tuesday, June 06, 2006

I quit.

This is what happened.

A Korean-American teacher at the English Village in Seongnam (allegedly) assaulted primary school students while they were on a nature walk. Not long after, a Korean teacher at the English Village in Ansan (allegedly) assaulted middle school students in their dormitory.

Sohn Hak-kyu, the governor of Gyeonggi (where both Villages are located), apologized for the incidents and promised to improve supervision at the facilities.

This wasn't good enough for the Gyeonggi KTU office, which issued a press release entitled "It is not enough to increase supervision of sexual assault." The release claimed that the governor was ignoring "structural problems" with the Villages:

(1) teaching positions do not require a degree in education, and so underqualified people are hired;
(2) foreign teachers have a "free attitude" to sex, which a few hours of cultural education cannot remedy;
(3) foreign teachers are merely tourists, in Korea for the money or the "experience," and so are not suffiently devoted to their profession; and
(4) with 40 students in a classroom, teachers cannot conduct effective lessons.

The solution, the statement concluded, was to stop spending money on these Villages and to invest instead in public education.

First, I'll attempt to explain what I think Gyeonggi KTU was doing with the release.

The English Villages in Gyeonggi were founded by Governor Sohn, who is an important member of the conservative Hanarra Party. Public education is not a big priority for Sohn or Hanarra, and the KTU used the publicity surrounding the incidents to score some easy political points against Sohn, and to promote public education. Worthwhile goals, in my opinion.

But this is NOT an apology.

Gyeonggi KTU is cynically exploiting the currents of xenophobia that exist in Korea, to its own ends. The release deliberately targeted ill-informed and biased newsreaders, and I was shocked that teaching professionals would do this. The statement attacks EVERY FOREIGN TEACHER IN KOREA.

Unfortunately, despite appeals from various union members and foreign teachers, the Gyeonggi office has refused to retract their statement.

As SOMEONE must accept responsibility for this inane and hateful piece of propaganda, I will resign from the KTU.

This causes me a great deal of pain, as I have made many friends in the union, teachers who are wholly committed to their students and to their profession, and I still believe in the stated goals of the organization (even if the meaning of '참' continues to elude me).

안녕 KTU.

At least now I'll have more time to indulge in my depraved sexual pursuits. Oops, I mean I'll have more time to learn proper, Korean attitudes to sex.

The horror ...

Jason Thomas

p.s. My apologies for all the CAPS. I'M ANGRY.


Anonymous said...


I commend you for resigning. It is clear that the Gyeonggi KTU has a clear political purpose behind the statement. They have made it clear that they don't mind stepping on foreign teachers to gain political clout.

My sincere hope is that there are further consequences for the union beyond this. In reality we know that nothing will happen to change the xenophobic crap that some will spew out of their mouth.

I think we should turn this in to a hate site for the IKTU and start posting crap about them. Maybe its time to investigate some of their board memebers and post rumors and lies about them as well.

Of course I know right now I'm just made as hell and don't really mean it. However, what other steps can we take to show people they can't step on us anymore?

Anonymous said...

I think it's important to point out that the "Korean-American" in question, while the holder of an American passport, was born in Korea, spoke Korean as a first language, was thus, not a native speaker of English. He was hired and compensated by the English village as a "Korean teacher".

Anonymous said...

Good on ya' for doing the right thing.

Anonymous said...

It must be all those "massage parlors" and "barber shop" stores back home that make them percieve us as so free in out attitudes toward sex.

Anonymous said...

While I can see where you're coming from and why you are so angry, I would encourage you to try to fight within the union for these sorts of attitudes to change. Surely there are many other members (Koreans I mean) who are with you on this. You might be in for a long struggle but you're not going to change working class institutions from the outside.

I know this might not be the closest parallel, but unions in the UK and North America were in the past notorious for being racist. Over the years as more people from different ethnic groups have joined and struggled together and as the attitudes of society as a whole have changed, so have the unions.

Just some thoughts (from afar) on the matter.

Anonymous said...

As someone who was partially schooled in the Korean education system and who went to school with many eventual (Korean) teachers who joined the organization, I would humbly like to ask if you ever had any reason to think it is not racist.

I first noticed when they drew cartoons where whites always looked like the old 80's style cartoons making North Koreans look like wolves (that was, say, 1990ish). That said, I was also part of Jeon Dae Hyeop and they had some of the same tendencies, so in some ways I agree in principle with Owen when he says it might be worth staying around. Deciding what to do is always difficult in such situations, though, and you seem to have thought it well through and I commend you for taking action. I for one _don't_ think Jeon Gyo Jo is interested in Korean education anymore. At least they used to be. Now they're just a selfish interest group which is entirely unopen to the possibility that the country's teachers need to change too, and racism among people claiming to be interested in education is, second only to actual violence, as dangerous as it gets.

PS... You may enjoy seeing the following Hankyoreh editorial:

The official English translation is gone from Hankyoreh site, but I have access to them offline if you want to see it. (schroepfer(_has_an_acct_at) gmail dot com.)

Anonymous said...

Found that Hankyoreh editorial:

[Editorial] Teachers' Union Has Forgotten the Students?

Yi Su Il has resigned as head of the Korean Teachers and Education Worker’s Union (Jeon Gyo Jo). He had tried to maintain a stance that provided a rational alternative amidst the conflict over the adoption of a teacher appraisal program. He tried to use its introduction as leverage for reforming the "work appraisal program" and the gradual implementation of the "headmaster appointment program." That position was seen as a conditional acceptance of the teacher appraisal program, and it was not given approval by the organization's representatives' meeting on November 26. The position of those who are completely opposed to the program was also rejected, but that the leadership's conditional acceptance of the plan was rejected is seen as more significant.

The question you find yourself asking in this situation is whether the organization places greater value on the education of students or the interests of teachers. At a press conference on Friday, Yi claimed that the overwhelming majority of the public was demanding the adoption of the teacher appraisal program. The country believes that is what is right for students. Now the organization has rejected even conditional acceptance of the idea, so it makes you wonder.

As a result, even people who have been through hard times with the organization are calling it a group of "extreme old-style leftists." Won Hye Yeong, chairman of Uri Party's policy committee, says the decision "can only be seen as group selfishness that ignores the people's demands." We are not mentioning Won's name because he was once part of the democracy movement and holds an important position in the ruling party. Won has been one of the most supportive of the same issues the organization has pursued, such as amending the Private School Law, having education spending be 6 percent of the GDP, and legally requiring that schools have teachers', students', and parents' associations. The organization is at a crossroad where it could lose everything and gain nothing.

Students always used to be at the center of Jeon Gyo Jo's values, and that why it has been able to initiate change. It will cease to be as effective if more value is placed on teachers' interests.

The Hankyoreh, 29 November 2005.

[Translations by Seoul Selection

Anonymous said...

Why did you stay with such an awful, xenophobic organization for so long? Surely, you knew what they were. What sort of legitimacy did your token presence grant them? For shame.

Andrew Thomas said...

Hi Owen,

You're right of course, I won't change much from the outside the gate . . . I can only wish I had the strength and courage of an Isaac Myers or Cesar Chavez.

This is an act of desperation - it's what I can do to show leaders that some principles are not negotiable.

Andrew Thomas said...

Hi oranckay, thanks for the editorial. I remember it, and remember being disappointed with Hankyoreh for taking the position it did.

Only a handful of countries have legislated teacher evaluation programs: Australia, Japan, the UK, and some US states. Public education in these countries is (relatively) under-funded, and it shows in education outcomes. Teachers were made scapegoats by governments and media in these countries.

The OECD recommends that teachers in member countries form self-regulating professional bodies, for various reasons.

Such organizations can: act to defend public education systems against those opposed, for ideological reasons, to such systems; serve to advance teaching as a profession; establish and maintain a minimal distance between the state and the classroom; give greater control to those who are closest to or most invested in education, i.e. teachers; and work to improve education outcomes through scholarship and professional development.

I don't have time to write more at the moment, but I think its clear that the position of most KTU members is consistent with OECD recommendations.

Besides, no one attacks e.g. a dentists' organization for seeking to protect and promote the interests of its members. Why are teachers treated to virulent rhetoric when their organizations attempt to do the same?

Anonymous said...

The reason teachers can be evaluated is because the same teachers want to be able to evaluate headmasters. Which is to the best of my knowledge not something normal by "OECD standards."

Kindly correct me if I'm wrong about either point.

Andrew Thomas said...

To my knowledge, the education authorities didn't get together and say, "So, teachers want to evaluate school principals? Fine, we'll evaluate teachers!" I think you refer to the compromise that Yi sought, which was rejected by most teachers, both union and non-union.

I don't know how school management is evaluated elsewhere, but I can confirm that there are a number of differences between the role of management in a typical Korean school and the role of management in most schools in e.g. N. America.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jay,

I'm part of the Koreabridge Management team and on Sunday at 1 pm we are going to be doing a webcast to discuss the Teacher's Union comments about the English villages and also talk about what "qualified" means in terms of teaching in Korea. We would like to have you as a guest on our show, but I can't find contact information for you. That's why I'm posting here.

I know it's a bit late to contact you, but if you could get back to me at manager@Pusanweb.com I'd really appreciate it.


sam59527 said...