I must admit that I somewhat believed in the American dream.
As I moved from school to school, I experienced diverse curriculums and facilities and met many different teachers. My elementary school memories at Taipei American School (TAS) and Taipei British School (TBS) were AMAZING. The classrooms were filled with colorful bulletin boards and a wide array of library books. The desks were circular so that my classmates and I could sit looking at eat other. There was ample space for students to hang around in the classroom. We even had a fish tank with a mysterious, white frog. Classes were interactive and involved lots of making, hand-crafting, creativity, and cooperation. Sometimes, we were required to take math tests, but they weren’t high-stakes. The schools also hosted a variety of cultural events where students could enjoy Chinese local foods and become a part of the local community.
The glorification of these schools is partly due to my experience at Korean schools. The old school building with small windows was depressing to look at. The corridors were dark with minimal colors. Classrooms were not much different; rows and rows of desks and chairs all faced the white board and they pretty much took up the entire classroom space. Classes were even more restricting. All of the classes were teacher-directed: the teacher would stand in front of the class and literally read the textbook and tell us which words or phrases or concepts to underline. I merely followed directions without registering the new information. What I hated most about Korean schools was the focus on testing and test results. A student’s life literally can be defined completely by his or her test scores. We had no participation grade, since there weren’t any opportunities to actually participate, and we had no paper assignments or art/music/elective projects. If I fail the midterms and the finals, I fail the entire grade level and the scores followed me until I graduate from highschool. This was in such contrast with all of my previous schooling experiences that I found it difficult to understand or adapt to. Thus I didn’t have a choice but to move to an international school, which was similar to TAS and TBS.
Although Korean schools have evolved so much since then (it was 8 years ago), the shock had me really motivated to learn about education in America and bring all the “good stuff” back to Korea and possibly even reform the entire education system. I thought taking education classes at UNC would somehow enlighten me with America’s way of implementing student-oriented, experiential learning. Somehow, “America” became the answer to all of my questions and problems.
Thus, here I am at UNC pursuing an education minor. But I quickly realized that I was naive and simple. As I learned the issues of American education – funding, NCLB, scripted curriculum, high-stakes testing, etc – I realized that education was too broad and complicated to deal with lightly. Also, I learned that I have idealized western education based on my own very limited background.
I realized that American schools and Koreans schools were shifting in opposite directions. In Korea, more support for moving away from testing has grown, whereas in America, there was a shift towards high-stakes tests. Now, critics in the States are voicing their concerns on such focus on testing and its affect on students. I have a feeling that when this testing issue persists for long enough, as in Korea’s history of education, there will again be a surge for less testing. There seems to be a cyclic nature in education reform. No matter where you are, it seems like education always linger at two extremes and move from one end to the other end. Now, I find myself thinking that finding this middle ground will be the answer to education.
We’ll just have to continue learning and observing the current system to find out.